Alchohol Addiction

What is Alcohol?

Ethyl alcohol is an intoxicating substance that is the active ingredient in all types of alcoholic drinks – beer, wine, liquor, etc. It is responsible for changing our emotional and psychological state.

Ethyl Alcohol works in the body as a central nervous system depressant. It is not harmful in moderation, which, according to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA), counts as one unit of alcohol per day for women and 2 units for men. A unit of alcohol is 12 ounces of beer, 5 ounces of wine, or 1.5 ounces of liquor.1

While it is not harmful in moderation, alcohol consumed in excess has lasting damaging consequences on both the mind and body. Drinking to excess, known as binge drinking, happens when a person consumes 4-5 units of alcohol in 2 hours.

According to SAMHSA, heavy drinking is defined as 5+ drinks on 5 or more days over the previous 30 days.2

Signs of Alcohol Abuse

Noticing the signs of alcohol abuse is not difficult, but it becomes more complicated when the signs correlate with other issues. If you suspect that a loved one is abusing alcohol, look out for the following3:

  • Poor academic or work performance

  • Neglecting personal responsibilities

  • Using alcohol to relax or in times of stress

  • Inappropriate emotional expression

  • Driving or operating machinery under the influence of alcohol

  • Legal and financial issues

  • Drastic weight loss

What is Alcohol Addiction?

Excessive alcohol consumption, which can also be called alcohol abuse, is a dangerous and self-destructive behavior.

Addiction statistics across the US are concerning. According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, reports from one study reveals that over 25% of people aged 18 and over engaged in binge drinking in the previous month, and almost 7% of the same population engaged in heavy drinking in the previous month.4

The National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH) tells us that in 2018, 14.4 million American adults had an Alcohol Use Disorder (AUD), while only 7.9% of those suffering received treatment for their condition.5

Adolescents, aged 12 – 17, also face alcohol related issues in the US. The NSDUH reports that approximately 400,000 adolescents in the US suffer from an AUD.6

Addiction to alcohol follows alcohol dependence. Dependence occurs when a person has been misusing alcohol so regularly that the body has built up a tolerance and more alcohol is needed on a more frequent basis to achieve its desired effects. Dependence is characterized by the inability to feel normal and function properly throughout the day without the use of alcohol. 7

Dependence quickly becomes addiction, which is characterized by an inability to stop using alcohol despite its obvious health risks and other alcohol-related problems.8

Signs of Alcohol Use Disorder – Withdrawal Symptoms

AUD occurs when a person loses control over their relationship with alcohol and experiences withdrawal symptoms when they attempt to stop drinking or do not have access to alcohol for an extended period.

Signs of AUD and associated withdrawal symptoms include9:

  • Increased tolerance to alcohol

  • Anxiety, irritability, and/or depression when no alcohol is consumed

  • Cravings and urges to drink

  • Headaches, sweating, and nausea

  • Unsuccessful attempts at stopping use

More severe withdrawal symptoms include10:

  • Tremors

  • Nightmares

  • Chronic fatigue

  • Increased heart rate, blood pressure, and breathing rate

  • Hallucinations (startling at imaginary rats, spiders, shadows, etc.)

  • Delirium tremens

Withdrawal symptoms can be extremely difficult to deal with, and at times they can be so overwhelming that a person turns to alcohol to ameliorate the symptoms. This merely provides very temporary relief and serves to worsen one’s condition in the long term.

Causes of Alcohol Use Disorder

On a neurological level, AUD occurs when the brain’s reward system has become accustomed to the influence of alcohol and the dopamine release that occurs in anticipation of, and following, alcohol use. Dopamine is a neurotransmitter, one of four main brain chemicals responsible for feelings, emotions, and behavior. Serotonin, Oxytocin, and Endorphins also play an important role in brain function and general health.

When we use alcohol out of dependence, it is because the consumption of alcohol has satisfied a need – a prerequisite for being able to function properly and engage in life. Scientific research tells us that the brain is neuroplastic11, meaning it can adapt and rewire over time. When we frequently rely on alcohol, neural pathways in the brain get used to alcohol in our system. When we don’t drink, the brain believes that it is in deficit and drives our behavior towards alcohol consumption so that we can feel normal again.

Prior risk factors that contribute to the development of an AUD include12:

  • Genetic factors

  • Environmental influence

  • Poor mental health or underlying conditions such as anxiety and depression

  • Peer pressure

Adverse Physical Effects of Alcohol Abuse

Alcohol abuse takes a significant toll on the body. The following are just some of the ways alcohol impacts our physical health.

Alcohol and the Brain

Consumption of alcohol activates the neurotransmitter Dopamine in the brain’s reward system but also depresses the function of other neurotransmitters.

Alcohol also causes the brain to become inflamed, which has a negative impact on brain development. This is especially true for adolescents, whose brains have not yet finished developing.

Alcohol’s impact on the brain results in13:

  • An impaired ability to process information

  • Poor decision making

  • Slow responses and poor coordination

  • Poor emotional control

  • Impaired ability to form new memories

Alcohol and the Heart

Abuse of alcohol leads to an enlarged heart, which reduces its efficiency and ability to pump blood. This leads to a significant increase in blood pressure and causes irregular rhythms.

Alcohol and the Liver

The risk of liver disease is increased with even moderate alcohol consumption. Used in excess, alcohol can lead to hepatitis, cirrhosis, and cancer.

Alcohol and the Pancreas

Alcohol abuse is known to lead to inflammation of the pancreas, pancreatitis, and pancreatic cancer.

Alcohol and the Lungs

Lung function deteriorates with excessive alcohol consumption. Over time, alcohol abuse can lead to Acute Respiratory Syndrome.

Professional Intervention, Treatment, and Recovery Options for Alcohol Addiction

At Heather R. Hayes & Associates, we specialize in Trauma-Informed Responsive Intervention™, treatment, and recovery options for those afflicted by addiction. We believe that recovery is entirely possible and is most likely to be successful when supported by a team of caring and compassionate professionals. We aim to help all of our clients and their families by offering the necessary support and guidance needed to overcome addiction to alcohol. This includes:

  • Trauma-Informed Responsive Intervention™

  • Exploration of treatment options

  • Clinical guidance

  • Recovery coaching and sober companionship

  • Respectul Therapeutic Transport Protocol™

  • Monitoring services

If you or a loved has been affected by alcohol, please reach out to us today. The sooner help is sought, the more effective it will be.


1 “Drinking Levels Defined”. National Institute On Alcohol Abuse And Alcoholism (NIAAA), Accessed 14 Oct 2020.

2 Alcohol Use. Substance Abuse And Mental Health Services Administration, Accessed 14 Oct 2020.

3 Alcohol Use. Substance Abuse And Mental Health Services Administration, Accessed 14 Oct 2020.

4 “Alcohol Facts And Statistics”. National Institute On Alcohol Abuse And Alcoholism (NIAAA), Accessed 14 Oct 2020.

5 “Alcohol Facts And Statistics”. National Institute On Alcohol Abuse And Alcoholism (NIAAA), Accessed 14 Oct 2020.

6 “Alcohol Facts And Statistics”. National Institute On Alcohol Abuse And Alcoholism (NIAAA), Accessed 14 Oct 2020.

7 Becker, Howard C. “Alcohol dependence, withdrawal, and relapse.” Alcohol research & health : the journal of the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism vol. 31,4 (2008): 348-61.

8 “Alcohol Abuse – Harvard Health”. Harvard Health, 2014, Accessed 14 Oct 2020.

9 “Alcohol Abuse – Harvard Health”. Harvard Health, 2014, Accessed 14 Oct 2020.

10 “Alcohol Withdrawal – Harvard Health”. Harvard Health, 2019, Accessed 14 Oct 2020.

11 Kolb, Bryan, and Robbin Gibb. “Brain plasticity and behaviour in the developing brain.” Journal of the Canadian Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry = Journal de l’Académie canadienne de psychiatrie de l’enfant et de l’adolescent vol. 20,4 (2011): 265-76.

12 Yang, Ping et al. “The Risk Factors of the Alcohol Use Disorders-Through Review of Its Comorbidities.” Frontiers in neuroscience vol. 12 303. 11 May. 2018, doi:10.3389/fnins.2018.00303

13 “Alcohol’s Damaging Effect On The Brain”. Pubs.Niaaa.Nih.Gov, 2004, Accessed 14 Oct 2020.

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