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Alcohol Abuse Treatment

Alcohol Abuse Treatment

Substance use disorder is a disease that many Americans struggle with daily. The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) reported that 1 in 12 American adults had substance use disorder — around 18.7 million individuals. This staggering number and reports of addiction continue to increase in the U.S. for various substances. Alcohol is the most commonly consumed substance.

Individuals who use alcohol may struggle with substance use disorder, also known as alcohol use disorder (AUD). This disease is a chronic and common medical condition that describes the compulsive need to use alcohol for various reasons.

One of the most significant steps that a person struggling with alcohol use disorder can take is to find treatment options for their condition. Thankfully, there are numerous treatment options available for those wanting to find their path to recovery and live a life of sobriety.

Signs and Symptoms of Alcohol Addiction

People reference alcohol use disorder in various ways, including the term alcohol addiction. Alcohol use disorder describes when people have difficulty controlling their ability to stop alcohol misuse even when they understand it’s negatively impacting numerous parts of their lives. Alcohol use disorder will affect a person’s personal, work and school life and other aspects of their routine or well-being.

Seeking treatment for yourself or someone you care for alcohol use disorder is the best thing someone can do. People can look out for the various signs and symptoms of alcohol use disorder if they suspect that they are struggling or someone they care for needs help. A medical or mental health professional diagnoses people with alcohol use disorder. These professionals will consider the symptoms or signs of alcohol use and determine their condition on the addiction spectrum. The addiction spectrum ranges from mild, moderate and severe.

The signs and symptoms of alcohol use can impact a person’s physical health, mental health and behavior. Each aspect of a person’s overall health is essential throughout a lifetime, and substance use or alcohol use disorders severely impact each category.

Alcohol Addiction Treatment

Alcohol Addiction Treatment

The most common signs and symptoms of alcohol use disorder include:

  • Spending a majority of the day drinking or trying to purchase alcohol
  • Using alcohol often and consuming more than intended
  • Not having the ability to quit drinking or control the consumption of alcohol
  • Not being able to complete home, work or school obligations because of alcohol use
  • Experiencing intense cravings for alcohol
  • Continuing to drink even when it’s dangerous, like when driving or operating heavy machinery
  • Experiencing problems in relationships or friendships that are from drinking but continuing to drink
  • Distancing from hobbies or activities because of drinking
  • Feeling the physical and psychological symptoms of an alcohol use disorder, but continuing to drink
  • Having to drink more alcohol to feel the effects of drinking, also known as tolerance
  • Experiencing withdrawal symptoms when attempting to quit drinking or cut back on drinking. Withdrawal symptoms include racing heart, sweating, restlessness, nausea, shakiness or hallucinations

Withdrawal symptoms include racing heart, sweating, restlessness, nausea, shakiness or hallucinations

  • Impaired coordination or balance
  • Slurring speech
  • Noticing impacts on memory or thinking
  • Drinking in secret, like late at night or secluded in a room
  • Denying the severity of the alcohol use problem
  • Participating in risky behavior
  • Becoming anxious when not having access to alcohol
  • Spending a significant amount of time being hungover or sick
  • Slower reaction times
  • Lack of hygiene or self-care
  • Showing signs of stress, anxiety or depression

The physical and mental symptoms of alcohol use disorder can show almost immediately after a person begins using alcohol. Alcohol has immediate effects, and most Americans are aware of these effects and how you can point them out in a person. Severe situations of alcohol use disorder can cause significant damage to a person’s physical or mental health. Some individuals who struggle with alcohol use disorder also battle mental health conditions, like depression, anxiety and other issues before or in combination with their addiction. 

Behavioral symptoms are a common indicator of alcohol use disorder. Noticing various changes in someone’s behavior, whether that be participating in risky activities, quitting hobbies or having trouble maintaining relationships, these problems can be apparent in people with alcohol use disorder. While it’s easy to tell with some people, others may do a good job at hiding their addiction. They don’t want to hear how they can get help or are embarrassed by their actions, so they do their best to cover up their condition. 

Exhibiting multiple symptoms or signs may indicate that a person is struggling with alcohol use disorder. This label can be a wake-up call for some people, while others may ignore the facts. Alcohol use disorder is a disease that impacts brain function and a person’s ability to control their alcohol intake. When a person recognizes these symptoms in themself or has a loved one that cares to look out for their well-being, it can lead them down the right path that includes finding treatment and becoming sober.

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What Causes Alcohol Addiction?

With years of studies on alcohol use disorder and numerous medical professionals treating patients with this condition, there is still no clear answer on what causes the disease.

Addiction appeals to the section of the brain that handles pleasure, and the feelings of euphoria and relaxation that people feel when they consume alcohol impact this part of the brain. Alcohol consumption signals the brain to release dopamine, a chemical that turns on the brain’s reward system. A person will begin to feel good when they drink and crave the positive feelings they experience from drinking. This cycle can motivate a person to continue drinking and allow alcohol use disorder to develop.

A person’s risk for alcohol use disorder greatly depends on the amount of alcohol they consume, how often they drink and how quickly they drink. The more a person drinks, the stronger their tolerance grows, and they’ll require more alcohol to continue their positive feelings. People who have alcohol use disorder will start to prioritize drinking over other life activities, which can begin the start of their addiction.

What Makes a Person High Risk for Alcohol Addiction?

The process of someone’s addiction can vary based on numerous life factors. Certain lifestyles and influences can increase a person’s risk of developing alcohol use disorder.

Some factors that can impact a person's risk for addiction

Some factors that can impact a person’s risk for addiction include:

  • The age a person starts drinking.
  • The education a person receives.
  • People who experience high levels of stress.
  • Experiencing low self-esteem.
  • A person’s employment situation.

There are other risk factors that impact the likelihood of developing a substance use disorder. 

Family History and Genetics

Genetics can have the most significant impact on someone’s risk for developing alcohol use disorder. Individuals with parents who also struggle with substance use disorder can have a genetic predisposition to alcohol use disorder and are more likely to develop the condition. 

According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA), half the responsibility of increasing the risk of alcohol use disorder is genes. Genetics can impact the way people metabolize alcohol, impacting their want to drink alcohol because of the effects they experience.

Mental Health Conditions

A person’s mental health conditions can impact their risk of developing alcohol use disorder or addiction. Examples can include problems like depression, bipolar disorder, anxiety and other conditions. People may turn to alcohol as a form of self-medicating for these mental health problems.

History of Abuse or Trauma

Individuals who have a history of physical, emotional or sexual abuse may have an increased risk of developing alcohol use disorder. These types of abuse or trauma in a person’s past can impact their likeliness of using alcohol. Trauma in early childhood is linked to developing alcohol use disorder and other mental health problems.

Environmental Factors

Individuals exposed to alcohol use early on in life can increase their risk of developing alcohol use disorder. A child’s environment growing up has a significant impact on numerous aspects of their life, including the decision to use alcohol. An unstable or oppressive environment can push one to cope with alcohol.

Environmental Factors

Social Influences

Parental support, peer pressure, family customs and friend groups influence a person’s risk of developing alcohol use disorder. Examples of social forces include falling to the pressure of binge drinking in college or growing up in a neighborhood with more exposure to drugs, alcohol and violence.

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Short and Long Term Effects of Alcohol Addiction

Alcohol consumption can lead to numerous short-term and long-term health effects. When a person is suffering from alcohol use disorder and is regularly consuming large quantities of alcohol, they may begin to notice the short-term effects first. The long-term effects will become apparent if they continue this habit and refrain from seeking treatment.

People who participate in any type of alcohol consumption may experience these health effects. Regardless of a person’s level of alcohol intake, it’s essential to stay informed on the potential health issues that can arise from consuming alcohol.

Short Term Effects

People with alcohol use disorder can experience the short-term effects almost immediately. These short-term health effects impact a person’s mental and physical health.

When a person begins drinking over the recommended drinks per hour, and factors in their metabolism rate by their age, gender, weight and other factors, their blood alcohol levels will increase and start exhibiting symptoms of alcohol consumption.

The short-term effects of alcohol on a person’s body include:

  • Possible injuries from drinking-related accidents, like motor-vehicle accidents, burns, drownings and falls
  • Participating in risky sexual behaviors
  • Poor social judgment from lowered inhibitions
  • Loss of balance and coordination
  • Having trouble concentrating and focusing on conversations
  • Experiencing mood swings
  • Increased blood pressure
  • Lowering of core body temperature
  • Experiencing alcohol poisoning
  • Exhibiting violence, including partner violence, homicide and assault
  • Being drowsy or unmotivated
  • Vomiting and nausea
  • Having trouble breathing
  • Experiencing unconsciousness, also known as blacking out
  • Frequent headaches
  • Distorted hearing and vision

Short Term Effects

Long Term Effects

When a person continues to drink throughout their life excessively, they can begin to develop lasting health problems that stem from drinking alcohol. Some of these conditions are irreversible or life-threatening.

Long-term effects can impact all aspects of a person’s physical or mental health. Some of these health effects are more commonly known than others, and all can have severe implications on a person’s health.

The long-term health effects that are a result of alcohol use disorder or regular excessive drinking include:

  • Weakening of the immune system, which increases the risk of getting seriously ill
  • Experiencing organ problems including the heart, lungs, liver, kidney, musculoskeletal, reproductive system, brain and more
  • Experiencing memory loss and other issues like poor school or work performance and dementia
  • Decreased attention span
  • Developing cancer in various parts of the body, including the mouth, throat, liver, rectum, colon, breast, esophagus and more
  • Experiencing a decline in social and emotional health because of losing friendships, family members or employment status
  • Increase in mental health problems
  • Developing an addiction to alcohol
  • Alcohol poisoning
  • Poor nutrition or malnutrition
  • Vitamin deficiencies that may lead to other health conditions.

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How Alcohol Use Disorder Affects the Body

The long-term effects of alcohol impact vital parts of a person’s body. Major organs like the heart, liver and lungs all are essential to continue a healthy life, and neglecting them with excessive drinking may lead to significant damage.

There are a few major parts of the body that excessive alcohol consumption can impact significantly.

Cardiovascular Damage

Cardiovascular Damage

The heart can receive a significant amount of damage from regularly consuming alcohol. A person suffering from alcohol use disorder is a risk for long-term effects on the heart, including:

  • High blood pressure: Drinking excessive amounts of alcohol can increase the risk of hypertension, or high blood pressure, when blood pumps through the arteries with more force than usual.
  • Increased heart rate: Alcohol consumption can alter the way a person’s heartbeats. Increased heart rates can lead to more serious damage to the heart, like a heart attack.
  • Cardiomyopathy: This condition describes the weakening of the heart muscle. Excessive alcohol consumption can cause this condition, impacting the oxygen and other nutrients the body receives from the heart. 
  • Irregular heartbeat: Alcohol consumption can cause irregular heartbeat, leading to problems like blood clots and stroke.
  • Stroke: Excessive drinking can increase a person’s risk of having a stroke. Strokes occur when the blood supply to the brain is cut off. Strokes vary in time and damage depending on the person and their health. 
  • Heart attack: Since alcohol consumption increases a person’s risk of numerous cardiovascular problems like high blood pressure and increased heart rate, those problems and others can increase the risk of a heart attack.

Alcohol is absorbed directly into the bloodstream after consuming it, allowing the alcohol to make its way to every part of the body. 

Digestive System Damage

Alcohol use can damage the stomach lining by wearing it down. As you drink alcohol, the stomach creates more acid to digest it. More stomach acid can contribute to the formation of ulcers in the stomach.

Other ways alcohol can cause damage to the digestive system include altering nutrition absorption, breakdown, storage, transportation and excretion. These issues can cause people to have trouble gaining all of the nutrients they require.

Liver Damage

The organ that can receive significant health effects from excessive drinking is the liver. Liver damage is typically a well-known consequence of alcohol consumption. A person’s liver can become scarred or inflamed over time because of alcohol use. Other conditions that a person may develop include fibrosis, alcoholic hepatitis, fatty liver and cirrhosis. 

Pancreatic Damage

Alcohol use can impact the pancreas by prompting the organ to produce harmful substances. This can increase the risk of pancreatitis, which is the swelling of blood vessels and inflammation of the pancreas. This hinders the digestion process. 

Musculoskeletal Damage

Consuming high amounts of alcohol can lead to an imbalance of calcium in a person’s body, an essential nutrient for maintaining healthy bones.

Excessive alcohol consumption may also mess with vitamin D production, which aids in calcium absorption in the body. Low calcium levels may increase a person’s risk of osteoporosis.

Reproductive System Damage

Alcohol use may increase a person’s risk for reproductive system problems. These issues can include irregular menstruation for women or erectile dysfunction for men.

People who consume alcohol during pregnancy may experience complications including stillbirth, miscarriage or having a baby with fetal alcohol syndrome.

Cancer Risks

Cancer Risks

According to the National Cancer Institute, research shows a strong connection between consuming alcohol and cancer. The data shows that the more alcohol a person consumes over time, the more likely they will develop alcohol-related cancer

Some of the alcohol-related cancers include:

  • Head and neck cancer
  • Liver cancer
  • Breast cancer
  • Esophageal cancer
  • Colorectal cancer

Mental Health

Alcohol acts as a depressant to the brain. While it causes some individuals to experience a sedating condition, others can experience more energizing conditions under certain circumstances. Functions that the brain controls like breathing, memory, thought, speech and movements can be affected by alcohol consumption. Other mental changes that can be affected include sleep changes, mood swings and learning difficulties.

Professionals often diagnose alcohol use disorder with other mental health problems, like anxiety disorder, depression, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia and other mental illnesses. 

How to Know When It’s Time for Treatment

Alcohol use disorder is a significant health issue in the United States. Since healthcare professionals are working hard to find treatment solutions for individuals struggling with addiction and completing research on the best practices for alcohol use disorder, there are numerous treatment facilities.

It’s a big decision to decide to seek out addiction treatment. Whether a person chooses to get help on their own or has a loved one trying to get them help, it’s a step toward recovery.

Pinpointing when someone needs treatment is simple when they understand the signs and symptoms of an alcohol use disorder, consider the amount of alcohol they drink and the negative life experiences that excessive drinking brings into their life.

How to Know When It's Time for Treatment

If a person is searching for reasons on why they should stop drinking, consider these five:

  1. You have the resources to seek treatment now: People don’t have to wait until something terrible happens to decide it’s time for treatment. When the signs and symptoms are present, it’s best to seek treatment before anything negative happens.
  2. It’s challenging to stop whenever you want: One of the most challenging parts of addiction is controlling cravings for alcohol. People can try and convince themselves that they have control over the situation, but it’s best to seek help from professionals to enter recovery.
  3. Addiction can seriously impact health: Alcohol use disorder doesn’t lessen up over time. Seeking treatment can help prevent more serious health issues and help current health problems.
  4. Alcohol use disorder can be deadly: According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, over 95,000 people died in the U.S. because of excessive alcohol use. Seeking treatment can help save a person’s life. 

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Types of Alcohol Addiction Treatment

People can seek out various types of alcohol use disorder treatment that best fits their needs and lifestyle. Standard options people think of include the 12-step program or inpatient rehabilitation, but thanks to years of research, people can find a solution that will best help them reach sobriety.

Treatment options should be tailored to each person, and understanding the various alcohol treatment options available can help people seek the best type of help for their alcohol use disorder.

Types of Alcohol Addiction Treatment

The first place a person can go to seek treatment is their primary care provider. These medical professionals can provide excellent resources on treatment facilities in the area and tailor their recommendations to their knowledge of a patient’s medical history and lifestyle. A primary care provider can also help evaluate the patient’s overall health, drinking pattern and address if medication treatment would be helpful for alcohol use disorder treatment. 


A treatment option that medical professionals administer is a medicinal treatment. There are currently three approved medications in the United States for alcohol use disorder. Only health professionals or primary care physicians prescribe these medications. Medication treatment can be complete by itself or in combination with other types of treatment and therapy.

All of the approved treatment medications are non-addictive and work by offsetting changes in the brain from alcohol use disorder. 


Behavioral Treatment

Behavioral treatments, also known as alcohol counseling, are successful because they get into the patient’s mind to learn why they started using alcohol and how to shift their lifestyle to involve no alcohol. These treatments are run by health professionals and strive to help people develop skills that help stop drinking, set goals, build a support system and learn healthy coping strategies for drinking triggers.

People can participate in various types of alcohol counseling. Some styles mesh better with some patients than others, and a primary care provider or medical professional can help decide which option is best for the patient.

The different types of behavior treatments include:

  • Cognitive-behavior therapy: This counseling is available for individual sessions or with group therapy. Patients learn how to identify their feelings and thoughts that lead to excessive drinking and handle the situation with healthy coping methods. This behavior helps alter a person’s thought process around alcohol use and triggering conditions.
  • Marital and family counseling: This therapy involves couples, spouses or family members in the counseling process. This therapy can make a big difference in the quality of a family relationship. Having a solid support system with family or a partner is beneficial during the recovery process.
  • Motivational enhancement therapy: This counseling helps patients develop motivation toward completing treatment for alcohol use disorder. It helps inform them on the therapy process and the benefits of treatment and helps build confidence in the patient. All of these skills can help a person stick to their treatment plan.
  • Brief interventions: These counseling sessions are short individual or group meetings where a counselor gives patients information on their drinking behavior and associated risks. Patients and the counselor will set goals for recovery and develop beneficial ideas to make treatment successful. 

The different types of behavior treatments

Mutual-Support Groups

Peer-supported groups like 12-step programs and Alcoholics Anonymous are helpful methods for people who want to quit drinking or stay sober from alcohol. In combination with other treatments, like medication or behavioral therapy, these support groups are a useful treatment option for patients struggling with alcohol use disorder. Many of these treatment groups are totally anonymous for the patient’s safety and confidence.

The Process of Treating Alcohol Addiction

Alcohol use disorder treatment features different stages that work to help make the process successful. While every patient should have a treatment plan created specifically for them, most treatment plans follow these three stages.


After quitting any substance, a person may begin to experience symptoms of withdrawal. Withdrawal describes the combination of mental and physical effects that a person feels after refraining from the substance they commonly use. The symptoms people experience from withdrawal vary in severity depending on a person’s addiction or alcohol dependency. It’s a widely unpleasant process that makes reducing or quitting alcohol a challenge.

A medical professional oversees the process of detoxification and helps patients conquer withdrawal symptoms, sometimes with medication. 



After a patient completes detoxification, they’ll move on to their primary treatment stage. This process can involve various treatment or counseling options that help people find healthy ways to cope with their new lifestyle.

One of the treatment options includes inpatient therapy. Inpatient therapy happens in a place where people recovering from alcohol use disorder live and complete treatments with around-the-clock supervision. This residential treatment option is beneficial for those recovering from severe alcohol use disorder or who want a well-rounded treatment option before getting back to normal life.

Another option is outpatient treatment therapy. This treatment option is beneficial for people who don’t need intensive treatment or still need to complete personal life obligations, like work, school or child care and need a more flexible treatment process.


After completing treatment for alcohol addiction, people will slowly start getting into their new everyday routine. Addiction is a lifelong disease, and people must continue maintaining their sobriety and find ways to continue improving their lifestyles. A helpful way to accomplish this is by joining support groups or continuing to see a therapist. Both options continue to encourage people to stick on their path of recovery and provide a much-needed support system that they can trust. 

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Benefits of Seeking Treatment for Alcohol Addiction

After knowing the adverse effects of alcohol use disorder on a person’s life, reaching out for help is the next necessary step. Treatment can bring numerous benefits into a person’s life and impact their overall health and well-being.

If someone is looking for more reasons to seek out treatment for their alcohol use, there are many different benefits that getting help can provide to a persons life:

  • Provides a safe environment to recover: Treatment for alcohol use disorder often involves searching for the root of why a person started excessively drinking. This resurfacing of memories or traumas can be intense for patients, but treatment provides a secure and safe place to express these thoughts and feelings. It’s one of the best places for people to begin healing with the access to help and resources they need. 

Treatment for alcohol use disorder often involves searching for the root of why a person started excessively drinking.

  • Education on addiction: People will learn the science and nature of addiction and why some people develop substance use disorder. This information is helpful for people to understand their behaviors and how to continue down a path of sobriety.
  • Medically monitored detoxification: Completing the first step of recovery is more likely to succeed when a medical professional assists. Detoxification works best with resources like medication to ease painful symptoms and supervision from staff to help keep a patient comfortable.
  • Treatment for physical and mental health: Treating the physical symptoms of recovery is one part, but helping people learn more about themselves and utilizing healthy coping skills in life is essential for recovery. Treatment centers for alcohol addiction can help provide resources and programs that impact a person’s physical and mental healing from alcohol.
  • Individualized treatment: Alcohol use disorder is unique in every person. People have different backgrounds, living situations and lifestyle differences that require treatment to be tailored specifically to every patient. Other reasons that a person needs individualized treatment include behavior patterns or mental illness. 
  • Coping methods to prevent relapse: Alcohol use disorder is a chronic condition. Treatment facilities will teach patients coping methods and other strategies to help prevent relapse. People can also pursue ongoing care like therapy or support groups after treatment to continue down their path of sobriety.
  • Peer support: Patients seeking inpatient therapy can find help in peer support. Patients will be socializing with others who are in a similar situation and can gain support from fellow peers during group therapy sessions or support groups.
  • Ongoing care: After patients complete their primary treatment, they can continue to improve through ongoing care options like mutual-support groups or therapy. This is an effective way to continue the progress of treatment, improve their lifestyle, and prevent relapse. 

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Frequently Asked Questions About Alcoholism Treatment

Do you still have more questions about alcohol use disorder treatment? There is a lot of information surrounding the disorder. Knowing everything you can helps you feel confident in your treatment plan.

What Medications Help Treat Alcohol Use Disorder?

The three medications that are approved to treat many aspects of alcohol use disorder include:

  • Naltrexone: Reduces the urge to drink by blocking receptors in the brain responsible for creating good feelings.
  • Acamprosate: Helps decrease the cravings for alcohol.
  • Disulfiram: Discourages people from drinking by providing unpleasant symptoms.

What is the Cost of Alcohol Use Disorder Treatment?

The cost of treatment varies on the level of treatment a person is receiving for alcohol use and their insurance coverage. Insurance can cover many forms of alcohol addiction rehab.

How Addictive Is Alcohol?

Alcohol affects each person differently. Many people can heavily drink alcohol without ever becoming addicted to the substance. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, around nine out of 10 adults who drink heavily are not dependent on alcohol. Various aspects like genetics, environment, community and culture all play a role in a person’s likelihood of developing alcohol use disorder.

What Types of Medical Professionals Help Provide Treatment?

The types of medical professionals that provide treatment for alcohol use disorder include:

  • Primary care providers can provide referrals, medication and behavior treatments.
  • Social workers can offer behavior treatments.
  • Alcohol counselors can provide behavior treatments.
  • Psychiatrists can provide medication and behavior treatments.
  • Psychologists can give behavior treatments

Reach Out to Gateway Foundation for Treatment or Resources

Reach Out to Gateway Foundation for Treatment or Resources

Taking a step toward recovery is the best decision a person can make when struggling with alcohol use disorder. You can find a high-quality alcohol addiction rehab in Chicago, Illinois, by reaching out to Gateway Foundation. We provide various types of treatment options for alcohol use disorder and other substance use. Contact us today to learn more about our treatment programs and services.

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