Alcohol Abuse & Dependence 
What Makes Alcohol Addictive?

Alcohol addiction, or alcohol use disorder, is a medical condition characterized by the compulsive use of alcohol despite negative consequences. Alcohol addiction is a chronic and progressive health condition, meaning the condition can be treated but never entirely cured, and associated symptoms continue to grow in severity the longer they are left untreated. Alcohol addiction can be separated into three predominant categories – mild, moderate and severe. The severity of the disorder is dependent on how many diagnostic criteria a person possesses (these criteria are laid out in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition — or DSM-V). According to the 2019 National Survey on Drug Use and Health, roughly 14.1 million American adults over the age of 18 suffer from a diagnosable alcohol use disorder. Why are rates of alcohol dependence so high? What makes alcohol so addictive?

The reasons why alcohol is addictive vary on a person-to-person basis. Some people drink alcohol as a means of self-medication, others are genetically predisposed to alcohol addiction. At Pine Tree Recovery Center we understand how difficult it can be to overcome alcohol dependence once it develops. We have created a program of medically monitored detox geared towards equipping people of all ages with the tools they need to maintain continued success in sobriety. Once a client has been physically stabilized, they are encouraged to transition into the next appropriate level of clinical care. To learn more about our unique and effective alcohol detox program, contact us today.

Scope of Alcohol Misuse and Dependence

Alcohol is one of the most misused chemical substances in the country — which makes sense, considering alcohol is both highly addictive and legal. According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, roughly 85.6 percent of American adults have consumed alcohol at least once in their lifetimes. 69.5 reported drinking at least once in the past year, and 54.9 percent reported drinking at least once in the past month. Binge drinking patterns are also fairly common — 25.8 percent of people over the age of 18 reported binge drinking at least once in the past month. Binge drinking refers to consuming an excessive amount of alcohol over a relatively short period of time. For women, binge drinking refers to consuming four alcohol beverages or more in a one hour time period; for men, consuming five or more alcoholic beverages in a one hour time period.

If you have been drinking more than normal and you have had a difficult time quitting or cutting back on your own, you might be wondering if you are suffering from a diagnosable alcohol use disorder. How can you tell if your drinking habits require professional attention? Because alcoholism is a progressive medical condition, it is always a good idea to seek outside help as soon as you recognize you might have a problem. This will prevent symptoms from growing in severity and prevent personal consequences from accumulating. If you would like to learn more about which steps to take in order to get the help you need, contact us today.

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What Makes Alcohol So Addictive?

When it comes to the development of alcohol dependence, there are certain pre-existing risk factors that affect how a person reacts to alcohol. These risk factors include:

  • Genetic predisposition.
  • Underlying and untreated mental illness.
  • Environmental factors.
  • Consistently high stress levels.
  • Unresolved trauma.
  • The age during which alcohol was first used.

People who have one or several of these risk factors in place are more susceptible to developing an alcohol use disorder if they drink alcohol consistently for a prolonged period of time. According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, “Research shows that genes are responsible for about half of the risk for AUD. Therefore, genes alone do not determine whether someone will develop AUD. Environmental factors, as well as gene and environment interactions account for the remainder of the risk. Multiple genes play a role in a person’s risk for developing AUD. There are genes that increase a person’s risk, as well as those that may decrease that risk, directly or indirectly. For instance, some people of Asian descent carry a gene variant that alters their rate of alcohol metabolism, causing them to have symptoms like flushing, nausea, and rapid heartbeat when they drink. Many people who experience these effects avoid alcohol, which helps protect them from developing AUD.” The development of alcohol addiction is always unique to the individual. Because of this, it is extremely important for alcohol addiction treatment options to be highly individualized.

At Pine Tree Recovery Center, we believe clients should have access to personalized clinical care during every stage of the treatment process, beginning with medically monitored detox.

Why is alcohol addictive and treatment options for alcoholism

Stages of Alcoholism

When a person develops an alcohol use disorder, the disorder typically worsens in severity over time.

Alcoholism can be broken down into three distinct stages:

  • Stage 1: Experimentation and Heavy Drinking. At this point, a person starts to drink more heavily than they normally would. They might start to experience some personal consequences at the hand of their drinking, like problems at work or strained interpersonal relationships. At this stage, a person should be able to regain control of their drinking on their own, though they might require some significant motivation.
  • Stage 2: Problem Drinking. During this stage of the process, the person begins to drink more regularly. They might attempt to cut back on their consumption but find they are unable to do so for an extended period of time. At the same time, the problems they experience as a direct result of their drinking become more serious. They might lose a job or find themselves in poor financial standing. In many cases a person might continue to drink to avoid these consequences, setting a vicious cycle in motion.
  • Stage 3: Physical Dependence. Over time, the physical chemistry of the brain begins to change. The central nervous system becomes accustomed to the presence of alcohol, and when a person stops drinking abruptly, they experience physical symptoms of withdrawal. They also begin to experience intense cravings for alcohol, which can become overwhelming and perpetuate the problem. At this point in the process it is nearly impossible for a person to quit without professional help.

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Alcohol is highly addictive, and the earlier on an alcohol use disorder is caught the better the treatment outcome will be. If you have started to experience consequences as a direct result of your drinking, we recommend reaching out for more information on which level of care is the best option for you.

Treatment options for alcohol abuse and alcoholism

Alcohol Withdrawal & The Importance of Medical Detox

The symptoms of alcohol withdrawal can be severe when left untreated. In order to prevent potentially dangerous health-related complications, it is always a good idea to enter into a medical detox program. In medical detox a person undergoes a safe, pain-free alcohol withdrawal under the close supervision of a team of medical professionals. The most common symptoms associated with alcohol withdrawal include:

  • Severe stomach cramping.
  • Nausea, vomiting and diarrhea.
  • Insomnia and other sleep-related issues.
  • Intense headaches.
  • Severe anxiety and panic attacks.
  • Hallucinations and delusions.
  • Profuse sweating/night sweats.
  • Body tremors/uncontrollable shaking.
  • Grand mal seizures (in severe cases).

Even if a person has been struggling with a mild or moderate alcohol use disorder, the symptoms associated with alcohol detox can be unpredictable and severe. Medical detox centers offer a range of treatment services depending on the unique needs of each individual client, including behavioral therapy, medication assisted treatment options and holistic treatment methods. To learn more about the treatment options for a safe and pain-free alcohol detox, contact us today.

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Pine Tree Recovery Center provides a licensed, individualized and integrated detox program to people of all ages who have been struggling with alcohol use disorders of all severities. We offer a personalized curriculum of clinical care, designed to help our clients make a smooth and seamless transition from medical detox into the next appropriate stage of their personal journey of addiction recovery. We understand how difficult it might seem to choose the best drug and alcohol detox in Maine for your unique personal needs. Fortunately, we are available to help make the decision easier. The moment you contact us, either directly through our website or over the phone, you are put in touch with one of our experienced and compassionate Treatment Advisors. They ask a short series of questions, ultimately helping you determine which level of care is the most appropriate for your unique case. If we believe our program is a good fit we conduct a free, no obligation insurance benefit check and facilitate local travel to our Maine detox and recovery center. Contact us today to begin.

Reviewed for accuracy by:

Randi Bruneau

Randi is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker and Licensed Alcohol and Drug Counselor and Supervisor who has over 20 years of experience in the field of mental health and addictions. She has worked in both clinical and administrative leadership roles and also has extensive career experience in gender specific trauma treatment, crisis intervention, structural family work and substance use disorder treatment and supervision.