Can you imagine a party, wedding or any kind of celebration without some form of alcohol? Alcohol is even often a part of religious rites and practices. With the pervasive use of alcohol in American culture, it can be confusing to tell where the “line” is between moderate alcohol use and alcohol misuse – also called alcoholism.
First, what is alcohol and how does it work? Alcohol is a Central Nervous System (CNS) depressant. Like most substances, it changes the levels of certain chemicals in the brain called neurotransmitters. These chemicals can be either inhibitory, meaning they slow down (depress) the brain’s activity levels, or excitatory, meaning they speed things up. Alcohol works by increasing the inhibitory chemicals in the brain (i.e. GABA) and decreasing excitatory chemicals (i.e. glutamate). It also creates a chemical called dopamine, which is linked to the brain’s reward system, creating a feeling of pleasure and euphoria. So, alcohol simultaneously creates depression and tricks the brain into thinking it feels really good.
Signs and effects of alcohol use include:
When alcohol is used in high doses, effects can also include:
So, what is moderate drinking? It is not always helpful to compare oneself to friends or family, because what someone might consider “normal” drinking likely will depend on how much the people around them are drinking. It is much more helpful to think about what research has shown to be low risk. According to the National Institute of Health, moderate drinking for all women and men over the age of 65 is no more than 3 drinks in a day and no more than 7 in a week. Moderate drinking for men under the age of 65 is no more than 4 drinks in a day and no more than 14 in a week. One drink is equal to:
When these moderate drinking levels are exceeded on a regular basis, it is called alcohol abuse or alcohol misuse. There are two different types of alcohol abuse: binge drinking and heavy drinking. Binge drinking is defined as the consumption of large amounts of alcohol in a short period of time, while heavy drinking is defined as continuous use of unhealthy amounts of alcohol. Both types of high risk drinking can eventually develop into an addiction to alcohol, causing significant problems with social life, family, health, finances and other issues.
So how do you know you have crossed that line from high risk drinking into alcoholism? Addictive use of any substance, including alcohol, has three components. The first is continued use despite negative consequences of drinking (family problems, health issues, finances, work performance, etc.). Second, one begins to experience cravings, defined as a strong desire to drink. Finally, for someone with an alcohol addiction, alcohol will preoccupy their thoughts; thoughts of when they will be able to drink next, thoughts of how they will get it and thoughts of how they will recover from their hangover or cure withdrawal.
If you are wondering whether you or a loved one is struggling with alcoholism, the best thing you can do is seek professional advice. This article does not substitute an assessment by a professional. The following are some signs of addiction:
If one or more of these applies to you or your loved one, you could be dealing with alcoholism. It is important to speak to a professional who can assess the situation and give you treatment options.
As an alcohol addiction progresses, two things happen: tolerance and withdrawal. When tolerance is developed, you need to drink more and more in order to achieve the same effect. Withdrawal happens when the body has gotten so used to taking in alcohol that it actually becomes dysregulated without it. People going through withdrawal often describe it as “needing” to have a drink in order to function. Symptoms of alcohol withdrawal can begin to occur around 6 hours after the last drink. These symptoms tend to get worse before they get better, lasting anywhere between 5-7 days. After the initial acute withdrawal phase, some milder symptoms – like difficulty sleeping, or a slight tremor – can persist for weeks, a syndrome called Post-Acute Withdrawal. Experiencing alcohol withdrawal means that a person is alcohol dependent, a severe and clear sign of alcoholism.
Symptoms of alcohol withdrawal include:
Alcohol withdrawal can be life threatening if it is done without any medical assistance. Vomiting and diarrhea can cause dehydration. Additionally, there are other potentially life threatening complications including seizures and delirium tremens (DTs). DTs occur in about 5% of people with alcohol withdrawal, and symptoms include hallucinations (seeing, hearing, or feeling things that aren’t there), delusions (false beliefs), fever, confusion, sweating, high blood pressure and high pulse (racing heart). If you believe that you or someone you know is experiencing complications from alcohol withdrawal, please immediately call 9-1-1 as these are medical emergencies.
Alcohol withdrawal is one of the few withdrawals that can be life threatening if done without medical assistance. If you are experiencing symptoms of withdrawal when you stop drinking, a medically assisted detox can make the process safer and more comfortable. A medically assisted detox involves a taper. This means that a medication is given in lower and lower doses, until the body gets used to being without alcohol. Usually a class of anti-anxiety medication called a benzodiazepine (i.e. Librium®) is prescribed for this taper. A detox will never be symptom-free, but withdrawal symptoms will be much more manageable. Medications can also be prescribed that target certain symptoms of withdrawal, including nausea (i.e. Phenergan (TM)), sleep (i.e. Trazodone) and blood pressure (i.e. clonidine). During alcohol detox, natural remedies can also help. For instance, it is important to rest, avoid physical exertion, avoid caffeine and hydrate with water or other electrolyte-rich liquids like sports drinks. These natural remedies help protect the heart and body from any additional damage.
Detox is just the beginning of recovery. Residential alcohol rehabilitation offers much more than medication and comfort. It allows a person to get away from their home environment and to have some time to heal. In addition, a good residential alcohol rehabilitation program will provide coping skills to help manage cravings and emotions. A rehab can also help you to build social support, start to deal with family issues that could be getting in the way and create a plan for when you leave that will support your goals and ongoing sobriety. Often, this involves continued treatment at an outpatient level and finding a 12 Step or non-12 Step community group that can offer ongoing support.
If you or a loved one is struggling with an alcohol addiction, there is hope. AToN Center’s alcohol treatment program can help and a professional can assist you in deciding whether residential treatment and detox are right for you or your loved one.
After years of putting off rehab, and making excuses for why I couldn’t go, I finally decided to invest the time in making my life better.Selecting Aton was the best decision I made. The facilities are world class, as is the staff. This was the first time in my 25 year career that I took more than 5 days off of work, and it gave me a brand new perspective. I took 30 days to focus on myself, my struggles, and my wellbeing - I would have stayed longer if I could have. The curriculum is straight forward but powerful, and applicable to all life events, even the mundane. The schedule is flexible enough that I was able to stay current on business matters, and the holistic program offered me the opportunity to try things I’d never done before (eg acupuncture, yoga, painting) and those that I wish I did more often (eg massage, physical therapy). And the food... it’s like dining at nice restaurant three times a day.I recommend Aaron for anyone struggling with substance issues who is willing to fully immerse themselves and who appreciates the value of a top-notch facility rooted compassion and self-betterment.~Andrew
As someone who works with clients struggling with trauma histories, chronic relapse and failed treatments, I look for.treatment programs that excel in clinical approach and who offer much more than the standard rehab.. What I've discovered in AToN center is a program that excels in areas that most addiction programs are unable to provide. The phrase 'trauma-informed" is being tossed around frequently these days, with little comprehension of the impact all levels of traumatic experiences have on us. Without the clinical and intuitive understanding of this there can't be true recovery for those who also struggle with addiction. AToN has a premier clinical staff, who possess the vital additional ingredient of genuineness, and a true commitment to their client's recovery. The facilities and grounds are beyond peaceful and offer the perfect setting to heal. I highly recommend this program.~S Harlow
Earlier this week, I had the opportunity to tour AToN Center and speak with the Clinical Director, Outreach Coordinator and Program Manager about their addiction treatment program. The facilities and grounds at AToN are absolutely beautiful! But far more impressive, as a licensed clinical psychologist who has treated addiction and related mental health issues for over 25 years, is AToN’s personalized and comprehensive treatment approach. The staff at AToN are highly-skilled, dedicated and compassionate. Best practices are utilized to integrate traditional and holistic therapeutic modalities to meet each resident’s individual needs. I recommend AToN Center for those seeking state of the art addiction recovery treatment in an exquisite setting.Jody Helmus
I have known Aton Center for a few years now. I was truly impressed with the quality of work they do and the services they provide from the gate. I would trust Aton with a family member. The entire team is incredible, but Lauren and Keith are two of my favorite people hands down....the passion and dedication they have for helping people is part of what makes Aton so special :)Dia Parsons
I have had the opportunity to tour many treatment programs over the years and this is by far one of Southern California's most spectacular! Many people think Malibu when they want a high end facility, well I want to tell you this program is nestled in the country out side of San Diego and is top notch. It is beautiful, but what is most impressive is the staff. They have more doctorate level clinicians than any program I have seen. Very committed to helping executives, CEO's, business owners, and wealthy individuals find help in an atmosphere they are accustomed to living in. This program is not for individuals that cannot afford this luxury. I was impressed that they offer a range of treatment, truly designed to meet each person where they are at. With a strong non-twelve step component - it was interesting that they do not guide a person to SMART Recovery or AA, rather they teach the principals of each and help each individual find what works for them. They have a private chef, maid service, and allow executives to use their lap tops and phones. Most treatment environments restrict these as a distraction to recovery, AToN has found a balance that seems to work. I enjoyed my time on campus. There are 5 homes in an exclusive neighborhood. You can walk to each house easily. Their approach is unique and I think for the right man or woman, that suffers from alcoholism or addiction, being allowed to access what they are used to while they do their work would be very beneficial. I know if I had a loved that could afford this facility - I would not hesitate to refer them. I would like to close with the inclusive nature of services - from individual, group therapy, trauma, marriage counseling, yoga, and various fellowships - this clinical team is a well oiled machine.Ann P