What is Alcohol?

Alcohol is a central nervous system depressant, which means it slows down activity in the brain and causes cognitive impairments. The alcohol in alcoholic beverages is ethyl alcohol, which is the only type of alcohol a person can drink without causing severe damage to the body. 

How Does Alcohol Work?

When a person drinks alcohol, there are feelings of euphoria initially. This happens because drinking alcohol stimulates the release of dopamine and serotonin, which are generally referred to as the ‘feel-good’ chemicals of the brain. As a person continues to drink, they will probably start to experience slurred speech, dizziness, and loss of coordination. This is because alcohol depresses the central nervous system and interferes with the brain’s communication pathways.

Signs of Alcohol Abuse

Alcohol is one of the most accepted substances in the United States, so many people don’t realize just how damaging it can be. By the time a person realizes that they have a problem with drinking, the situation is often already really bad. It’s a good idea to know if you have a history of alcohol abuse in your family because there is a genetic component that predisposes a person to alcoholism. However, anyone can become an alcoholic, even if no one in that person’s family has ever touched a drink.

The signs of alcohol abuse can vary from person to person, but the most common ones include the following:

  • Drinking alone
  • Lying about how much you’re drinking
  • Drinking to avoid feeling hungover 
  • Drinking to feel ‘normal’
  • Drinking before work
  • Buying alcohol from different stores because you don’t want the employees to know how much you are consuming 
  • Hiding alcohol around the house so no one will know how much you are really drinking 
  • Continuing to drink even though you want to stop
  • Still drinking even though you’ve promised yourself and others you would stop
  • Experiencing blackouts 
  • Experiencing tremors if you don’t drink often enough
  • Driving often while intoxicated
  • Injuring yourself accidentally while under the influence of alcohol
  • Increased tolerance – Requiring more and more alcohol to feel the effects
  • Binge drinking 

Negative Consequences of Alcohol Abuse

When used safely and in moderation, alcohol can be fairly benign. When a person drinks too much and abuses alcohol, there can be some very severe side effects, especially from long-term alcohol abuse.

Physical Side Effects

  • Reduced body temperature
  • Diminished gray matter in the brain
  • High blood pressure
  • Irregular heartbeat
  • Liver disease
  • Stomach ulcers
  • Pancreatitis 
  • Osteoporosis 
  • Stroke
  • Coma

Cognitive/Behavioral Side Effects of Long-Term Alcohol Abuse

  • Blackouts – not remembering what happened while you were drinking
  • Lowered inhibitions, which leads to poor decision making
  • Loss of critical judgment 
  • Irritability
  • Extreme mood changes
  • Insomnia
  • Loss of coordination, which can lead to accidents and injury to yourself and others
  • Memory loss
  • Dementia

Withdrawal Symptoms From Alcohol

 Alcohol withdrawal can be severe and life-threatening. When a person wants to stop drinking, it’s essential that they speak with a professional and come up with a safe plan. Alcohol withdrawal symptoms can occur in as little as a few hours after a person’s last drink. The most acute withdrawal symptoms usually last for a few days. Some of the more minor symptoms, like insomnia and mood swings, can last for months. 

The following are some of the most common symptoms of alcohol withdrawal:

  • Anxiety
  • Shaky hands
  • Headache
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Insomnia
  • Excessive sweating
  • High blood pressure
  • Fever
  • Racing heart
  • Confusion
  • Irritability
  • Rapid mood changes
  • Hallucinations
  • Seizures
  • Delirium tremens

Overdose and Fatality Rates

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, an average of 261 people die every day due to excessive alcohol use. Some of these deaths are due to alcohol poisoning, and others are due to complications due to long-term alcohol abuse. Fatalities due to drinking alcohol and driving are also very common. In the United States, one person dies every 50 minutes due to a motor vehicle accident that involves an alcohol-impaired driver.

Binge drinking is also a very serious issue in the United States, especially among young adults. The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) defines binge drinking as “consuming five or more alcoholic drinks for males or four or more alcoholic drinks for females on the same occasion (at the same time or within a couple of hours of each other) on at least one day in the past month.” In 2019, more than 25% of adults over the age of 18 reported that they engaged in binge drinking one time in the last 30 days.

Signs Of An Overdose/Alcohol Poisoning

  • Confusion
  • Vomiting
  • Difficulty standing or walking
  • Severely slurred speech
  • Seizures
  • Trouble breathing
  • Slow heart rate
  • Clammy skin
  • Low body temperature 
  • Loss of consciousness/inability to wake up
  • Death

What To Do If Someone Has Consumed Too Much Alcohol 

An alcohol overdose is severe and should not be taken lightly. Overdoses occur when a person ingests so much alcohol that the areas of the brain that control essential life support, like breathing, heart rate, and temperature control, start to shut down and stop functioning properly. If you are with someone and you think they are suffering from alcohol poisoning, you should call 911 immediately to make sure they get the help they need.

Make sure you provide emergency responders with as much information as possible. For example, tell them how much the person had to drink, when they drank, what kind of alcohol they drank, and if they took any other substances. Additionally, it’s important to let the emergency responders know if the person suffering from alcohol poisoning has any other medical issues or a history of addiction.

Alcohol Poisoning

Do not try to treat alcohol poisoning on your own; it generally doesn’t work. Cold showers, coffee, and sleeping it off will not reverse an alcohol overdose. Do not let the person suffering from an alcohol overdose go to sleep. They may vomit and choke while they’re sleeping, which can easily lead to death. Additionally, do not leave a person alone if they suffer from an alcohol overdose or alcohol poisoning. They are at a much higher risk of injuring themselves. Medical treatment is imperative. When someone has ingested too much alcohol, doctors will monitor them and sometimes pump their stomach to get rid of the excess alcohol. 

The sooner treatment is administered for an alcohol overdose, the better. Do not hesitate to get the help that is needed.

Treatment For Alcohol Abuse at Avenues New England

When someone needs treatment for alcohol abuse, it’s crucial that they see a medical professional to develop a safe plan. It’s incredibly dangerous to stop drinking alcohol abruptly, especially for people who have been drinking heavily for an extended period of time. At Avenues New England we serve Connecticut, New Hampshire and the rest of New England with evidence based addiction treatment. We place a focus on the individual and his personal struggle while ensuring that our clients feel part of a community from where they can draw support to make their recovery last.

Detox

If you’ve decided that it’s time to stop drinking, you might want to check yourself into a medical detox facility to make the situation more manageable and safe. At a detox facility, there will be doctors and nurses available for 24-hour care. Since alcohol withdrawal can be fatal in some circumstances, it’s crucial that a person doesn’t try to stop if they are alone. At a detox facility, medical professionals will provide the person with medication to make sure there aren’t any severe complications from quitting.

Inpatient Treatment

After a person detoxes and is safely alcohol-free, an inpatient treatment facility is the best course of treatment if it’s an option. There will be doctors, nurses, and other addiction specialists available at an inpatient facility to help a person learn how to stay sober. While in treatment, a person will attend group sessions to discuss their alcohol use and figure out why they were abusing alcohol in the first place. There are also psychiatrists on staff to help people with their medication needs. Many people who abuse alcohol also suffer from mental health conditions, and particular types of medication might be helpful. 

Outpatient Treatment               

If a person is unable to attend inpatient treatment for some reason, an outpatient facility is also a good option. Outpatient treatment is also an excellent step-down option once a person successfully completes an inpatient program. Most outpatient facilities are similar to inpatient in that they explore why a person drank and how to go forward in life without using alcohol. The main difference between outpatient and inpatient is that the person returns home at the end of the day.

12 step meetings  

12 step meetings are one of the most popular treatment options for alcoholism. Alcoholics Anonymous is one of the best options. At these meetings, people gather to discuss their drinking and other problems and issues in their lives. The stated purpose of Alcoholics Anonymous is to stay sober and help other alcoholics achieve sobriety. This is an excellent place for a person to meet others suffering from this disease, which can be really helpful in early sobriety. Having other people to talk to who truly understand what you’re going through can be incredibly beneficial.

If you or a loved one is suffering from alcohol abuse, please don’t hesitate to get help now. The best option is inpatient treatment, but if that’s not possible, please consider the other treatment options. At Avenues New England we will help you decide on the treatment plan best for you or your loved one. Give us a call. We are standing by ready to help you.