Alcoholism or alcohol addiction is the most treated addiction in Australia. The Australian Institute of Health and Welfare reports that in 2020-21, about 83,600 treatment episodes were provided to clients for alcohol as their principal drug of concern. The average treatment episode took about four weeks to complete.
Alcohol addiction can have severe consequences on one’s mental, physical and even financial health. As alcoholics become dependent on the drug, they are likely to neglect their daily tasks and relationships, which will undoubtedly bring about negative consequences. Despite the severity of this condition, alcohol addiction is very much treatable if paired with the right mindset and steps.
What causes of alcohol addiction?
Causes of alcohol addiction include mental health struggles, environmental factors, genetics and the effects of past trauma, among other reasons. Each case of addiction should be treated uniquely, with its own causes, struggles and methods of treatment.
Before a person can treat alcohol addiction, be it their own addiction or that of a loved one, it’s vital to understand how they became addicted in the first place.
Constant use of alcohol can cause chemical changes in a person’s brain. It’s essential to note that there is no one cause for alcoholism, as each person's unique experiences can contribute to developing alcohol addiction.
Some of the common causes of alcohol addiction include:
Mental health struggles
Many people struggling with mental health conditions such as depression and anxiety may turn to alcohol as a coping mechanism, as drinking may make them temporarily feel better. In fact, studies showed that alcohol use disorder may be more prevalent in people struggling with depression than in the general population. It’s also found that constant heavy drinking is associated with depression and other mental health issues.
The environment can contribute to the development of alcohol use disorder in several ways. Some of them include
- Exposure: If a person is surrounded by alcohol and alcoholics, whether at home or in social events, they are more likely to try it out and eventually develop a pattern of drinking.
- Socialisation: Often times, when at parties or gatherings, friends and family may pressure individuals to be part of drinking games or to drink more alcohol than they normally would. A normalisation of this can play a factor in alcoholism.
- Stress relief: Although it’s normal to wind down with a few drinks after a long week at work, regularly turning to alcohol to cope with work or family pressures can develop a drinking pattern, eventually leading to alcoholism.
Although the association between genetics and alcoholism has not yet been fully understood, experts believe that genes play a role in developing alcoholism and that if alcoholism is a common theme within a family, the chances of developing an alcohol use disorder in a family member become higher. Researchers have also found that alcoholic patients who have variations in specific genes respond positively to certain treatments for the addiction, whereas those without the specific gene do not.
Trauma can come in many forms, such as physical or emotional abuse, neglect, etc. Trauma can have long lasting effects and increases the risk of developing mental health conditions like depression, anxiety and post-traumatic stress disorder. Like mental health struggles, people who have experienced trauma can turn to alcohol to self-medicate and numb their emotions to avoid painful memories.
The physical effects of alcoholism depend on the severity of the condition, how long they have been drinking heavily, the strength of alcohol they are consuming, as well as biological factors.
Some of the most common physical effects of alcohol addiction include:
Every time alcohol is consumed, some liver cells die. Although the liver is able to generate new cells, prolonged alcohol misuse can lead to serious and sometimes permanent damage to the liver.
Among many other effects, alcohol is known to cause temporary increases in a person’s heart rate and blood pressure. After some time of consuming alcohol, the blood pressure and heart rate of the person drinking will return to normal, but similar to liver damage, binge drinking over long periods of time can lead to high blood pressure, weakened heart muscles and irregular heartbeats.
Nervous system damage
Alcohol affects the nervous system by slowing down communications between the neurons. This is why when a person is intoxicated, they have slower reaction times and psychomotor skills. Long-term heavy alcohol abuse can lead to problems with balance, coordination and reflexes. In severe cases, nerve damage can occur, which eventually leads to numbness, tingling sensations and limb weaknesses.
Research has shown that chronic heavy drinking has been associated with an increased risk of both bacterial and viral infections. Alcohol can also cause inflammation in the body, which contributes to immune system dysfunction and chronic health problems like the ones mentioned above.
On top of all these physical effects, being an alcoholic is notorious for tearing down relationships and developing mental health issues that are likely to disrupt the patient’s daily routine.
How to treat an alcohol addiction?
To treat an alcohol addiction, the struggling addict or their loved ones will need to employ a number of different methods that will supplement each other to their goal of sobriety. Common methods include detoxification, behavioural therapies, tapering, support groups and inpatient treatment.
It is not necessary to employ all these methods above but, depending on the severity and situation, a combination of a few of these will be necessary.
Despite the severity of alcohol abuse, the condition is still treatable if paired with strong willpower, supportive surroundings and of course, calculated methods. Some common treatment options for alcoholism include.
This is a pivotal step for recovering addicts as it is the process of allowing the body to get rid of alcohol. When this happens, the body may experience withdrawal symptoms as the body adjusts to the absence of alcohol.
The process involves medications to help manage symptoms and prevent complications. During this time, it’s important to take care of physical and mental health by drinking plenty of water, eating a healthy diet and getting enough rest. The detoxification process should be done under medical supervision as some withdrawal symptoms can be overwhelming for some recovering addicts.
Behavioural therapies (BT)
This type of therapy focuses on modifying harmful behaviours and reinforcing positive ones. Behavioural therapies are often combined with other treatments, such as the ones on this list. A common type of BT is cognitive behavioural therapy which involves learning coping strategies for dealing with triggers, identifying and challenging irrational beliefs and developing problem-solving skills.
Tapering refers to the gradual abstinence from alcohol over a period of time, best conducted under the guidance of a healthcare professional. This approach can help reduce the severity of withdrawal symptoms and is less dangerous than abruptly quitting alcohol. Tapering, however, may not work for everyone, especially individuals with severe addictions, as they are more likely to overdrink.
Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) is the most common support group for recovering alcoholics. Support groups like AA usually have programs that utilise self-reflection, personal accountability and others to help patients get through the long winding road of recovery.
These groups provide social support while reducing feelings of isolation, shame and stigma that come with being an alcoholic. Although they may not be enough to overcome an addiction, they can provide added value to other forms of treatment, such as medication and behavioural therapies.
Inpatient treatment, also known as residential treatment, involves checking into a rehabilitation centre for an extended period of time for the recovering patient to receive intensive, structured treatment, including group therapy, medical care and support from healthcare professionals. This kind of treatment is usually reserved for those with severe alcohol addiction.
The opposite of inpatient treatment is outpatient treatment, where patients go about treatment methods like the others listed above while still maintaining daily routines from home.
Any form of treatment for recovering alcoholics should always be done under the guidance of a qualified healthcare professional.
Relapses in this context refers to a patient’s return to alcohol after a period of abstinence. Overcoming any addiction is not a straight path. Ups and downs are bound to be a part of the journey. It’s a common challenge in addiction recovery and can be triggered by stress, social pressure, negative emotions or other factors.
One way to overcome relapses is to view them as a learning experience. Identify the triggers or behaviours that led to the relapse and use that information to develop a plan to prevent future relapses. Seeking support from a therapist or groups like alcoholics anonymous would help in understanding triggers and what led to the relapse in the first place.
If a recovering alcoholic still finds themself in constant relapses, medication-assisted treatments can help manage cravings and withdrawal symptoms, easing the journey to sobriety.
It’s more important for recovering addicts to understand that having a relapse does not mean that treatment has failed, it might mean that other methods of recovery are required to achieve sustained recovery.
Breathalysers for alcohol addiction treatment
For recovering addicts, using a breathalyser can be an effective way to collect breath alcohol data to help ensure that they are not drinking above a set limit or to help ensure that they record a zero blood alcohol content (BAC) at any given time.
Although this will not help a person stop drinking completely, it can help loved ones keep an eye on the recovering addict's progress and keep them on the right track if they notice that BAC readings
The AlcoSense Elite 3 BT breathalyser comes with a bluetooth feature that allows the device to be connected to your mobile phone via the free Andalink app that is available on the App Store and Play Store.
Through the bluetooth pairing, the breathalyser will be able to take proof of testing as the test subject blows into the breatahalyser while simultaneously recording BAC data.
The recorded data can then be viewed in an easy-to-read chart.
Browse through Andatech's wide range of personal breathalysers to help recovering alcoholics monitor their alcohol intake and keep themselves in check.
Disclaimer: The information provided in this article is for general reference only. Please seek advice from professionals according to your business’s needs.
Written by Wafi Rashid