What does alcoholism look like in real life? People suffering from an alcohol use disorder typically prioritize drinking over everything else. They’ll often choose alcohol over their work, school, families and even their own health. Alcoholics will also continue to use alcohol even if they’ve had legal consequences as a result of their drinking.

But as one of the most widely used substances in the world, it isn’t always clear when someone has a drinking problem. It’s considered normal to have a drink with dinner or frequent the bars on weekends, and we don’t think twice when a friend or family member has one too many. Alcohol abuse shouldn’t be so easily dismissed, however — it’s a serious disorder that can wreak havoc on a person's health and wellness.

At NorthStar Transitions, we understand the effects that alcoholism can have on the mind and body. That’s why we’re committed to helping those with an alcohol use disorder overcome their drinking problem and achieve a life of sobriety. With the support of our experienced clinical team, we know that recovery is possible for each individual who walks through our doors. 

WHAT IS ALCOHOLISM?

Alcoholism is a substance use disorder characterized by problematic patterns of drinking that lead to clinically significant impairment in daily functioning. Individuals who are dependent on alcohol will often experience social, legal and health problems as a result of their drinking, but feel unable to stop using alcohol despite these consequences. That's because without alcohol, they may get the shakes, feel anxious and experience intense cravings, making it hard to resist the urge to drink. 

To be diagnosed with an alcohol use disorder, a person must have at least two of the symptoms outlined in the fifth edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5), occurring within a 12-month period. Depending on how many symptoms are present, individuals can be diagnosed with a mild, moderate or severe alcohol use disorder, with alcoholism being considered the most serious.

Symptoms of Alcoholism

The symptoms of an alcohol use disorder are as follows, according to the DSM-5. If you or a loved one have two or more of these symptoms, it could indicate a severe drinking problem. If an alcohol abuse disorder is present, don’t hesitate to reach out for help — NorthStar Transitions offers proven solutions for getting sober and empowers individuals to build a strong foundation for lasting recovery.

  • Alcohol is often taken in larger amounts or over a longer period of time than was intended
  • There is a persistent desire or unsuccessful efforts to cut down or control alcohol use
  • A great deal of time is spent in activities necessary to obtain alcohol, use alcohol, or recover from its effects
  • Frequent cravings or a strong desire to drink
  • Failure to fulfill important role obligations at work, school or home due to recurring alcohol use
  • Continued alcohol use despite persistent personal or social problems caused or exacerbated by drinking
  • Recurrent alcohol use in physically hazardous or dangerous situations
  • Ongoing alcohol use despite knowledge of persistent or recurrent health problems likely to have been caused or exacerbated by alcohol use
  • High tolerance for alcohol use
  • Withdrawals experienced when not drinking

EFFECTS OF ALCOHOL ABUSE

Alcohol is a legal substance, but abusing it can have long-term effects on your health and well-being. Alcohol is hard on the body, and many alcoholics struggle with a number of mental, physical and emotional problems as a result of their drinking. Liver damage, heart problems and memory loss are some of the more well-known consequences of alcohol abuse, but other effects of heavy drinking include:

  • High blood pressure and heart disease
  • Increased risk of cancer
  • Weakened immune system
  • Stomach ulcers and digestive issues
  • Pancreatitis
  • Nerve damage
  • Alcohol-induced dementia (“wet brain”)
  • Injuries due to falls, drunk driving, burns, etc.
  • Mental health problems (depression, anxiety, etc.)
  • Social and legal problems
  • Alcohol addiction or dependence 

If left unchecked, some of these problems may be irreversible, but the right treatment can help forge a path to recovery and stop more damage from occurring. 

Treatment for Alcohol Dependence

At NorthStar Transitions, we offer highly individualized treatment options for helping individuals overcome an alcohol addiction. Depending on the needs of each client, treatment usually happens over a three to 12 month period and often begins with detox. Many alcoholics require a medical detox as their first step in recovery due to the dangerous withdrawal symptoms they experience when they stop drinking. Medical detox typically lasts between two and seven days and focuses on helping each individual eliminate traces of alcohol from the body in a safe and comfortable way. Our team can offer detox on a sub-acute level managing the effects of some alcohol withdrawal. For more medically acute cases we partner with others in the community to ensure that clients are medically stabilized and prepared to enter treatment, where the work of true recovery will begin. 

After medical detox, many alcoholics choose to enter residential alcohol treatment for an alcohol use disorder. Residential (a.k.a. inpatient) rehab programs for alcohol abuse typically last between two and four weeks, giving clients enough time to explore the roots of their addiction, learn new coping skills and build a foundation for recovery. During residential alcohol treatment, clients undergo assessments by professional counselors and physicians and participate in group and individual therapy sessions. And because many clients continue to experience post-acute withdrawal symptoms (PAWS) while in a residential program and those symptoms are closely monitored and managed in a supportive environment.

Stepping Down Through Levels of Care

Following residential treatment for alcoholism, many clients enter a partial hospitalization program (PHP), also known as day treatment. Day treatment programs are a flexible option that lets individuals step down to a lower level of care, where they can readjust to a more independent lifestyle with the ongoing support of their recovery team. Programming is usually conducted Monday through Friday for about six hours a day (30 hours per week) and consists of both individual and group therapy. Clients in this level of care also see a psychiatrist on a regular basis to monitor their progress, manage PAWS symptoms and address any other mental or medical issues that arise. After residential treatment, most clients spend one to four weeks in day treatment and may live at their own residence or in a sober living home while enrolled in the program.

Following day treatment, the next recommended level of care is an intensive outpatient program (IOP). At the IOP level of care, clients continue to work on their recovery by participating in group therapy for three days a week, three hours a day (nine hours per week). They may also continue to see their individual therapist and psychiatrist as needed. Clients at the intensive outpatient level of care may continue to live at their own residence or in a sober living home.

Because recovery doesn’t happen overnight, we highly recommend that clients step down to lower levels of care after completing a residential program. As they move through the recovery process, it’s important to learn how to deal with the triggers, cravings and temptations that can arise in the real world, and the ongoing support found in day treatment or an IOP can help individuals stay on track as they navigate these new challenges.

SOBRIETY MONITORING

Drug and alcohol testing (or sobriety monitoring) is an important component of the treatment process and should be performed at all levels of care as medically indicated. Doing so helps to monitor the progress of individuals in recovery and can identify if or when additional support is needed. Drug and alcohol screening can also help clients stay accountable for their actions and reinforce healthy behaviors as they readjust to an independent, sober life. At NorthStar Transitions, sobriety monitoring is one of the many tools we use to help individuals maintain their sobriety throughout the continuum of care.

Healing Starts Today

If you or a loved one has become addicted to Xanax, Vicodin, Valium or another prescription drug, we can help. NorthStar Transitions provides proven recovery solutions that are tailored to the needs of each individual. Please click HERE to verify your insurance and an admissions representative will contact you as soon as possible (within 24 hours) to explain your insurance coverage and the available treatment options. You can also call us day or night at 303-625-6335 if you want to learn more about our programs in Boulder, Colorado.

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