What Is Alcohol Addiction?
Alcohol addiction is the repeated abuse of alcohol in a manner that negatively affects your life and causes you to both crave alcohol and experience withdrawals when you are not drinking. Those who want to learn how to beat alcoholism should seek treatment immediately.
Symptoms of Alcoholism
- Inability to control alcohol intake
- Having a desire to stop drinking but not being able to
- Strongly craving alcohol
- Increased alcohol tolerance
- Experiencing alcohol withdrawals like nausea, excessive sweating, etc.
Physical Signs of Alcohol Abuse
- Yellow eyes and skin due to liver damage
- Dry hair, nails, and skin due to excessive alcohol drinking causing your body to experience dehydration
- Strong odor of alcohol coming from your breath and body
- Poor hygiene, in general, due to excessive drinking and caring more about alcohol use than taking care of yourself
Alcohol Addiction Diagnosis
To medically diagnose you with alcohol addiction, a medical professional/doctor will first ask you questions about your drinking habits and history with alcohol. Your doctor may then ask your family members and close friends questions about your drinking history to gain further insight on your condition.
Once your doctor has gathered the necessary information on your history with alcohol by talking with you and your family and friends, he or she may then perform a psychological evaluation on you. This psychological evaluation will likely include a detailed questionnaire about the thoughts, feelings, and behaviors that you experience while drinking. To get an even more accurate read on your degree of alcohol abuse, your doctor will perform lab tests on you.
Lab Test Signs of Alcohol Abuse
Lab tests for alcohol abuse are done through blood tests. These blood tests are based on either indirect or direct biomarkers. Indirect biomarkers show how the body and all of its organs are functioning. Direct biomarkers show whether or not your body has consumed alcohol recently or has an increased amount of blood alcohol levels.
Indirect Alcohol Abuse Biomarker Tests
Carbohydrate-deficient Transferrin (CDT) Test
With a 77% sensitivity, the carbohydrate-deficient transferrin test is one of the most accurate when it comes to detecting chronic alcohol abuse. Physiologically, the CDT detects the percentage of transferrin in the liver that is carbohydrate-deficient. Transferrin is a substance that the human liver produces to transfer iron molecules from the intestine to other organs and cells in the body that need iron to operate.
If you consume alcohol at a rate of 5 units or more per day, your liver will not produce a normal percentage of healthy transferrin. Factors such as medications, liver disease, and overall poor health can also cause the percentage of carbohydrate-deficient transferrin in the body to fall into an unhealthy range.
Healthy individuals that do not abuse alcohol have 0 – 1.6% of transferrin in their liver that are carbohydrate-deficient. People who chronically abuse alcohol have anywhere from 1.6% – 10% of transferrin in their body that is carbohydrate-deficient. Medical professionals consider chronic alcohol abusers whose liver transferrins are 10% carbohydrate-deficient to be extreme alcoholics.
Liver Function Test (LFT)
The liver function test primarily detects the indirect biomarker gamma glutamyl transferase (GGT). In men, the normal range of GGT is 10-71 iU/L. Anything outside of this range indicates alcohol abuse.
Although the liver function test is the second most reliable indirect biomarker blood test, there are many things outside of alcohol abuse that can affect your GGT levels. For example, medications such as warfarin, antidepressants, barbiturates, cimetidine, and epilepsy drugs can affect your GGT levels.
Full Blood Count/Mean Corpuscular Volume (MCV) Test
The full blood count (FBC) or mean corpuscular volume (MCV) test is an indirect alcohol abuse biomarker test that detects recently ingested alcohol in the body. Physiologically, the MCV test detects the volume of red blood cells in a body and compares it to the average volume size of red blood cells that a human tends to have. Volume of red blood cells is considered normal if it is between 80 – 99 fL.
With a 44% sensitivity rate, the mean corpuscular volume test is the least accurate alcohol abuse blood test. Medications and vitamin deficiencies are examples of things that could affect your full blood count/mean corpuscular volume.
Direct Alcohol Abuse Biomarker Test
Phosphatidylethanol (PEth) Test
Phosphatidylethanol is the only direct alcohol abuse biomarker test. This means that the test only produces a product when you consume alcohol. To be specific, the phosphatidylethanol test will show if you have consumed alcohol within the past 30 days.
As a direct biomarker, the phosphatidylethanol test is incredibly accurate. Not only does phosphatidylethanol have a 99% sensitivity rate, but it also is not affected by things such as age, gender, health, or previous alcohol use the same way that indirect alcohol abuse biomarkers are.
Causes of Alcohol Addiction
As a mental illness with physiological effects, there are many factors that could lead to alcohol addiction. Some of these factors are biological while others are psychological, behavioral, social, and environmental.
Biological Alcohol Addiction Factors
Studies have shown that there are indeed chemicals in the brain that can make you more susceptible to becoming an alcoholic. In fact, scientists now state that there are 51 genes that are correlated with alcoholism. This means that you can genetically pass down alcoholic tendencies to your offspring.
Psychological Alcohol Addiction Factors
When you are struggling with mental illnesses such as depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, etc., it is natural to find coping mechanisms to help you get through each day. Coping mechanisms can be either healthy or unhealthy. For many people dealing with mental illness, alcohol is an easy unhealthy coping mechanism to turn to.
One reason why alcohol is such a popular unhealthy mental illness coping mechanism is because of how easy it is to access. Another reason is that it suppresses the constant stressful feelings and thoughts that often come with having a psychological disorder.
The desire to suppress one’s negative thoughts and feelings often causes alcoholics to binge drink to the point of blacking out. While drinking to cope with mental illnesses is a common practice for alcoholics, it is extremely dangerous and can lead to life-threatening side effects.
Behavioral Alcohol Addiction Factors
Having a biological susceptibility to alcohol addiction or a psychological disorder does not automatically mean that you are going to become an alcoholic. In fact, many people that have the biological and/or psychological alcohol addiction factors do not become alcoholics until also introduced to the social and environmental alcohol addiction factors.
One key behavioral alcohol addiction factor is drinking at a young age. Research from the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) shows that people who begin drinking before the age of 15 are 4 times more likely to suffer from alcohol addiction later on in life.
Social Alcohol Addiction Factors
Who you spend time with and the level of influence those individuals have on your life, particularly during childhood and adolescence, play a major role in whether or not you become addicted to alcohol. For example, many people start drinking at a young age due to peer pressure from their friends.
Environmental Alcohol Addiction Factors
Your environment is a key factor that activates the biological predispositions that you have, whether they be positive or negative. This could not be more true than when referring to the development of alcohol addiction. For example, research shows that you are more likely to develop a positive attitude towards drinking if you live near alcohol establishments.
Your income can also play a role in your outlook on drinking. In fact, despite the stereotype, people who come from more affluent households may be more likely to drink alcohol than those from lower-income households.
About Treatment for Alcoholism
Your alcohol addiction treatment process will vary depending on the severity of your addiction, where you are at in your recovery process, and what your personal treatment needs are. For example, if your level of alcohol addiction is severe and you are early on in your recovery, you will likely need inpatient care in a hospital. Inpatient treatment allows you to live in a care facility all day and overnight in a hospital to receive the care you need.
If you need intensive treatment that will benefit your body, mind, and soul, you may want to look into residential alcohol addiction treatment. Residential treatment means that you are living in a treatment center long-term rather than staying in a hospital.
If you are further along in your alcohol recovery, but still need hospitalization assistance, you can receive partial hospitalization treatment. Partial hospitalization treatment enables you to receive treatment during the day and return home at night.
If you do not need to receive hospitalization treatment but you still want intense partial treatment for your alcoholism, you can receive inpatient outpatient care. Inpatient outpatient care is a flexible treatment option that allows you to go to a treatment facility for your treatment sessions and then go home afterward.
If you are far enough in your recovery process to where you do not need to stay in a hospital or recovery center at all, you can just receive outpatient care. This type of treatment offers more flexibility as treatment and therapy sessions can work around your schedule.
Since alcohol addiction is a disorder, you should receive dual diagnosis treatment if you also suffer from a mental health disorder. Dual diagnosis treatment is when you receive care for both mental illness disorders and substance abuse disorders simultaneously.
It’s a Journey
Whether you are trying to figure out how to beat alcoholism for the first time or for the 100th time, remember to not be too hard on yourself. Regardless of how others perceive it, alcohol addiction is a disease, and just like any other disease, it deserves to be addressed with compassion and grace.
To learn about the alcohol addiction treatment programs that we offer, shoot us a message on our website, email us, or call us over the phone. Our hours are from 8:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m. Monday – Saturday.