Coming to terms with the fact that your use of alcohol has reached problem levels is never going to be easy. As almost all adults drink alcohol to some degree, and because it is a legal, widely available substance, it is understandable that you might believe that it is completely safe. After all, if it weren’t, it wouldn’t be legal, right?
Unfortunately, despite alcohol being moderately safe when consumed at low levels, excessive consumption of it is a different story altogether. Alcohol is a chemical, mood-altering substance that can have a profound impact on the brain and the way this organ functions. It can cause hundreds of health problems and can lead people down the path to addiction. So, how is alcohol addiction diagnosed? And, could you have an issue with it? First let us look a little closer at what alcohol addiction is and how it develops.
What is Alcohol Addiction?
As previously mentioned, most people drink alcohol to some extent. However, most drink it socially and in moderation. They tend to stick to the Government’s recommended guideline amounts of fourteen units per week for safe consumption, and they never drink with the intention of getting drunk.
Others drink far more regularly and when they do drink have little control over their consumption. They may drink more than they planned to or for longer than they intended and find it very difficult to stop once they have started.
Alcohol becomes a problem when it begins to interfere with daily life. Moreover, you might be able to kid yourself for some time that your consumption of alcohol is not impairing your life, but if you continue to abuse it, there will be no way to avoid the truth.
An alcohol addiction will consume you. Once you become physically dependent on alcohol, it will become all that matters to you. Your need for it will be so strong that everything else in your life will fade into insignificance. That includes family members, friends, and responsibilities at home and at work. You will probably also lose interest in hobbies or activities that you once enjoyed.
How Does Alcohol Addiction Develop?
When you first started drinking, you are likely to have had plenty of control over how much you drank and when you stopped. Most people continue to keep their alcohol consumption under control but for others, this can be difficult.
The reason for this is that alcohol can hijack the reward centre in the brain of certain people. The first time you drank, your body will have released a feel-good chemical known as dopamine. Dopamine is responsible for feelings of pleasure and it also stimulates the brain’s reward system. It sends a message to the brain telling it that whatever you have just done, be it eating nice food, having sex, or drinking alcohol, for example, was good and that you should do it again.
However, in some individuals, alcohol can cause a surge of dopamine to be released, which tricks the brain. The result is that you may want alcohol again and again in order to recreate those feelings of pleasure. Dependence may start off with you developing a tolerance to alcohol. When this happens, it means that your body has adjusted to the presence of the substance. It is now producing fewer dopamine chemicals in response to alcohol and this will make you feel as though you are not getting the effects you desire. Your response will have likely been to drink more alcohol, but when you do this, you risk becoming physically dependent.
Your body becomes so used to alcohol that it begins to crave it whenever the effects wear off. Furthermore, the more you drink, the more likely it is that certain areas of your brain will be affected. In fact, regular abuse of alcohol can lead to structural changes within the area of the brain that is responsible for good judgement and logical thinking. This is probably the reason most alcoholics continue to drink even when knowing it will cause harm to their own life and the lives of those they love.
Can Alcohol Addiction be Diagnosed?
Something you may have been wondering about is how alcohol addiction is diagnosed. If everyone around you seems to think you have a problem but you believe that everything is fine, you may be thinking how they are so sure?
The truth is that alcohol addiction cannot be diagnosed with a physical examination or a blood test. Nevertheless, you can know for sure if you have a problem by taking a good look at your behaviour and examining your drinking habits.
There are some tell-tale signs that a doctor might pick up on during a physical examination, such as fatty liver disease, but this usually happens when the problem is at a later stage. What you should know is that it is very common for family members and friends to spot the signs of addiction long before the person with the problem does.
Your loved ones have almost certainly picked up on changes in your behaviour, and it will not have taken them long to put two and two together. It is a good idea to listen to what they have to say and remember that they will not have addressed the issue without good reason. There is a lot of stigma attached to addiction unfortunately, so most family members and friends will make sure they are correct before broaching the topic.
Do You Need Alcohol Treatment?
It is important that you get help as soon as possible if you are struggling with an alcohol addiction. The longer you go untreated, the worse the problem will become. You may not yet be ready to accept a need for help, though. Maybe you are still at the stage where you are convinced that your loved ones are wrong and that there is nothing to worry about? Perhaps you believe that you can stop drinking anytime you like? But have you actually tried?
It is probably best to take some time now to think about your recent alcohol consumption. Be completely honest with yourself as this is the best way to know for sure if you would benefit from some help. If you have been drinking more than you used to when you first began drinking, it is likely that you have built up some sort of tolerance to alcohol.
But think about how much alcohol you drink and whether you can easily stop drinking once you start. Those with an alcohol problem tend to find that once they start drinking, they lose control of how much they drink. They often want to continue drinking when everyone else has had enough and may become, for example, irritable with those who are ready to go home after a night out. Does this sound familiar to you?
Another sign that you might have a problem is waking up and forgetting large chunks of what happened the night before. Or, waking up and feeling ashamed about things you did while under the influence. Remember, alcohol impairs judgement and you may often take unnecessary risks while intoxicated.
Alternatively, do you wake up with physical symptoms such as headaches, nausea, shaking or sweating? Do these symptoms subside when you have had a sip or two of alcohol? If so, it is likely that you are physically dependent, and you could benefit from seeking out help. Please note that you can talk to us here at Addiction Helper. If you are not ready to speak to your loved ones, you can talk to one of our friendly advisors who can then provide information and advice about what you can do next.
The Next Steps
If you are ready to get help for alcohol addiction, there are plenty of options open to you. Treatment is typically provided by the NHS, local charities, local counsellors, and private clinics. If you are physically addicted to alcohol, it is likely that you will need a detox initially. This is the process designed to help you quit alcohol and is necessary before you move on to rehabilitation.
Detox is just the first part of the recovery process and tackles the physical addiction. You should be aware that detox will begin naturally when you stop drinking, but for your comfort and safety, it is recommended that you complete the process in a dedicated detox clinic, under careful supervision.
Detoxing from alcohol can be a complicated process and it will be affected by several factors, including how long you have been drinking and how severe your addiction is. Your age and underlying medical health may also be a factor. What you should know is that during the process, you are probably going to experience some withdrawal symptoms. With a carefully managed detox however, these symptoms can be eased or even prevented in some cases.
A detox tends to last for between one and two weeks, after which time, your mind and body will be free of alcohol and you will be ready to move on to the next stage of your recovery journey – rehab.
What is Rehab Like?
Alcohol rehab is designed to help you learn how to live a productive life without mood-altering chemicals. This may be tough if you have been self-medicating with alcohol for a long time, but it is possible to get clean and stay that way.
With a programme designed around your needs, you can learn how to live a substance-free life and become a productive member of your own community once more. During your treatment, you will learn the reasons you became addicted and will be taught essential skills to help you cope with independent sober life.
Rehab typically involves psychotherapeutic and holistic treatments that are designed to help you overcome your addiction. Through counselling and therapy sessions, you will learn to identify the negative thought patterns and addictive behaviours that have led you to this point. You will also learn how to challenge those behaviours and replace them with positive alternatives. Holistic therapies will help to heal your mind, body, and spirit, thus reducing stress and improving your overall wellbeing.
Rehab programmes take place in a residential or day care setting, depending on the provider and your own requirements and preferences. If you would like more information on the different types of rehab programmes available in your area, please contact Addiction Helper today.
How Can You Know for Sure?
You may have always wondered ‘how is alcohol addiction diagnosed?’ because you thought this was the only way to know for sure if you had a problem. Nonetheless, identifying a problem is more about looking closely at your own behaviours and drinking habits. Unfortunately, you may not have been in a position to do this yourself until now. If you are still unconvinced that you need help, give us a call.
As part of our service, we offer free and confidential assessments, which will allow us to take a good look at your situation. With a series of questions and answers, we can determine what, if anything, you are dealing with. Our service is completely confidential, so no one need know you have been in touch with us unless you want them to know. Please call today to find out more about how we can help you.