Signs of a Problem
A diagnosis of an alcohol use disorder can only be reliably given by a trained mental health professional. Because individuals with substance use disorders will typically try to hide their behaviors, deny their substance use, and justify for the ramifications of their substance use issues, most individuals are unable to even realize the extent of the problem. However, there are some qualitative and quantitative changes in behavior that may signify the need to engage in formal treatment. Alcoholism therapy.
For instance, the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration has published qualifiers for the designation of heavy drinking and binge drinking. The development of an alcohol use disorder begins with patterns of drinking that become more and more dysfunctional over time. These patterns are quantitatively different than what occur with non-dysfunctional alcohol use. These guidelines can be useful for adults over the age of 21, as they can allow them to look at patterns of drinking and decide if they may be developing an alcohol use problem. In individuals who are under the age of 21, for whom drinking alcohol is illegal, any signs of recurrent use should be taken to indicate a potential problem. The designations are:
Moderate drinking consists of up to one drink a day for women and up to two drinks a day for men.
Heavy drinking consists of having five or more drinks on the same occasion at least five days out of the month.
Binge drinking refers to having five or more alcoholic drinks on the same occasion at least one day out of the month.
People who are engaging in binge drinking and heavy drinking are at high risk for symptoms associated with alcohol use disorders. In addition, even individuals who drink according to the above definition of moderate drinking may also experience issues related to an alcohol use disorder.
Again, these designations do not apply to individuals who use alcohol illegally (e.g., underage drinking). There is no “normal” drinking pattern identified for individuals under the age of 21. Any recurrent use of alcohol for underage individuals is a sign that an issue may be developing.
Some more practical symptoms that can signal a potential problem with alcohol use include:
Therapy drinking cups
Changes in one’s overall disposition or personality, such as irritability, resentfulness, impatience, being overly sensitive to criticism, isolating oneself, and so forth
Repeated signs of the person being physically ill, such as flulike symptoms, headaches, nausea, vomiting, nervousness, lack of appetite, etc.
Sudden change in peer relationships
Change in physical appearance, such as no longer attending to hygiene issues or dressing differently
Drinking alcohol in situations where it is prohibited or dangerous, such as drinking alcohol at work, during lunch, coming into work hungover, driving while intoxicated, etc.
Using alcohol to cope with normal life pressures
Obvious signs, such as slurring words, difficulties with motor coordination, continually smelling alcohol the breath, and so forth
Anyone who meets the formal diagnostic criteria for an alcohol use disorder has an issue that necessitates professional help. Moreover, anyone who is teetering on the edge of moderate to heavy usage is at risk for the development of a formal diagnosis. The treatment options for intervening with someone who has been formally diagnosed alcohol use disorder are rather straightforward.
Research indicates that even though some individuals may be able to quit drinking alcohol on their own, the chances for long-term recovery from alcohol use disorder are significantly increased if one engages in a formal treatment program. For most individuals, quitting use of alcohol is extremely difficult and goes against their own personal notions of autonomy as well as notions of the level of control they perceive they have over their alcohol-related behavior. People often do not want to be told they are having issues with self-control when they engage in certain behaviors. Many people believe they can just stop, and when they can’t, they rationalize the reasons they continue to use alcohol. It is not as easy to quit drinking as it is to conceptualize quitting.
In addition, individuals with more moderate to severe alcohol use disorders may suffer issues with physical dependence alcohol (the symptoms of tolerance and withdrawal), which complicate the process. In cases of severe alcohol abuse and addiction, withdrawal symptoms can be dangerous and even life-threatening, hence, professional assistance is needed to ensure safety and comfort throughout the detox process.
Thus, a formal assessment of the actual severity of the problematic drinking, and the development of a customized treatment plan for recovery, is the ideal way to approach the issue. Those who attempt to quit drinking without some form of professional help often experience relapse issues. This often leads to a cycle of short periods of sobriety, followed by worsening periods of relapse.
Treatment Options for Alcohol Use Disorders
Even though there is a general blueprint for recovery, each plan needs to be individualized for the specific person in treatment. There is no single approach that works for everyone in alcohol addiction recovery. Instead, there are a number of formal treatment options that an individual can engage in.
An inpatient or residential treatment option should be available for individuals who need to engage in medical detox from severe alcohol use disorders and for individuals who need to isolate themselves from environmental pressers and issues that may sabotage their early recovery. Inpatient or residential treatment is generally time limited, however, clients should have the option to extend their stays as needed.
Medications may be used during both the detox and ongoing recovery processes for alcohol use disorders. Treatment programs should have doctors on staff to assess clients and prescribe medications as needed.
Alcoholism occupational therapy
All individuals seeking formal help in recovery from alcohol use disorders will eventually transition to some form of outpatient treatment program, and many of individuals will only utilize outpatient treatment. In outpatient treatment, clients attend treatment during the day (or a few times per week) and then return home each night.
Therapy makes up the bulk of addiction treatment, and this comes in many forms. Most addiction treatment programs will include both individual and group therapy in addition to various complementary or alternative therapies.
Social support groups are not formal therapy groups, as they do not use professionally trained therapists or counselors. Instead, these peer support groups are generally organized and run by other individuals in recovery. These include familiar 12-Step groups, such as Alcoholics Anonymous. Support groups can also be found online.
Treatment should be available to address co-occurring disorders. Many people who suffer from alcohol abuse or addiction disorders also suffer from a co-occurring mental health issue. It’s important that treatment facilities have the ability to diagnose and treat these other mental health issues simultaneously.
Long-term aftercare should be included in any addiction treatment program, helping to ensure clients are supported once they “graduate” from a structured program. Such a program may consist of a number of supportive measures, such as continued participation in 12-Step meetings like Alcoholics Anonymous, other support groups, or ongoing individual therapy. Recovery from alcohol use disorders requires a long-term commitment. Since alcoholism is not a condition that can be cured, ongoing management is needed for the rest of life. With proper treatment and support, true recovery is possible for anyone suffering from alcohol abuse issues.