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Alcohol Abuse vs. Dependence

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Alcohol Abuse, Alcohol Dependence, and Alcohol Use Disorder

Even though alcohol abuse and dependence may seem to be the same, there are some subtle differences. The psychiatric community now views both abuse and dependence as part of the condition known as alcohol use disorder (AUD).

What Behavior Is Considered Abusing Alcohol?

Abusing alcohol means that you consume alcohol too frequently, drink too much at one time, or both. These factors are subjective in nature. In other words, “too frequent” or “too much” varies from one person to another.

Signs of Abusing Alcohol

What distinguishes abusing alcohol from social drinking is the effects that it has on certain areas of your life. If your consumption results in problems on the job, strained relationships, or inability to meet your financial obligations, you may be abusing alcohol. You may also have a small degree of dependence on alcohol that is either emotional or physical.

The fifth edition of the Diagnostic Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5), published in 2013, combined the concepts of abuse and dependence into the newly named and defined alcohol use disorder (AUD).

The manual presents 11 symptoms of AUD and categorizes the disorder as mild, moderate, or severe depending on how many of them an individual has experienced over the past year. A diagnosis of AUD requires at least two. The symptoms include:

• Having times when you ended up drinking more, or longer, than you intended
• Wanting more than once to cut down or stop drinking, or tried to, but couldn’t
• Finding that drinking — or being sick from drinking — often interfered with home, family, work, or school responsibilities
• More than once, while or after drinking, getting into situations that increased your chances of getting hurt (such as driving, swimming, using machinery, walking in a dangerous area, or having unsafe sex)
• Continuing to drink even though it led to depression, anxiety, or a memory blackout
• Experiencing withdrawal symptoms or sensing things that weren’t there as the effects of alcohol were wearing off

How Common Is Alcohol Use Disorder?

Binge drinking, heavy alcohol use, and high-intensity drinking are the three most common types of AUD. According to the 2019 National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH), 25.8% of adults reported binge drinking in the past month. Additionally, 6.3% of adults reported heavy alcohol use within a 30-day period.

There is also an emerging trend among adults who consume alcohol. Known as high-intensity drinking, the practice involves consuming two to three times as much alcohol as what is considered binge drinking. The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) defines binge drinking as imbibing enough alcohol to raise your blood alcohol concentration (BAC) to 0.08% or above.

Does Abuse of Alcohol Require Treatment?

Even though a person may not be chemically dependent on alcohol, there are still underlying issues that contribute to abusing alcohol through binge drinking, heavy alcohol use, and high-intensity drinking. A person may have an untreated mental health condition, such as anxiety, depression, or PTSD. In some cases, individuals who abuse alcohol simply don’t have the appropriate coping skills to deal with normal stress or peer pressure.

Is Abusing Alcohol Dangerous?

The NIAAA reports that, compared to people who do not binge drink, those who engage in high-intensity drinking are 70 to 93 times more likely to make alcohol-related emergency room visits, depending on the amount of alcohol consumed. A person may suffer from alcohol poisoning or injuries that happened as a result of drinking. From a long-term perspective, abusing alcohol damages vital organs in the body, such as the liver, kidneys, heart, and brain. Many people who abuse alcohol eventually become dependent.

Is Alcohol Addiction the Same as Alcohol Dependence?

Addiction and dependence are terms used to describe substance use disorders including AUDs. In general, addiction is considered drug or alcohol use that changes one’s behavior. These changes are typically caused by the effects of long-term alcohol use in the brain. Dependence, on the other hand, describes the body’s actual reliance on alcohol to function properly. For example, a person who is dependent on alcohol may experience vomiting and nausea if they don’t drink for a certain length of time.

Signs of Alcohol Use Disorder

The DSM-5’s definition of AUD helps clinicians and counselors diagnose someone, but friends and family members often need more concrete criteria. Some of the more common signs of alcohol use disorder are:

• Cravings
• Negative mood changes when a person doesn’t consume alcohol, such as being irritable or anxious
• Inability to control alcohol consumption
• Drinking more alcohol or more often than planned
• Being in dangerous situations as a result of alcohol consumption
• Tremors, nausea, vomiting, abdominal cramps, fever, and other physical symptoms
• Blood in vomit or stools
• Profuse perspiration
• Abnormal lab values, especially those related to kidney and liver function
• Seizures
• Hallucinations
• Needing to drink in order to feel physically or emotionally “normal”

Does an AUD Require Treatment?

Treatment is recommended for an alcohol use disorder due to the emotional and physical complexities of the condition. The clinicians and counselors at Liberty Bay Recovery Center can help you through the detox process. We will also work with you to determine the underlying motivation behind your alcohol consumption and find healthier ways to cope.

Can You Overdose on Alcohol?

Alcohol consumption can be fatal. Long-term or heavy use damages key organs in your body. Additionally, alcohol causes serious impairment that may put you in high-risk situations. Alcohol poisoning is also a possibility. This happens when you drink a large amount of alcohol in a short time. The alcohol may decrease your breathing, temperature, and heart rate. People may also choke on their vomit. All these situations require emergency medical attention. In severe cases, alcohol poisoning can cause coma and even death.

According to the National Center for Drug Abuse Statistics, over 140,500 Americans die each year from the effects of alcohol, and one in 10 people over 12 has an AUD.

What Causes Alcohol Use Disorder?

The science of treatment for substance use disorders, including alcohol, has evolved significantly in the last decade. We now understand that abusing alcohol or being dependent is typically rooted in an underlying mental health condition, such as trauma, depression, anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), or stress. Treatment protocols now use a dual diagnosis model, meaning that counselors work with clients to address their alcohol use along with their mental health conditions. This is a proven approach that results in higher rates of long-term recovery and sobriety.

Should You Get Help for Your Alcohol Use?

Seeking treatment for your alcohol use is a deeply personal choice, and we applaud you for seeking guidance. Most likely, you feel that alcohol has become a significant part of your life, and drinking is no longer fun. As challenging as this may be, feeling like this is one of the best signs that it’s time to get help.

The team at Liberty Bay Recovery Center will walk with you on the journey to recovery and sobriety. We understand the path that lay ahead of you because many of us are recovering addicts ourselves. This is why we strive to provide every one of our clients with a safe and compassionate place to heal and recover from the effects of drugs and alcohol.

What Happens During Treatment for AUD?

We take you through a multi-step process. First, you go through a medically supervised detox to eliminate the alcohol from your body. Our doctors, nurses, and counselors monitor your progress to make detox as comfortable as possible. Once your body is free of alcohol, we meet with you to define a treatment plan that reflects your personal goals. The last step is individual and group counseling.

Guide to Withdrawal from Alcohol

Detox is a process that often prevents people from addressing their alcohol use disorder. If you are dependent on alcohol, you may have already experienced some of the symptoms. When you choose treatment at Liberty Bay Recovery Center, withdrawing from alcohol is a different experience. You will have symptoms for the first 48 to 72 hours. Our doctors and counselors are standing by to alleviate any discomfort and make sure that you successfully complete detox. Some of the most common symptoms of alcohol withdrawal are:

• Headaches
• Nausea and vomiting
• Trouble sleeping and having bad dreams
• High blood pressure
• High heart rate
• Feeling confused, anxious, angry, sad, or depressed
• Shame and guilt
• Irritability
• Shaking and tremors

Counseling Support for Alcohol Use Disorders

Liberty Bay Recovery Center offers individual and group counseling using the most advanced mental health models, such as cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), dual diagnosis therapy, medication-assisted treatment (MAT), and trauma treatment. You can access these services on an inpatient or outpatient basis, depending on your needs and your progress toward recovery.

Treatment Options

We understand that recovery from an AUD means that your life may be put on pause. To best accommodate your unique needs, we offer three distinctive treatment options for our clients. Inpatient rehab and partial hospitalization are recommended for our clients who will benefit from spending 30 to 45 days in treatment and away from the influences of the outside world. We also offer a full-day intensive outpatient program for clients who need some additional support after inpatient care. The day includes meals.

Once you feel more confident in your journey to recovery, we may recommend our outpatient rehab program. Here you can interact with some of your peers for up to 15 hours per week. Your counselor works with you to determine the treatment protocol that best meets your needs and goals.

Life After Treatment for an Alcohol Use Disorder

Alcohol has become a disruptive factor in your life, but there is hope. Your time at Liberty Bay Recovery Center not only eliminates the chemical of alcohol from your body but also prepares you for a healthy, positive future. You learn new coping skills, and you also develop a new, healthier support system. When life becomes challenging, you will be able to use your new tools to overcome the difficulties. Our team is also available to guide you as you reconnect with work, school, family, and friends.

About Liberty Bay Recovery Center

Liberty Bay Recovery Center is more than a treatment center. We offer a safe, nonjudgmental home for our clients while they heal and work toward recovery. Our team is experienced with drug and alcohol use disorders. When you choose us for your recovery journey, we will treat you with compassion, understanding, and respect.

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