When Should Someone Seek Help
Individuals often hide their drinking or deny they have a problem. How can you tell if you or someone you know is in trouble? Signs of a possible problem include having friends or relatives express concern, being annoyed when people criticize your drinking, feeling guilty about your drinking and thinking that you should cut down but finding yourself unable to do so, or needing a morning drink to steady your nerves or relieve a hangover.
Some people with drinking problems work hard to resolve them. With the support of family members or friends, these individuals are often able to recover on their own. However, those with alcohol dependence usually can’t stop drinking through willpower alone. Many need outside help. They may need medically supervised detoxification to avoid potentially life-threatening withdrawal symptoms, such as seizures. Once people are stabilized, they may need help resolving psychological issues associated with problem drinking.
There are several approaches available for treating alcohol problems. No one approach is best for all individuals.
Symptoms Of Alcohol Use Disorder
In the United States, 18 million adults have an alcohol use disorder .
You may have an AUD if you have experienced two or more of the following in the past year:
- Drinking more or for longer than planned
- Being unable to cut down or stop drinking
- Spending excessive time drinking or recovering from drinking
- Feeling a strong need to drink
- Drinking or being sick from drinking that interfered with life or responsibilities
- Drinking despite it causing relationship problems
- Giving up or cutting back on activities in favor of drinking
- Getting into dangerous situations while or after drinking
- Drinking even though it caused health problems
- Developing a tolerance to alcohol’s effects
- Experiencing withdrawal symptoms 7
Why Is Alcohol Addictive Study Offers Clues
Research Could Lead to More Focused Medications for Heavy Drinkers
Jan. 11, 2012 — We know alcohol makes many people feel good, and that it affects the brain, but new research goes a step further by tightening the focus on areas of the brain most likely affected by alcohol.
Investigators say they have identified specific differences in how the so-called reward center of the brain responds to alcohol in heavy and light drinkers.
In both groups, drinking alcohol caused the release of naturally occurring feel-good opioids known as endorphins in two key brain regions associated with reward processing.
But heavy drinkers released more endorphins in response to alcohol, and they reported feeling more intoxicated than the lighter drinkers after drinking the same amount of alcohol. Learn more about the effects of alcohol on the brain.
The findings suggest that people whose brains release more natural opioids in response to alcohol may get more pleasure out of drinking and may be more likely to drink too much and become alcoholics, researcher Jennifer M. Mitchell, PhD, of the University of California, San Francisco, says.
Greater endorphin release was associated with more hazardous drinking, Mitchell says. We believe this is an important step in understanding where and how alcohol acts in the brain.
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How Does Alcohol Dependence Develop
No one sets out to become an alcoholic, but regular, heavy drinking can result in alcohol dependence and alcoholism.
When we drink, alcohol enters the brain and disrupts the delicate balance of chemicals called neurotransmitters that keep the body functioning normally. This disruption leads to the numerous behavioral changes and physical signs associated with intoxication, such as euphoria, loss of inhibition, impaired coordination, slurred speech and drowsiness.
Fortunately, these effects are temporary and wear off after the body breaks down the alcohol. But when exposure to alcohol is ongoing, the brain seeks to compensate for these effects, and a complex cascade of long-term chemical changes begin to occur.
To counteract the brain-slowing effects of alcohol, for instance, the brain increases the activity of excitatory neurotransmitters, which stimulate nerve activity and heighten arousal. As these changes occur, people require increasingly larger amounts of alcohol to become intoxicated. As a result, their drinking will often escalate.
At the same time, the drinker will likely begin to experience intense cravings for alcohol and distressing physical withdrawal symptoms, such as sweating, anxiety, tremors, an elevated heart rate and insomnia, when they stop drinking.
To avoid these uncomfortable symptoms, which can occur as soon as six hours after people who are dependent on alcohol consume their last drink, a person may begin drinking frequently or around-the-clock.
Alcohol Addiction: The Damage
Alcoholism affects both a persons physical and mental health and also their way of life. Alcoholics can themselves feel cut off from their social circles and become remote, affecting both relationships with family members, partners and friends.
Fuelling their alcohol addiction also affects an individuals cash flow and can have a severely detrimental effect on their job and career through lack of focus, drive and energy.
Some the most well known adverse health effects include the following:
Cancer: alcohol is the second biggest cause of mouth and throat cancers as well as liver cancers.
Brain damage: Binge drinking can cause blackouts and anxiety, whilst long-term drinking can cause serious mental health problems and permanent brain damage. 65% of suicides have been linked to excessive drinking. Behaviour change is also common partly down to the disruption of sleep patterns leading to added stress and anxiety.
Fertility: In women, alcoholism can lead to infertility whilst in men it can also cause impotence.
The body also struggles to process the increased intake of alcohol, affecting the pancreas, stomach, intestines and kidneys. The lungs can also develop infections and even choking episodes as a result of vomiting.
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Addictive Properties Of Alcohol
Once a persons brain adapts to frequent drinkingthey will experience withdrawal symptoms.
Alcohol is a central nervous system depressant, which means that consuming alcohol reduces, or inhibits, overall brain activity. The most important way alcohol inhibits brain activity is by increasing signaling by a neurotransmitter called gamma-aminobutyric acid .
GABA is the main inhibitory neurotransmitter in the brain, and drugs that increase GABA signaling are used as sedatives, muscle-relaxants, and anti-anxiety medications, among other things. Increased inhibitory signaling in the brain due to alcohol is the reason people who drink excessively slur their speech, have difficulty walking, and suffer memory loss or blackouts.
If a person drinks alcohol often, their brain will adapt to the increased inhibition by increasing excitatory signaling through neurotransmitters like glutamate. The neural activity of glutamate essentially opposes that of GABA and results in a generalized increase in brain cell excitation or firing rate. Such adaptations lead to tolerance in problem drinkersover time, these individuals must drink more and more to experience the same effects from alcohol. This begins a vicious cycle of increased drinking followed by greater tolerance that eventually leads to dependence and addiction.
As alcohol is rapidly absorbed into the bloodstream and travels throughout the body, its effects can be felt almost immediately:
What Is A Porn Addiction
Porn addiction is, in theory, when you canât stop looking at porn, even if you want to. And the obsession gets to the point that it interferes with work, relationships, and other parts of daily life. Itâs easy to understand how this could be a problem with the widespread availability of internet porn today. In 2019, for example, the popular site PornHub recorded 42 billion visits — thatâs 115 million a day.
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How Do I Know If Im Addicted To Alcohol
Addiction is a physical or mental dependence on a substance. The definition of alcohol use disorder is an inability to control ones alcohol use despite negative consequences2. Other common signs of AUD include:
- Lying about how much youre drinking, or hiding alcohol around the house so others wont notice
- Drinking to feel normal or avoid a hangover
- Buying alcohol from different stores so employees dont know how much you are drinking
- Continuing to drink even though you want to stop, or promised others you would stop
- Drinking more or for longer than you initially intended
- Frequently experiencing blackouts or feeling ill from the effects of drinking
- Finding yourself distracted by thoughts about alcohol
- Skipping out on other activities to drink instead
- Finding yourself in dangerous situations due to drinking or intoxication
- Experiencing tremors and other withdrawal symptoms if you dont drink often enough
- Increased tolerance: requiring more and more alcohol to feel the effects
Curious to know if youre really drinking too much? Take our short alcohol use quiz.
Heavy Drinkers Response To Alcohol
The release of endorphins in the brain and the compulsion to drink more to recreate that feeling is even more pronounced in those who drink heavily. The more they drink, the more endorphins are released, the happier they feel and the more likely they are to crave alcohol.
When cravings meet physical dependence, binge drinking or alcohol abuse turns into alcohol addiction.
But it may not just be the endorphins.
A study reported by BBC News says that drinking alcohol causes a release of dopamine, another happy chemical, as well. Again, the issue is that drinkers feel good when they drink the more they drink, the better they feel and they want to replicate that feeling when they can.
This makes binge drinking especially attractive to those who are functional , but binge drinking can quickly turn into alcohol addiction or be the cause of an accident that can be dangerous or deadly to the drinker or someone they care about.
Can You Be Physically Addicted To Alcohol
Yes. Alcohol changes the way the brains communication pathways work. This drug can change a persons mood, behavior, and physical abilities. Alcohol also causes a chemical reaction with the brains gamma-aminobutyric acid receptors. This stimulates the brains pleasure and reward center and causes endorphins to release.
Endorphins lead to feelings of relaxation, pleasure, and satisfaction. Some peoples brains produce higher levels of these hormones. Over time, the body may begin to crave this euphoric reaction.
People may begin to have intense cravings or lose the ability to control how much they drink. Heavy or frequent alcohol use can result in physical dependence. When this happens, a persons body requires the drug in order to function properly.
People who are physically dependent on alcohol may display signs, including:
- memory blackouts
- shaky hands
- change in sex drive or ability
- dizziness or falling
- problems at work, home, or with the legal system
The Balance Of Addiction
In this theory, the pathway to addiction is a careful balanceif someone finds alcohol too rewarding, and its overuse not punishing enough, then they have an incentive to keep drinking and no reason to stop.
It seems that its not just the rewarding effects that are important in determining how motivated someone might be to consume alcohol, its also whether or not they experience any of these aversive effects, Taha said. That may play a role in, over time, whether youre content to consume a couple of beers, or if youre someone who escalates over time.
Gantt Galloway, senior scientist in the Addiction & Pharmacology Research Laboratory at the California Pacific Medical Center Research Institute in San Francisco, hopes to see more work on how the lateral habenula works in humans.
If there are differences in lateral habenula function in people, then whats the basis for those differences? Are those differences genetic, and can one then identify a thats associated with increased risk for alcoholism? he said. That could be a useful predictive diagnostic test and could conceivably predict whos going to respond to different sorts of treatments as well.
More than 50 percent of alcoholism can be accounted for by genetic factors, which might govern the growth of brain regions such as the lateral habenula and the areas associated with reward. But Galloway warns that brains, rats, and people cant be examined in a void, especially when it comes to drug use.
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What Other Factors Increase The Risk Of Addiction
- Early use. Although taking drugs at any age can lead to addiction, research shows that the earlier people begin to use drugs, the more likely they are to develop serious problems.31 This may be due to the harmful effect that drugs can have on the developing brain.32 It also may result from a mix of early social and biological risk factors, including lack of a stable home or family, exposure to physical or sexual abuse, genes, or mental illness. Still, the fact remains that early use is a strong indicator of problems ahead, including addiction.
- How the drug is taken. Smoking a drug or injecting it into a vein increases its addictive potential.33,34 Both smoked and injected drugs enter the brain within seconds, producing a powerful rush of pleasure. However, this intense high can fade within a few minutes. Scientists believe this powerful contrast drives some people to repeatedly use drugs to recapture the fleeting pleasurable state.
Emerging Trends In Substance Misuse:
- MethamphetamineIn 2019, NSDUH data show that approximately 2 million people used methamphetamine in the past year. Approximately 1 million people had a methamphetamine use disorder, which was higher than the percentage in 2016, but similar to the percentages in 2015 and 2018. The National Institute on Drug Abuse Data shows that overdose death rates involving methamphetamine have quadrupled from 2011 to 2017. Frequent meth use is associated with mood disturbances, hallucinations, and paranoia.
- CocaineIn 2019, NSDUH data show an estimated 5.5 million people aged 12 or older were past users of cocaine, including about 778,000 users of crack. The CDC reports that overdose deaths involving have increased by one-third from 2016 to 2017. In the short term, cocaine use can result in increased blood pressure, restlessness, and irritability. In the long term, severe medical complications of cocaine use include heart attacks, seizures, and abdominal pain.
- KratomIn 2019, NSDUH data show that about 825,000 people had used Kratom in the past month. Kratom is a tropical plant that grows naturally in Southeast Asia with leaves that can have psychotropic effects by affecting opioid brain receptors. It is currently unregulated and has risk of abuse and dependence. The National Institute on Drug Abuse reports that health effects of Kratom can include nausea, itching, seizures, and hallucinations.
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How To Help A Family Member Suffering From Alcoholism
Once youve identified that a friend or family member is struggling with an alcohol dependency, the next natural step is to try and help them, and although the decision to actively treat the disease ultimately comes from the person suffering from it, there are some steps you can take to help direct them onto the right path.
Firstly, try to learn and understand a little more about the illness. Alcoholism is more than just drinking too much, and as noted above, there are numerous underlying issues which may have triggered the condition. Knowing what some of these triggers are can help you identify and also help the individual identify what the underlying cause of their alcohol dependency is.
Secondly, you need to decide where and when to discuss alcoholism with the person afflicted, but also what you want to say. Its important to avoid being hurtful or negative and let them know that the person means a lot to you, and thats why youve opened this line of communication.
Its then important that you listen to what the individual has to say. The person may be in denial, but taking in what they respond can help you potentially uncover the cause or trigger of their alcoholism.
Thirdly, if the individual agrees, a pathway to treatment can be set in place. This could range from an intervention to a detox-style addiction therapy designed to treat the underlying cause of their alcoholism for good.
What Happens To The Brain When A Person Takes Drugs
Most drugs affect the brain’s “reward circuit,” causing euphoria as well as flooding it with the chemical messenger dopamine. A properly functioning reward system motivates a person to repeat behaviors needed to thrive, such as eating and spending time with loved ones. Surges of dopamine in the reward circuit cause the reinforcement of pleasurable but unhealthy behaviors like taking drugs, leading people to repeat the behavior again and again.
As a person continues to use drugs, the brain adapts by reducing the ability of cells in the reward circuit to respond to it. This reduces the high that the person feels compared to the high they felt when first taking the drugan effect known as tolerance. They might take more of the drug to try and achieve the same high. These brain adaptations often lead to the person becoming less and less able to derive pleasure from other things they once enjoyed, like food, sex, or social activities.
Long-term use also causes changes in other brain chemical systems and circuits as well, affecting functions that include:
Despite being aware of these harmful outcomes, many people who use drugs continue to take them, which is the nature of addiction.
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Why Do People Become Addicted To Drugs Or Alcohol
These past few years, you have seen how the number of people who use drugs and alcohol increase. This has resulted in a more serious problem, such as early, and problematic pregnancies and failures in various parts of life. What are the possible reasons of allowing this malevolent thing to happen? And why do people become addicted to drugs or alcohol?
Substance addiction is one of the major problems across the world. It doesnt only cause suffering and pain for the people involved, but also to the society and those around the addicted individual. Regardless of the continued efforts to understand and eliminate drug and alcohol abuse, theres no sign that it is narrowing. It is a complicated issue because there are various reasons as to why people consistently get involved in substance addiction.