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Do I Really Need To Go To Rehab For Alcohol?

Addiction of any kind usually follows a downward trajectory, and alcohol addiction is no exception. But what are the signs and symptoms of alcohol addiction? How can you keep an eye out for these symptoms to ensure you or a loved one do not fall deeper into addiction?

What may begin as social, casual drinking can over time become more and more frequent. Usually, before the drinker themselves is even aware, it has become a daily need. Below we will look at a generalized road map of the journey into alcoholism, and some noticeable things to look for in worsening alcoholism.

In this article

Symptoms of Alcohol Addiction

Drinking usually begins as a social activity. This can be the case for years or even decades. Over time, a person may find themselves needing less of an “excuse” to drink. They may begin drinking more throughout the week. If this trend continues, they may find themselves drinking every day and waking up hungover every morning. On days when they wake up with a bad hangover, this person may need a drink in the morning. A so-called “eye-opener” drink to get going for the day.

What usually follows is drinking on the job, drinking while running errands, and drinking in a whole range of inappropriate circumstances. This can progress to the point where someone loses friends, jobs, and is cut off from the family. They become isolated as alcohol becomes a primary fixation dominating their life.

Some outward symptoms of alcohol addiction include:

  • Going to the bar or liquor store daily
  • Isolation from family and friends
  • Unexplained absences from school, work, or social gatherings
  • Increased depression and/or anxiety
  • Asking to borrow money or stealing money
  • Declining outward appearance
  • Constantly smelling like alcohol

Signs of Alcohol Addiction

Alcohol addiction affects all aspects of a person’s life, even though they usually don’t see it themselves. Some signs of alcohol addiction include:

  • Tremors or Shakes. Some of the first signs of alcohol addiction are mild shakes or tremors. This can begin around 8 hours after the last drink, or in the afternoon or late evening.
  • Frequent Blackouts. Someone cannot recall conversations, events, or being certain places.
  • Cannot Control the Amount They Drink. Someone may say “Okay, I’ll have one,” and proceeds to drink heavily. This is often a regular occurrence.
  • Being Drunk at Inappropriate Times. People with a drinking problem may be drunk at work, while watching their kids, driving, or at social or family events.
  • Increased Avoidance of Social Life. Someone who is drinking will usually begin to withdraw from their normal social circles or habits.
  • Increasing Absences from Work. A developing alcoholic is likely to call out from work (or no-call, no-show) either due to being hungover or too drunk.
  • Legal Issues. DUI, public intoxication, or even violent crimes such as domestic abuse or fighting.

Signs of Worsening Alcohol Use

Alcohol addiction always follows a downward spiral. The only changing variable is how fast things fall apart. Some signs of worsening or accelerating alcohol addiction may include:

  • Anger When Confronted About Alcohol Use. Someone struggling with an alcohol addiction may become angry, defensive, or try to excuse their drinking. This can manifest as avoiding or pushing people away who try to talk about their drinking.
  • Declining Health. Alcohol is toxic to humans, and heavy drinking will produce negative consequences. Frequent vomiting, gagging, stomach ulcers, digestion issues, impaired coordination, and general poor health due to gastrointestinal problems are usually the first signs of worse problems to come.
  • Binge Drinking. Some people binge drink as a matter of course, but others may have to work up to that. In the case of alcoholism, this is a multi-day, or sometimes even a multi-week drinking spree.
  • Getting Fired for Performance Issues. This is common in worsening alcoholism as work performance declines while drinking becomes more of a priority. When drinking becomes the primary concern, things which used to matter lose importance.
  • Open Hostility Towards Friends or Family. This is unfortunately very common as friends and family are close enough to see when things are getting bad. When they try to help, someone may isolate from them to continue their drinking uninterrupted.
  • Financial Difficulties. Coupled with lack of work or reduced work, the increasing amount of money someone spends on alcohol can lead to extreme financial difficulties.
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Why Is Alcohol So Addictive?

Alcohol produces a cascade of effects in the body and brain. These effects require that the body make changes to continue functioning in the presence of alcohol. This takes place through a process called downregulation (or upregulation in the case of glutamate). First, tolerance will be produced. It is going to take more alcohol to produce the same effects. Once tolerance develops, an individual may begin to feel more and more uncomfortable without alcohol. This usually increases the amount and frequency of drinking, leading to even stronger tolerance. If this trend continues, their body will need alcohol to maintain “normal” function.

There are two major neurotransmitters that are responsible for the addictiveness of alcohol: GABA and glutamate. These are critical neurotransmitters that control a wide range of functions, both psychological and physical. They are so important to the brain and body that when thrown out of balance by chronic alcohol use, it can be uncomfortable or even fatal if someone were to stop drinking.

When someone stops drinking, the levels of GABA plummet. As a calming neurotransmitter, there can be severe psychological and physical symptoms that are hyperactive when these levels drop. Glutamate is an excitatory neurotransmitter, and when alcohol is removed, levels increase. This can compound the effects of lowered GABA, leading to intense anxiety, confusion, delirium, sweating, tremors, and even seizures and hallucinations. These symptoms can get so bad that the possibility of heart failure increases.

The Progression of Alcohol Addiction

While drinking could begin as a social activity, in the case of alcohol addiction, it often becomes a daily need for living over time. The subtlety of this progression often goes unnoticed by the drinker but is often clear to friends and family. The changes in someone’s life may take some time to escalate. Some people are more prone to them, meaning they occur more or less quickly from person to person. The reason for this is unknown but almost everyone who struggles with alcohol addiction has the same destination. The only difference is how fast they get there.

Genetics play a factor, although the exact way this works in unclear. Regardless of genetic factors, heavy drinking causes neurological changes in every animal studied (including humans). GABA, glutamate, norepinephrine, dopamine, and serotonin are most heavily affected. Chronic alcohol use can cause drastic changes in some core areas of the brain.

One major area of the brain that undergoes changes in the limbic system. The limbic system is often called the “reward center” of the brain and handles feelings of pleasure and motivation. The limbic system also makes strong connections between emotions and memories. Alcohol hijacks this system and kicks it into overdrive. Strong connections are made between feelings of pleasure and the memory of drinking alcohol. This means that when someone wants to feel good, they will think of taking a drink or two or three. These neurological changes, coupled with tolerance and downregulation, mean that the more someone drinks, the more they feel that they “need” to drink.

Getting Help

The sooner a person receives professional treatment for alcohol abuse, the better their outcome. Spending time in a detox facility is often the first step towards recovery. Because withdrawal from alcohol is uncomfortable and can be fatal, medical attention is vital. Once detox is complete, the journey to recovery continues through a treatment center. Whether inpatient or outpatient, the best way to get sober and stay sober is through some program.

The Summit Wellness Group offers partial hospitalization and intensive outpatient programs that fit your schedule. We have experienced clinicians that are ready to help you commit to treatment. Give us a call today to see what options are available to you. Whether it’s with us or with a partner program we refer to, we are going to ensure you receive the highest quality treatment today.

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