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A Guide to Handling and Healing from Alcoholism

Alcoholism is a disease that affects more and more people each year.

When you're battling it, or you know someone who is, it feels like it's impossible to beat. However, you need to know that it is possible. You can heal from alcoholism as long as you take the proper steps.

There may be so much about alcoholism and alcohol abuse that you don't know. The more information you have, the better prepared you might be to take on this challenge. More than anything, you need to know that you're not on your own. There are so many people waiting to help you reach your sobriety goals.

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Understanding Alcoholism

What Does it Mean to be an Alcoholic? The Definition of Alcoholism

For someone who is an alcoholic, his or her life revolves solely around drinking.

The American Society of Addiction Medicine defines alcoholism as a chronic disease. In this way, it is very much the same as all other types of addictions. It is not a character flaw or the result of bad choices.

This condition is extremely complex, and researchers are still trying to comprehend it fully. If you are an alcoholic, at one point, you made a choice to begin drinking. However, genetics, your environment, your stress levels, and multiple other factors have contributed.

Fortunately, you don't have to remain in the state of active alcoholism. You can recover from this disease. However, the first step is to know if you are actually an alcoholic.

There are several warning signs that may indicate that your drinking has gotten out of hand. You can begin by looking for 12 specific signs. Keep in mind that you don't have to have all of the signs on this list. You may only have a few of them, and alcohol could still be becoming a problem for you.

The 12 warning signs of alcoholism are:

  • Getting into problems with the law. This might mean getting arrested for public intoxication, getting a DUI or a DWI, or any other legal problem.
  • Making drinking your top priority in your life.
  • Noticing that drinking has started to negatively impact your relationships.
  • Telling lies and just generally being dishonest about anything having to do with alcohol.
  • Making excuses for your behaviors.
  • Spending a lot of time with others who also consume alcohol regularly.
  • Spending a lot of time isolated, and drinking during that time.
  • Not performing well on the job, or even losing your job.
  • Finding that you need to consume more than you once did to get drunk.
  • Frequently consuming more in one sitting than you intended to.
  • Suffering from blackouts and losing your memory.
  • Feeling as though you need to drink every single day. Otherwise, you don't feel like yourself.

There are different ways that you can tell if your drinking has spiraled out of control. Actually, you can look for both physical signs that heavy drinking has become alcoholism, as well as behavioral signs.

The physical side effects of being an alcoholic are:

  • Poor appetite and diet
  • Weight loss as a result of this
  • Developing spider angiomas on the skin
  • Redness and swelling on the palms of the hands
  • Redness of the face; particularly in the cheeks and nose
  • Having less interest in sex
  • In men, impotence and testicle shrinkage are both common
  • Being diagnosed with many skin sores and infections
  • Developing gastritis
  • Tingling and numbness in the feet and hands
  • Having problems with coordination

Likewise, certain behaviors may also indicate that you're an alcoholic. According to the NCADD, these signs can include:

  • Frequent arguments with friends or family members
  • Bouts of depression
  • Developing severe mood swings
  • Believing that alcohol is needed to reduce stress, deal with problems or just function normally.
  • Becoming isolated for the purpose of drinking alone.
  • Taking serious risks after consuming alcohol, such as driving while intoxicated

The Four Stages of Alcoholism

Becoming an alcoholic does not happen all at once. It takes some time to develop alcoholism. Of course, there's no definite amount of time that it may take. Some people may become alcoholics shortly after they start drinking. For others, it may take several years.

Four Stages of Alcoholism

E. Morton Jellinek did extensive research on the four stages of alcoholism. It may help for you to know what these different stages are. This could assist you with identifying what stage you fit into.

At this stage, consumption is mostly social in nature. From the outside, people in the pre-alcoholism stage don't seem to have a problem. It is at this time that a physical tolerance for alcohol starts to develop. This means that people will stop getting drunk as quickly as they once did. In order to feel the same effects from alcohol, they need to drink more.

As this stage progresses on, people begin to use alcohol as a way to cope with their problems. They may drink because they feel stressed out, or because they just feel the need to relax. Some individuals will drink because it helps with their physical pain.

This mindset should be a warning. You could be in this stage if you're drinking alcohol for any of these reasons. However, if you are at this level, you may be able to stop without any negative consequences.

A sign of early stage alcoholism is characterized by blacking out. This is what happens when you have no memory of what happened while you were drinking. You may not feel comfortable about drinking so much, but at the same time, you can't stop.

It is usually at this stage when deceptive behaviors begin. You may hide alcohol around your home, or spike drinks with it whenever you get the chance. You may take it to work with you and hide it in your desk. It is at this point that lying to others about your drinking becomes very common.

At some point, you realize that alcohol has become an obsession for you. You think about it all the time, and you're constantly looking forward to your next drink. Your tolerance levels continue to increase, and you drink more to compensate.

Up until this point, you may have been able to keep your problem a secret. However, this is the stage when it begins to become obvious to your friends and family. You may show many outward, physical signs of alcoholism in the middle stage.

Your behaviors also start to indicate that there's a problem. You may find that you're late to work frequently. You might not be as productive on the job as you once were. Some people even lose their jobs, or quit because they'd rather stay home and drink instead.

At the middle stage, alcoholics are very irritable toward their loved ones. They drink around their children, or in other inappropriate settings. Most of the time, they're either drinking or recovering from a hangover.

The good news is that it usually at this point where people decide to get help. They may begin going to counseling, or they may attend Alcoholics Anonymous meetings. Unfortunately, it can take many attempts before they will stay on the path to recover long-term.

It is during this stage where the effects of long-term alcohol abuse are most obvious. A late stage alcoholic usually has serious health issues. They may spend all day drinking, and everything else pales in comparison to alcohol.

At this point, many of the diseases alcoholism can cause will be developing. In some cases, they may even be fully developed. People can suffer from diabetes, cirrhosis of the liver (or other liver conditions), and dementia.

Trying to quit drinking during this stage is often accompanied by paralyzing symptoms. People may develop severe hallucinations or paranoia. They may suffer from extreme tremors or even develop seizures with their quit attempts too.

It is possible to die from alcoholism when you're in the final stage. This is generally because you've gotten some type of disease that's irreversible. People tend to underestimate how dangerous alcohol can be. They assume that because it's legal, that means it must be safe.

Some of the conditions that can cause death in alcoholics include:

  • Steatosis, which is sometimes called fatty liver disease.
  • Alcoholic Hepatitis
  • Cirrhosis of the Liver
  • Brain Damage
  • Heart Failure

It's also possible to die because you're in an accident that's alcohol-related. Many of the organs in your body could eventually just stop working properly. A smaller number of people will commit suicide. For these individuals, they'd rather die than to attempt to live their lives in sobriety.

Abusing Alcohol

Does Abusing Alcohol Mean You're Addicted to it?

Abusing alcohol does not mean that you have an alcohol addiction. However, it is how alcoholism begins. Sadly, people tend to think that they can safely abuse it for months, or even years without any consequences. They may think that alcoholism is something that simply couldn't happen to them. Maybe you can relate to that way of thinking.

Even though alcohol abuse isn't the same as being an alcoholic, the two are related. The longer you abuse it, the more likely you are to form an addiction.

For the most part, yes. Moderate drinking is considered to be relatively safe. In fact, there are some studies that indicate that occasional alcohol use may even be healthy for you.

Most people are able to go out once in a while and have a drink with friends. There are also people who regularly have a glass of wine with their dinner. Both of these are prime examples of moderate drinking.

If you do drink moderately and responsibly, you should be applauded. However, you need to do so with a word of caution. It doesn't take much for moderate drinking to get out of hand. Sometimes it can escalate before you even realize it's happening. Make sure that you are always aware of how much you're consuming at a time.

Types of Alcohol Abuse

There are different ways in which people will abuse alcohol. Most of the time, they think they're just having fun. Alcohol serves as a way to de-stress after a hard week at work, or it helps them relax. They don't realize the damage they could be doing long-term.

The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism calls heavy drinking "at-risk drinking." The official definition is different for men than it is for women. For men, heavy drinking means having more than four drinks in a day, or 14 in a week. For women, it's having more than 3 drinks in a day, or 7 per week.

It's common for people to only drink heavily on the weekends. Because they only do it a few days a week, they think it's OK. Even though they don't drink for several days a week, they could be at risk. The more people consume alcohol, the greater the risk for alcoholism becomes.

Binge drinking is defined as excessive alcohol use in a short period of time. For men, this means drinking 5 or more drinks within two hours. For women, it means consuming 4 or more drinks within two hours. This will result in bringing blood alcohol concentration levels to a 0.08 or above.

The CDC offers a fact sheet on binge drinking that's really quite interesting. They state that:

  • As many as 1 in 6 adults in the United States binge drinks about 4 times per month.
  • These individuals will consume about 8 drinks each time.
  • This type of alcohol use is more common among younger adults between the ages of 18 and 34.
  • About twice as many men binge drink as women.
  • People with higher incomes are much more likely to use alcohol this way than those with lower incomes.
  • However, people with lower incomes binge drink more often, and consume more alcohol each time.
  • People under the age of 21 usually report bingeing when they do consume alcohol.

The CDC also states that most people who binge are not alcoholics. However, that doesn't mean that they can't be alcoholics. It is entirely possible to struggle with alcoholism when you only binge occasionally, and many people do.

There are two physical signs that often appear first. These signs indicate that there is a serious problem with your alcohol use. Those signs are forming a tolerance, and going through withdrawal when you stop.

Once you notice either of these two signs, it's time to consider that you may be drinking too much. At this point, you may be able to simply stop drinking without many negative effects. If you ignore these signs, you're likely to become an alcoholic.

Alcohol has a profound effect on the body, and even abusing it for a short time can be devastating. If you're abusing alcohol, but you're not yet addicted, you'll still suffer from some effects. These can include:

  • Significant changes in your mood
  • Problems with thinking clearly
  • Problems with your coordination
  • An irregular heart rate
  • Higher blood pressure than normal
  • A weakened immune system, which means getting sick more often

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What Does Alcohol Dependence Mean?

According to WebMD, alcoholism and dependence are the same. People who are dependent upon alcohol feel the need to drink regularly. They have cravings for alcohol and need to have it just to feel like themselves.

Sometimes physicians will use the term alcohol dependence in place of alcoholism. You should be aware that if your doctor has said you are dependent on alcohol, you are an alcoholic.

Symptoms of Dependence

You could be dependent on alcohol if you have experienced some of the following within the last year:

  • Spending a lot of time recovering from hangovers
  • Trying to quit drinking, but being unable to
  • Regularly consuming more than you intended to in one sitting
  • Giving up a lot of the activities you love so you can drink
  • Having withdrawal symptoms when you try to quit
  • Attempting to cut down on your alcohol use, but failing
  • Consuming alcohol even though it's causing you relationship problems
  • Finding out you have alcohol-related medical issues, but continuing to drink anyway

Once you have become alcohol dependent, you stand to suffer so many losses in your life. Some of the consequences could be:

  • Losing your job
  • Losing your friends
  • Losing close family members
  • Losing your health
  • Losing your driver's license if you have a DWI or DUI

When it comes down to it, these losses aren't worth it. It's much better to make the choice to recover if you're an alcoholic.

The Effects of Alcohol Addiction

It's important for you to know that alcohol use has its effects. They can actually begin with the very first drink you have. Of course, as time goes on, and you consume more, its effects will intensify. For those who refuse to get help to stop drinking, the final effect could be death.


The immediate effects of alcohol use are why people consume it in the first place. They may drink for celebratory reasons, or to relax, but they really like how alcohol makes them feel.

Immediately, alcohol use results in:

  • An intense feeling of relaxation and calmness
  • A loosening of inhibitions
  • Drowsiness or sleepiness
  • Distorted sense of vision
  • Distorted hearing
  • A decrease in anxiety levels
  • A decrease in motor skills
  • A sense of euphoria

Many of these effects are pleasurable, and they're what keep people returning to alcohol over and over. As the use of this substance persists, the effects as a result of it become much worse.

For someone who has been drinking alcohol excessively for a short time, the effects become more severe. Short-term use of alcohol is likely to result in:

  • Slurred speech
  • Problems with breathing
  • Frequent headaches
  • Difficulty with coordination
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • An upset stomach
  • Becoming anemic
  • Occasional or even frequent blackouts
  • The risk of a coma
  • Problems with judgment

Many of these should be warning signs that it's time to stop drinking. However, many alcoholics will continue to use. Their need to have alcohol will usually trump any concerns they have about their health or well-being.

The longer someone drinks, the more at risk they become. The long-term effects of alcohol abuse include:

  • The risk of alcohol poisoning as they drink more
  • High blood pressure
  • The risk of heart disease
  • The possibility of a stroke
  • Nerve damage
  • Impotence and other sexual problems
  • Developing a Vitamin B1 deficiency
  • The risk of ulcers
  • Gastritis
  • Becoming malnourished

For a severe alcoholic, this usually means they're in the end stage. As we've discussed, this stage is associated with many different health issues. Someone at this stage is at risk for, or has already developed:

  • One of many problems with their liver
  • Tuberculosis
  • Cancer
  • Chronic pneumonia
  • Chronic bronchitis
  • Emphysema

Determining if You're Addicted to Alcohol

We've gone over so many of the signs of alcoholism in great detail so far. Chances are that if you're an alcoholic, you have noticed many of these signs in yourself. However, it's possible that you still might not be sure.

It's really important for you to identify if you're an alcoholic. If you are, acting quickly is really in your best interests.

You may want to consider taking an alcoholism quiz like this one. Some people find that answering questions really helps them come to terms with their addictions. After you finish answering the questions, you'll be given a recommendation for what you should do next. This might mean going to counseling, or going to an alcohol rehab program.

If you're not comfortable taking a quiz, and you'd rather talk with someone, you can. You can obtain an alcohol evaluation through many alcohol rehab programs. This will allow you to talk with a professional about your alcohol use. This might give you more peace of mind, and it's often helpful to get professional advice.

Alcoholism Quiz

Your Steps to Recovery

Why You Should Avoid Quitting on Your Own


Now that you know how serious the situation is if you're an alcoholic, you need to know what to do. Your first instinct may be to simply stop drinking. This is what many people decide to do. They get rid of all alcohol in their homes and decide to quit cold turkey.

We want to caution you against doing this. It could be very dangerous for you to stop drinking abruptly. Alcohol is a serious drug, and quitting outside of professional help is dangerous. Let's talk about why that is the case.

Once you've been drinking for some time, your body gets used to having alcohol. Excessive alcohol use results in increased dopamine and serotonin levels in your brain. Endorphin levels are also increased. These chemicals are responsible for making you feel happy and secure.

Quitting alcohol results in a drop in these chemicals. Your brain hasn't been making as much of them on its own, and the result is withdrawal. This is your body's way of responding when you quit drinking.

Alcohol withdrawal symptoms can be very severe. You may experience some or even most of the following:

  • Symptoms of anxiety or depression, or both in some cases
  • Extreme levels of fatigue
  • Extreme mood swings
  • The onset of nightmares
  • Foggy thinking or confusion
  • Painful headaches
  • Feeling angry or irritable
  • Loss of your appetite
  • Possible weight loss
  • An upset stomach with or without vomiting
  • Pale skin
  • A faster heart rate
  • Hand tremors

These and other symptoms don't appear all at once. Usually you'll start to crave alcohol first. Additional symptoms may develop as time goes on.

Some people experience even worse alcohol withdrawal. These symptoms are known as delirium tremens, or DTs.

Not everyone will suffer from DTs. However, for those who do, the condition can be fatal if they don't receive quick medical treatment. Delirium tremens is the most severe form of alcohol withdrawal. It is especially common in those who don't eat enough food after they quit drinking.

The symptoms of DTs include:

  • A sudden form of severe confusion
  • Excessive body tremors
  • Abrupt changes in thinking and mental function
  • Extreme agitation
  • Feeling excited or fearful
  • Having hallucinations
  • Extreme mood swings
  • The onset of seizures
  • Feeling sensitive to sound, touch and light

This condition can occur in anyone who is an alcoholic. However, it's most likely to happen to those who have a history of going through withdrawal from alcohol. It's also more likely to happen in alcoholics who have been drinking for ten years or more.

Typically, DTs should begin within the first 48 to 96 hours following the last drink. However, this is not always the case. There have been people who have experienced this condition up to two weeks after they stopped drinking.

Alcohol Detox Programs

The safest way to stop drinking alcohol is to get professional treatment. This will usually begin with a period of alcohol detox.

Detoxifying your body is the most important thing you can do if you're an alcoholic. It will allow you to potentially avoid many of the more dangerous forms of withdrawal. Many people who take this step will not develop delirium tremens. For those who do, they're able to get the necessary medical help right away.

There are different forms of alcohol detox, and the one that is right for you will be discussed with you. You may be a candidate for holistic detox. This involves making certain dietary and lifestyle changes as you begin to heal. Or, it's possible that you are more suitable for medical detox. Medical detoxification allows you to take medications to help with your withdrawal symptoms.

Once you finish going through detox, you'll be ready for the next stage of your recovery. This is will be alcohol rehab.

Rehabilitation and Treatment

Going to an alcohol treatment program doesn't have to be scary. In fact, you may find it to be the best choice you ever made. Rehabilitation programs are designed to provide you with the support you need as you recover.

It's important for you to find a treatment center that takes all of your unique, personal needs into consideration. You should receive a treatment plan that's detailed and targeted for your needs. The methods of care you receive should provide you with the type of help that is right for you.

Having said that, there are some forms of treatment that most people need and can benefit from. You will be participating in these as a part of your recovery.

Alcohol counseling is a vital part of your recovery journey. In fact, many people believe that it has given them a lot of insight into their alcoholism. Talking with a therapist in a one-on-one setting offers you so many benefits. You'll be able to:

  • Learn about why alcoholism is so dangerous.
  • Find out why you started to drink and rely on alcohol as such an important part of your life.
  • Be diagnosed with any co-occurring disorders that could be contributing to your condition.
  • Work through the issues that have led to your drinking habits.
  • Build new coping skills to help you prevent a relapse in the future.

It can seem strange to sit down and talk with a therapist about your thoughts and addiction. However, you'll get to know your therapist very well. It won't be long and you'll feel very comfortable with him or her. It's such a rewarding experience, and a very important part of your healing.

In addition to one on one counseling, group therapy is also important. This may make you even more nervous than speaking with a counselor. However, you have nothing to worry about. The people in your group will all be addicts working on recovery themselves. They'll understand where you're coming from, and you'll support each other.

Research has shown that group therapy is very important in recovery. It will help you to know that you're not alone. You'll also benefit from hearing others share their stories about alcoholism and addiction.

Your Aftercare as a Recovering Alcoholic

Once you have finished your alcohol rehab, your recovery is not over. It is so important for you to continue to get support. More often than not, the people who relapse back into their addictions are those who didn't get adequate follow-up care.

You will be given a recommendation for the type of after that's right for you. However, it may involve one of the following, or both of them together.

You may want to choose to find your own therapist who specializes in addiction treatment. Or, you could opt for an outpatient rehab setting. Both would be excellent choices. You'll find that you won't need to meet with your new therapist as often as you once did. He or she may want to see you weekly at first, and then your visits should be more spaced out.

You won't need to work with a therapist for the rest of your life, but you should be patient. Alcoholism recovery does take time. It's important to trust the professionals who are working with you. They will recommend the right care for you every step of the way.

Alcoholics Anonymous, or AA, is a way for you to continue to get group support after rehab is over. This organization has been around for decades, and it is celebrated as being one of the most effective. There are AA meetings held all over the world, and in every state in the U.S.

It's really easy for you to find an AA meeting near you. You can even use the search tool on their website. If you attend a meeting and you don't really care for it, look for another one. You're sure to find one that's a good fit for you.

AA is a great way for you to get even more help to stay on track. Eventually, you may even be able to sponsor others who are new in recovery themselves. That is a great way for you to give back and share everything that you've learned along the way.

Assistance for Families of Alcoholics

One of the most painful experiences you may ever have is knowing that a loved one is an alcoholic. That might be what you're facing right now. It's challenging, but you can get through it. You only need to know what you should do.

Talking About the Problem

The first step - and it may be the hardest step - is having a discussion with your loved one. Maybe alcoholism is a subject you've never brought up to them before. It will be hard to talk about it now, but it's something that needs to happen.

You want to follow a few guidelines before you have this conversation with your family member. You should:

  • Choose a time when the person has not been drinking.
  • Remain calm as you talk.
  • Bring evidence with you. Talk about behaviors you've noticed and any concerns you may have.
  • Talk about alcoholism statistics to support your thoughts.
  • Ask your loved one to get help.
  • Offer to assist in finding the right kind of alcohol treatment.

Even if you do everything perfectly, you should know that these conversations don't always go well. Typically, the alcoholic is very upset that you brought the issue up. He or she may get angry with you, or even refuse to talk to you about the problem. You should expect a poor outcome, just in case it happens. If it does, there is another step you can take.

It may cross your mind to bring up the subject of quitting drinking again later on. Sometimes families think that if they talk about it enough, the person will get worn down and give in. While this does happen, an intervention might be the better course of action.

There are a lot of reasons why you should consider having an intervention. The most important one is that they are very effective. Quite often, people are touched to see how many of their loved ones care about their addictions. After listening to everyone talk, they're more compelled to get help.

An alcohol rehab near you can help you set up an intervention. You'll get plenty of coaching beforehand, so you'll know what to say and what to expect. It might be the step that's necessary to get your loved one to see the need for help.

Alcohol Questions

Alcohol Questions You May Have as You Recover

It would be wonderful if there were actually a cure for alcoholism. Unfortunately, no such thing has ever been discovered. However, that does not mean that you need to remain in the active addiction for the rest of your life.

You have probably heard the saying, "Once an alcoholic, always an alcoholic." There is some truth to that statement, but you need to know the real truth. Yes, you will always be an alcoholic, but that doesn't mean you always have to drink.

So many people have stopped drinking successfully. You can do the same. It may be years before you no longer feel tempted to consume alcohol. However, every day you choose not to drink brings you one step closer to victory.

Your recovery journey is just that; a journey. Having said that, you won't need to stay in rehab or treatment for the rest of your life. It will benefit you to have some form of treatment for quite some time.

For instance, you may be someone who needs to go to counseling on a regular basis. Perhaps you became an alcoholic because you suffered from depression. Going to counseling gives you another way to work through your problems and feelings.

Also, you may choose to continue going to Alcoholics Anonymous long-term. Many people do, and they reap the benefits of that decision. That would allow you to function as a sponsor in the lives of people who need that support.

Continuing to go to treatment is going to keep you focused on your goals. It will help you avoid relapsing and achieve long-term sobriety. That is really what you're looking for, after all.

The ultimate goal is to recover from alcoholism and avoid relapsing. It's a noble goal, but it's not always a realistic one. This is because this is a relapsing disease.

U.S. News and World Report did a story on relapse, and they cited a JAMA study that was quite interesting. They found that between 40% and 60% of people in recovery relapsed within the first year. Of course, that also means that the same amount of people were successful.

The longer you can stay in recovery, the better your chances will be of avoiding a relapse. Even so, relapsing does not need to be the end of the line for you. Having a few drinks doesn't mean you have to go back to your old habits. If you relapse, talk with your counselor about the situation. It may be very easy for you to get back on the right track.

Finding the Right Alcohol Treatment That Will Work for You

At this point, you may have decided that you're an alcoholic in need of treatment. If you have, that's wonderful. It takes a lot of bravery and courage to come to that decision. It certainly is one of the most difficult steps you'll ever take.

Here at Ashwood Recovery, we want you to know that we're here to support you. We know how hard it is for alcoholics to make the decision to get help. You may be someone who has been drinking for ten years or more. It's become a way of life for you, and it makes you anxious to think about quitting. We can promise you that better days are ahead. Once you want to make the change in your life, we can assist with the entire process.

We're confident that you'll find our staff members to be attentive and supportive. It's our goal to get you the right kind of treatment that will help you reach your sobriety goals.

Do you have additional questions you'd like to ask about alcoholism? Perhaps you need more information about your treatment options, or you're ready to get started. No matter what your needs are, we can help. Please contact us right away.

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