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Illicit drugs are a major problem in America, but the most commonly abused substance is not even illegal. It is not something that can be snorted or smoked. It is not a pill or a powder. It is one of mankind’s earliest vices: alcohol. According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration’s (SAMHSA’s) National Survey on Drug Use and Health, alcohol is involved in over 40% of treatment center admissions:

  • 23.1% admitted due to alcohol only
  • 18.3% admitted due to alcohol & another drug

The Effects of Alcohol Consumption

For social/cultural reasons, alcohol is not often thought of as a dangerous or addictive drug. Yet, there can be no illusions about this: it is. It is a central nervous system depressant whose immediate effects include:

  • Mild to acute euphoria
  • Dizziness
  • Short-term memory loss
  • Impaired judgment
  • Impaired psychomotor coordination

Long-term effects can include:

  • Chronic brain/cognitive deficiencies
  • Ataxia – loss of effects over bodily movements
  • Wernicke–Korsakoff syndrome (aka “wet brain)
  • Cancer of the mouth, trachea, and/or esophagus
  • Anemia
  • Alcoholic cardiomyopathy (alcohol-induced heat failure)
  • Chronic gastritis (stomach inflammation)
  • Liver cirrhosis
  • Hepatitis
  • Pancreatitis
  • Possible risk of Type 2 Diabetes
  • Increased risk of stroke

Detecting Alcohol Abuse & Alcoholism

Alcohol abuse is defined as habitual drinking in spite of negative effects on one’s physical, mental or social health. One of the most widely used means of detecting alcohol abuse is binge drinking, which is the consumption of 5+ “standard drinks (by men) or 4+ “standard drinks (by women) in 2 hours or less. A “standard drink is 14 g of pure ethanol alcohol, or:

  • 12 oz beer
  • 5 oz wine
  • 1.5 oz 80-proof hard liquor

Another tell-tale sign of alcohol abuse is its increasing importance in a person’s life. Neglecting work, social engagements, personal engagements, or other responsibilities is always a red flag. Continued use of alcohol will also lead to tolerance, or the need to drink larger amounts in order to feel the same effects. Tolerance to alcohol can not only aggravate health complications (such as liver cirrhosis), but is also the first stage of alcohol dependence.

How Alcoholism is Treated

Alcohol is a physically addictive drug, and dependence to it is extremely severe. Once dependent, an alcoholic will undergo withdrawal when they are not drinking. This creates the need for medically managed detox, which facilitates the withdrawal process in a safe and closely monitored environment. During withdrawal, an alcoholic may suffer from the following symptoms:

  • Alcohol hallucinosis – temporary hallucinations that nevertheless allow an alcoholic to distinguish psychosis from reality
  • Tonic-Clonic Seizures – two-phase seizures similar to those experienced in epilepsy: during the tonic phase, consciousness is briefly lost and the muscles tense; during the clonic phase, the muscles start convulsing.
  • Delirium tremens – (aka “DTs or “the shakes) nausea, sweating, tremors, disorientation, loss of consciousness, and hallucinations that do not allow an alcoholic to distinguish psychosis from reality.

The course of detox varies from alcoholic to alcoholic, depending on how much and how frequently they drank. Nonetheless, it usually begins within a few hours and nausea, headaches and possibly hallucinations are experienced within the first day. Seizures and/or delirium tremens occur within the next few days, and acute hallucinations can persist for up to 2 weeks.

Delirium tremens are an especially severe symptom of alcoholic withdrawal, with a 35% mortality rate for alcoholics who don’t receive treatment for them. This, as well as the severity of alcoholism as a whole, creates a pressing need to undergo treatment at a professional treatment facility.