Alcohol use disorder (AUD) is an inability to stop or control your drinking. Many people with AUD have unpleasant consequences as a result of drinking. You might have received a DUI or caused an accident while driving drunk.
AUD ranges from mild to severe, but it’s also progressive. Mild cases can become full-blown alcoholism in just a few years. For others, AUD develops slowly over several decades.
Can AUD Cause Brain Damage?
The latest studies report that AUD permanently alters the brain’s physical structure. Alcohol toxicity causes brain cells to degenerate and die, leading to varying degrees of impairment.
Researchers have found that the brain’s gray matter loses volume and density. Additionally, they have identified abnormalities in the brain’s white matter.
White matter governs cellular communication, and gray matter is your body’s data processing center. Here are some of the long-term side effects experienced by those with AUD:
- Abnormalities in the white matter can reduce energy levels, while brain cell degeneration in the gray matter causes the brain to shrink. The effects of these changes can cause significant cognitive impairment.
- You might have trouble verbalizing your thoughts, solving problems, concentrating, and remembering things. You might find it challenging to learn new skills or control your impulses. You might develop alcohol-related dementia.
- Some people with AUD develop Wernicke-Korsakoff Syndrome. This condition can cause confusion, malnourishment, memory loss, bad judgment, disorientation, poor balance, jerky eye movements, and an unstable mood.
- The earlier you start to drink, the more serious the brain damage can be. Your brain isn’t fully formed until age 25. Exposing a developing brain to a highly toxic substance like alcohol can inhibit healthy development and prevent the brain from reaching its full potential.
These symptoms can develop in anyone who drinks heavily, whether they have AUD or not. The good news is that with prompt intervention, participation in an alcoholism treatment program, and ongoing health care, these deficits can be reduced or halted altogether.
What Causes Alcohol Addiction?
Scientists have identified markers that appear to correlate with alcoholism:
- Genetic makeup
- Trauma and stress in childhood
- Parental drinking
- Starting to drink at age 15 or younger
- Family history of alcoholism
People who start drinking when they are age 15 or younger are five times more likely to develop AUD than those who wait until they are at least 21.
What Are Concurrent Mental Health Conditions?
In many cases, individuals with AUD will have one or more co-occurring conditions. Major depression, anxiety disorders, bipolar disorder, and anti-social personality disorder are the most prevalent.
Other studies found that depression, schizophrenia, and certain personality disorders can predict AUD in the future. However, scientists don’t know whether concurrent conditions cause alcoholism or alcoholism causes concurrent disorders.
Do I Need an Alcoholism Treatment Program?
An alcoholic cannot stop, manage or control how often they drink. Many people with AUD try every method under the sun to stop or moderate, but nothing seems to work.
Meanwhile, a phenomenon called tolerance causes you to need more and more alcohol to achieve the desired effect.
You can get distressing withdrawal symptoms like nausea, shakiness, restlessness, sweating, palpitations, seizures, and even hallucinations when you try to stop drinking. Sooner or later, the symptoms drive you straight back to the bottle.
Getting alcohol, drinking alcohol, and recovering from alcohol dominate your life. All other commitments, obligations, and responsibilities become secondary.
The pattern continues despite the consequences. Recreational activities that you used to love are left by the wayside.
What Happens in Alcohol Treatment?
Alcoholism is a chronic, relapsing condition. You can’t cure it, but you can manage it. All you need is a strong and enduring commitment to your recovery. At Allure, we offer various alcohol treatment options and levels of care that can be customized to your individual needs.
You should never try to detox yourself from alcohol at home, especially if you are home alone. The detox process can produce frightening symptoms, including hallucinations, seizures, and delirium tremens that can ultimately prove fatal.
Prior to admission, an addiction health professional will assess your withdrawal risk and may perform blood tests. You’ll be screened for physical and mental health issues. After detox is underway, your doctor may prescribe medications to ease the withdrawal process and manage ongoing symptoms:
- Benzodiazepines can reduce severe symptoms.
- Anticonvulsants can relieve mild and moderate symptoms.
- Antipsychotics can quiet the mind during periods of extreme agitation, hallucinations, delirium, and delusions.
After the detoxification process is complete and your condition is stabilized, we strongly suggest that you enter our residential treatment program immediately.
That’s where you can get the kind of individualized personal care upon which a sound recovery can be built. Our experience is that patients who forgo this crucial phase of treatment are highly likely to relapse.
Inpatient AUD treatment can be short or long-term, depending on the needs of our clients. Inpatient treatment allows you to take a break from the world outside and focus on self-care. You can live a sober life in a safe and caring environment where you receive support and offer it to others.
A typical day might involve group therapy, art therapy, education, goal setting, learning new coping skills, implementing relapse prevention strategies, individual counseling sessions, 12-step meetings, and managing triggers.
Outpatient Treatment Options
These services range from highly structured partial hospitalization programs that meet every day to group sessions that meet two or three hours per week. These treatments are a good option for anyone who can’t be away from home overnight.
This highly intensive level of outpatient care provides alcohol addiction treatment for up to 10 hours per day and up to five days per week. Although you’ll be living at home, you’ll spend most of your time in treatment, and that reduces the frequency and intensity of potential triggers.
Intensive Outpatient Treatment
These outpatient programs offer a flexible level of intensive care where clients are in treatment five days per week for three to five hours per day. As recovery progresses, the number of sessions is gradually reduced. When you are ready, you can transition to a less intensive level of care.
Standard Outpatient Treatment
This level of care varies in intensity and duration depending on your progress in recovery. It’s a flexible option that works well for clients transitioning back into the real world. The program might involve weekly group therapy sessions or individual counseling sessions.
- Cognitive-behavioral therapy: This therapeutic technique teaches clients how to release thoughts and behaviors that fuel addiction. Clients acquire stress-management tools and skills to sidestep relapse.
- Motivational enhancement therapy: This therapy is designed to get you excited and motivated about life without alcohol. Clients identify and examine mixed feelings about the recovery process and are encouraged to make positive life changes that will help them to stay sober.
- Family therapy: AUD affects everyone the alcoholic is involved with, and family members can be especially hard hit. Family counseling helps loved ones to understand the recovery process and gives them an opportunity to express their feelings.
- Brief interventions: This therapy usually involves short counseling sessions during which a client can spot-check their progress toward goals while getting feedback and peer support.
Which Medications Are Used to Treat AUD?
Certain medications can help you to maintain a sober lifestyle and avoid relapse. Other medications can ease symptoms associated with concurrent mental health disorders:
- Naltrexone: This drug reduces the desire to drink and may also reduce cravings.
- Acamprosate: Like naltrexone, acamprosate can reduce cravings and lessen the desire to drink. Naltrexone is more effective than acamprosate at reducing heavy drinking and cravings. Acamprosate is more effective than naltrexone at maintaining abstinence.
- Disulfiram: Also known as Antabuse, disulfiram completely spoils your drinking experience by blocking alcohol metabolism in the body. You’ll experience disagreeable symptoms such as severe nausea if you take a drink.
The Importance of Aftercare in Long-Term Sobriety
For many with AUD, getting sober is more manageable than staying sober. Recovery is an ongoing process that requires self-care and self-awareness. Aftercare keeps you accountable and connected with like-minded people who can make your journey easier:
- Participation in 12-step programs
- Sober retreats
- Sober cruises
- AA conventions
- Sober living houses
- Participation in SMART Recovery, Women for Sobriety, Moderation Management, and other nontraditional support groups
You can get sober, and you can stay sober, but don’t try to do it without help. Join the West Palm Beach recovering community today and start on the road to sobriety. Contact the AUD specialists at Allure’s treatment center to learn more about a specialized treatment plan to fit your needs.
- https://arcr.niaaa.nih.gov/recovery-aud/brain-structure-and-function-recovery [national institute on alcohol abuse and alcoholism]