Alcohol affects people in different ways, especially when it comes to developing an addiction to it. There are many determining factors involved, including age, gender, height, weight, genetics, social environment, and the list goes on and on. Because of this, there is no set number of drinks or timeline that will determine when someone enters the addiction phase. Each situation is unique.
Alcoholism itself can exist on different levels. There are some people who drink to the point of blackout, while others are able to manage through their day to day as functioning alcoholics. This spectrum means there are people struggling with alcohol abuse who may be able to do so undetected for years. No one way is better than the other. Alcohol addiction is harmful, in any form and for any length of time.
The question isn’t how long does it take to get addicted to alcohol but what is your relationship with it? Do you drink daily? Is it socially or alone? Do you typically drink more when stressed or feeling anxious? There are guidelines for what constitutes moderate drinking, which is up to one alcoholic drink per day for women and up to 2 drinks per day for men. This is based on the body’s blood alcohol concentration levels and how they differ from females to males.
If one or two drinks per day is considered moderate, then how much is too much and how is addiction defined? Alcohol addiction is often first self-diagnosed or recognized by close friends or family members rather than being medically founded. Those closest to you will see a change in your behavior and how alcohol plays a part.
Have you noticed if your alcohol intake has affected your work, school, or relationships? Do you often black out when drinking? Have you faced trouble with the law as a result of drinking? These are a few scenarios that could be indicative of alcohol addiction or behavior that leads to it. Excessive drinking negatively affects your physical health, mental well-being, and overall life span.
Alcoholism isn’t something that happens all at once; it’s gradually over time. You can go from zero to moderate drinking to alcohol abuse and dependency without fully realizing it until after it’s already happened.
Drinking Habits Leading to Alcohol Addiction
Depending of where you’re at in life, drinking socially and more than 1 or 2 drinks a day may not be uncommon. Isolated incidents of alcohol abuse, such as binge drinking, do not necessarily equal addiction, although this type of drinking behavior comes with its own health risks. Plus, when you binge drink, it puts you at high risk for alcohol overdose, as well as alcohol-related auto accidents because your motor and decision-making skills are compromised.
Binge drinking can be a prelude to alcohol addiction because of the amount of alcohol ingested at one time. The more you drink, the more your body’s tolerance builds up against the effects of alcohol. It eventually takes more alcohol before you start to feel the “letting loose” effects. This need for more and more can quickly spiral into an addiction.
Emotional drinking is also a common lead-in to alcoholism. Drinking to numb pain or de-stress may seem like a quick fix to problems, but if continued long enough it leads to bigger issues down the road. While some people may like to wind down after a hard day at work with a glass of wine or beer, when this behavior begins to increase on a regular basis, addiction can occur.
How many drinks do you typically have per day? Do you hide the amount you drink from those close to you? Has it affected any aspect of your life, including your physical health? Are you often the last one drinking when out socially? Determine if you have other outlets of stress other than drinking. If not, then your alcohol consumption can be a sign of addiction.
Symptoms of a Functional Alcoholic
Maybe you don’t identify with the drinking habits or symptoms listed above. There may be signs they don’t apply to you and therefore, you think your body is not suffering from addiction. But ask yourself, do you drink daily? If so, is it more than the limit for moderate drinkers? Are you drinking to help you deal with stress, anxiety, or other conditions?
Answering “yes” to any of these questions may be telling of how your body is processing your drinking habits. Even as a functional alcoholic, the physical effects still hinder the way you think, act, and behave. You can get through your day as “normal,”but you still put yourself in danger whenever you get behind the wheel of vehicle or interact with others when under the influence.
Functional alcoholism at its root the same as any other level of alcohol addiction. The drinking takes a toll on both your body and mind. Outwardly, it may not be as immediate apparent, but eventually, it will create the same types of problems that addiction of any kind causes. This includes trouble at work, in your personal life, in addition to the dangers it causes to your health.
How Alcoholism Affects the Body
If your body has become addicted to alcohol, you may experience higher anxiety and bouts of insomnia. Physically, you may have bags under your eyes, greasy hair, and appear tired more often than not. During this stage of alcohol abuse, you may also begin to make excuses for your drinking. You may see it is a normal part of your daily routine, when in reality, it may be affecting you more negatively than you realize.
Additionally, when your body becomes addicted to alcohol, you will experience symptoms when you do not drink. These withdrawal symptoms can be painful and highly uncomfortable, which may cause you to continue drinking to ease them. Once your body is addicted, it becomes used to having alcohol in the system in order to “function.”
Physical symptoms and behavioral changes don’t paint the full picture of alcohol addiction. While they are what we might see first, the longer you are addicted to alcohol, the more damage it does to your body. This includes damage to the heart, liver (cirrhosis), infertility, malnutrition, as well as negative effects on your immune system.
This kind of damage builds the more you drink. Perhaps you don’t experience the physical side effects as much as before or you’ve learned how to live as a functioning alcoholic; the damage internally still occurs. Again, not everyone experiences alcoholism in the same way, which means not all signs may be directly related to you and your health. Signs of addiction merely serve as a benchmark if you’re concerned about your drinking habits or the habits of others.
Regardless of how you experience alcohol addiction, know that you’re not alone. One in every 12 adults experiences alcohol abuse or alcohol dependency. Although you may be convinced your alcohol intake is under control because your addiction doesn’t look like someone else’s, alcoholism takes different shapes.
If someone close to you has shown concern about your alcohol intake or you have come to the realization that addiction has affected you, see your doctor or speak with a treatment facility to assess your health and find out about the options you have.
Alcohol Addiction Detox and Rehabilitation
Acknowledging alcoholism for the disease it is will help you take the first step in healing. What may have started out as a habit or bad relationship with alcohol has now morphed into an addiction that is in control of your body. As with other diseases and illnesses, it’s important to go through the process of get rid of it at its source.
With any alcohol addiction treatment plan you choose, you will go through a detox period. Depending on long you have dealt with alcoholism and how much you typically drink, this detox timeline can last anywhere from several days to several weeks.
It’s not entirely uncommon for you to want to try withdrawing from alcohol on your own. This is not recommended as it typically leads to relapse. Withdrawal symptoms are difficult to endure by yourself, especially if your next drink can easily be found. These symptoms may include nausea, vomiting, headaches, diarrhea, and restlessness to name a few. In short, it’s not a pleasant experience but one that is temporary and vital to your future health.
Treatment facility staff are trained to create the safest and most comfortable type of environment possible as you go through withdrawal symptoms, while also monitoring your body’s reaction. They’ll guide you through the detox phase and serve as an emotional support during what’s a very challenging time.
Alcohol addiction isn’t only about the act of drinking alcohol. It involves what causes you to drink in the first place, your relationship with alcohol. Drinking is the catalyst of something else and through detox in a treatment center, you can begin to get to the source of the problem.
Inpatient and Outpatient Care
Once you have completed the detoxification phase of your treatment, you have the option of inpatient or outpatient care. Inpatient care is when you reside at the rehabilitation facility to strengthen and heal. A typical stay is 30 days, although each treatment program is based on your individual health and progress. Many choose inpatient care because it provides you a chance to concentrate solely on your sobriety without the distraction and stress of your current environment. Inpatient care is set up to help every person progress through the different stages of rehabilitation to reach sobriety on your own time.
You will receive the medical attention and emotional support you need. This includes group counseling, one-on-one therapy, educational classes, and tools to transition from your previous life dealing with alcoholism to a newly sober lifestyle. Through inpatient care, you’ll also learn what triggers you to drink and how to cope with these temptations and situations in the future. Sobriety requires ongoing maintenance and self-care. You learn how to adjust to this in a health way during rehabilitation.
Outpatient care is another option for anyone who may already have a support system in place or other commitments that require them to remain at home. Outpatient care is also available for those who wish to transition from their inpatient treatment to an outpatient option before being fully released from care. This type of treatment also provides counseling, group therapy, educational classes, and other valuable information and support to help you through your alcohol addiction. The only main difference is where the treatment takes place.
Each person’s journey is different and will require a customized care plan. Although the stages of rehabilitation and recovery are the same for everyone, the amount of time, location, and actual healing process will vary. By working with doctors and other trained treatment professionals, it’s up to you to decide how you want your treatment to go and how quickly you may move from one phase of treatment to the next.
The Journey from Addiction to Recovery
Alcoholism doesn’t look the same for everybody. The same can be said for treatment as well. It depends on your level of health, where you are in your life, the amount of support you receive, and how your body responds to treatment. Everything you learn in recovery, you take with you as you begin a new sober lifestyle.
The important thing to remember is that healing will take time. Alcohol addiction is a disease that your body has adjusted to, which means that when the time comes for you to work toward your sobriety, your body has to adjust again. It’s a life-changing process that will greatly impact your health and well-being.
Recovery can feel frustrating or slow-moving at times, but you have the tools and support you need within reach. Alcohol addiction doesn’t have to define your life. There are people who are ready to help you get what you need to heal. Find a treatment plan that will work best for you and allow you to regain your strength. You deserve to live a healthier, sober life.Find hope. Find recovery. Begin a commitment to lifelong recovery today – for yourself, your friend, or for your loved one.