Understanding Alcoholism

Just because a person drinks alcohol does not necessarily mean that they have alcoholism. There are people who drink on occasion and never develop an alcohol use disorder. However, a person’s pattern of drinking – combined with genetics and environmental factors – can put them at greater risk of developing alcoholism. This condition makes it harder for people to control the amount and frequency of their drinking despite negative consequences. Alcoholism can affect physical and mental health, relationships, decision-making, careers, financial stability and much more.

Some people become very skilled at hiding their drinking. They are high functioning despite being intoxicated and it may make others question whether their drinking is really a problem. However, building a tolerance to alcohol can be a sign of alcoholism, and no matter how well they may seem to be doing, their drinking will eventually begin to take a greater toll on their life and well-being.

Is Alcoholism a Mental Health Disorder?

When thinking about mental health disorders, alcoholism may not be the first thing that comes to mind, but it is part of this group. Alcoholism affects the brain and influences how it functions. It alters one’s mental state and the normal hierarchy of needs and desire. While there are many physical effects of drinking, there are also numerous mental effects.

Alcoholism is characterized by the inability to control one’s drinking despite negative consequences. It can also interfere with impulse control, compulsions, mood and behavior. It is not unusual for those with alcoholism to experience depression, anxiety, aggression, confusion and other changes in mental health while under the influence.

It is also common for people to experience symptoms of a mental health disorder such as depression, anxiety, obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) or bipolar disorder when struggling with alcoholism. The symptoms often overlap due to the similarities in the areas of the brain affected by these conditions.

Statistics about Alcoholism in the US

Alcoholism is a widespread problem that affects people of all ages in the US. Not only is it an issue for teenagers and young adults, it is also a problem among the senior population and everyone in between. According to a 2013 study by the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse:

  • Approximately 16.6 million adults (ages 18+) in the United States have an alcohol use disorder
  • Of those adults, 10.8 million are men and 5.8 million are women
  • Around 697,000 adolescents (ages 12-17) have an alcohol use disorder
  • Alcohol-related causes are the third leading preventable cause of death in the United States
  • Alcohol misuse cost the United States $223.5 billion in 2006

There are millions of people affected by alcoholism, but only a small percentage of these people seek the help they need. There is treatment available at 1st Step Behavioral Health to assist people in overcoming addiction and alcoholism.

What are the Symptoms and Signs of Alcoholism?

The symptoms and signs of alcoholism may vary from person to person depending on the severity of their addiction. Hiding or downplaying use is very common because people do not want to admit that their drinking has gotten out of control or is as serious as it is. Knowing what to look for can allow people to get the help they need and turn their life around for the better. Here are some symptoms and signs of alcoholism to be alert for:

  • Inability to control drinking
  • Drinking more than intended
  • Unable to stop or cut back on drinking
  • Developing a tolerance to alcohol
  • Prioritizing drinking over other responsibilities or commitments
  • Loss of interest in other activities so as to keep drinking
  • Drinking despite negative consequences
  • Experiencing withdrawal symptoms

A person may experience these symptoms and more in varying degrees depending on the severity of their alcoholism. Alcohol can also take a toll on physical health and lead to problems with the liver, heart, kidneys, skin and other organs of the body.

How do you know if there is a Co-Occurring Disorder?

In some cases, a person may have a co-occurring disorder. This means that in addition to struggling with alcoholism or drug addiction, they also have a mental health disorder. This could include conditions such as depression, anxiety, OCD, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), bipolar disorder, personality disorders or schizophrenia. Symptoms of both conditions are present and make professional treatment an even more important part of the recovery process. The presence of a mental health disorder can impact addiction and vice versa. If one or both are left untreated, they can become worse.

Comprehensive testing and evaluation are used to determine whether a person has a co-occurring disorder and the extent of the impact on their life. This may include a family history, medical history, psychiatric testing, psychosocial evaluations and more. From here more customized treatment plans can be made to address the person’s individual needs.

Understanding the Alcoholism Rehab Process in a Dual Diagnosis Case

Once a dual diagnosis has been identified, more personalized treatment can be provided in alcoholism rehab. It is essential that both substance use and mental health disorders are treated simultaneously. This allows the person to understand how the two are related and how they affect their recovery. The first step is to undergo detox to rid the body of any addictive substances and start the healing process. This provides a fresh start and allows them to focus on their recovery without the influence of alcohol or drugs in their system. It can also help to determine which symptoms were triggered by alcoholism and which are the result of a mental health disorder.

Through therapy, counseling, medication management, holistic therapies, recreational activities, support groups and more, recovery slowly begins to take shape. The combination of these treatment methods provides more comprehensive care that addresses the physical, mental, emotional, social and spiritual impact of addiction and mental illness on a person’s life.

As the person begins recovery and understands more about their mental health and addiction, they can develop targeted strategies to help reduce risk of relapse and promote better mental health. Keeping a positive outlook and knowing how to cope with challenges in a healthy way is important for long-term recovery. Approaches to treatment may vary depending on a person’s individual needs and how their dual diagnosis impacts their life. If a co-occurring disorder is present, it is vital to find a rehab center with a dual diagnosis program for more effective care.

Dual Diagnosis Treatment for Alcoholism and Mental Health Disorders

Although co-occurring disorders may seem complex or overwhelming at first, dual diagnosis treatment for alcoholism and mental health disorders can be an effective way of helping people to overcome these challenges and progress forward in their recovery. At 1st Step Behavioral Health, clients can develop the strategies and skills necessary to live a healthier, higher quality life in recovery. Their treatment plan will meet them where they are and provide the individualized care and support they need to reach their goals. Do not ignore the warning signs of alcoholism or co-occurring disorders; seek addiction treatment today to create a brighter future. Contact us today!