Addiction to alcohol, also known as alcoholism, is a disabling addictive disorder. It is characterized by compulsive and uncontrolled consumption of alcohol despite its negative effects on the drinker's health, relationships, and social standing. Like other drug addictions, alcoholism is medically a treatable disease.
The biological mechanisms underpinning alcoholism are uncertain, however, risk factors include social environment, stress, mental health, genetic predisposition, age, ethnic group, and sex. Long-term alcohol abuse produces physiological changes in the brain such as tolerance and physical dependence. Such brain chemistry changes maintain the alcoholic's compulsive inability to stop drinking and result in alcohol withdrawal syndrome upon discontinuation of alcohol consumption. Alcohol damages almost every organ in the body, including the brain; because of the cumulative toxic effects of chronic alcohol abuse, the alcoholic risks suffering a range of medical and psychiatric disorders. Alcoholism has profound social consequences for alcoholics and the people of their lives.
Alcoholism is characterised by an increased tolerance of and physical dependence on alcohol, affecting an individual's ability to control alcohol consumption safely. These characteristics are believed to play a role in impeding an alcoholic's ability to stop drinking. Alcoholism can have adverse effects on mental health, causing psychiatric disorders to develop and an increased risk of suicide.
Overcoming Alcohol Addiction
- Overcoming an addiction to alcohol can be a long and bumpy road. At times, it may even feel impossible. But it’s not. If you’re ready to stop drinking and willing to get the support you need, you can recover from alcoholism and alcohol abuse—no matter how bad the addiction or how powerless you feel.
- Recovery starts with admitting you have a problem with alcohol. You don’t have to wait until you hit rock bottom; you can make a change at any time. And while there are many effective alcohol treatment options, you don’t necessarily have to seek professional help or go to a fancy rehab program in order to get better. There are many things you can do to help yourself stop drinking and achieve lasting recovery.
- Most people with alcohol problems do not decide to make a big change out of the blue or transform their drinking habits overnight. Recovery is usually a more gradual process.
- In the early stages of change, denial is a huge obstacle. Even after admitting you have a drinking problem, you may make excuses and drag your feet. It’s important to acknowledge your ambivalence about stopping drinking. If you’re not sure if you’re ready to change or you’re struggling with the decision, it can help to think about the costs and benefits of each choice.
To start, you may want to:
Get rid of temptations. Remove all alcohol, barware, and other drinking reminders from your home and office.
Announce your goal. Let friends, family members, and co-workers know that you’re trying to stop drinking. If they drink, ask them to support your recovery by not doing so in front of you.
Be upfront about your new limits. Make it clear that drinking will not be allowed in your home and that you may not be able to attend events where alcohol is being served.
Avoid bad influences. Distance yourself from people who don’t support your efforts to stop drinking or respect the limits you’ve set. This may mean giving up certain friends and social connections.
Learn from the past. Reflect on previous attempts to stop drinking. What worked? What didn’t? What can you do differently this time to avoid pitfalls?
When you drink heavily and frequently, your body becomes physically dependent on alcohol and goes through withdrawal if you suddenly stop drinking. The symptoms of alcohol withdrawal range from mild to severe, and include:
Alcohol withdrawal symptoms usually start within hours after you stop drinking, peak in a day or two, and improve within five days. But in some alcoholics, withdrawal is not just unpleasant—it can be life threatening.
Avoiding drinking triggers
Give yourself the best possible chance of staying sober by minimizing temptation and developing strategies for staying strong when it’s unavoidable.
Avoid the things that trigger your urge to drink. If certain people, places, or activities trigger a craving for alcohol, try to avoid them. This may mean making major changes to your social life, such as finding new things to do with your old drinking buddies—or even giving up those friends.
Practice saying “no” to alcohol in social situations. No matter how much you try to avoid alcohol, there will probably be times where you’re offered a drink. Prepare ahead for how you’ll respond, with a firm, yet polite, “no thanks.” Don’t give yourself time to start coming up with reasons why it’s okay “just this once.”