Alcoholism Rehab: Knowing When It Is Time
Is Casual Drinking Dangerous?
Casual drinking habits can morph into abuse or addiction in time. Warning signs that may tell you its time for alcohol rehab include:
- Blackouts caused by drinking
- Unexplained injuries, accidents, or illnesses
- Loss of appetite
- Digestive difficulties
- Loss of libido
- Withdrawal symptoms
- Alcohol cravings
- The need for a “pick-me-up” drink in the morning
- Inability to stop drinking
It can be difficult to recognize when casual drinking has crossed the line into abuse or addiction. It can be even harder to decide that it is time to do something about it.
Knowing what addiction looks and feels like can be challenging for loved ones, let alone for the person who is addicted to alcohol. If people are aware of what the signs of alcoholism are, it can be easier to determine when it’s time to enter rehab in order to stop the cycle of addiction and work toward recovery from alcoholism.
What Do Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism Look Like?More than 86 percent of people in the US drink alcohol at least once during their lifetime, according to the National Institute of Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA). It is common for most people to enjoy an occasional cocktail or a glass of wine in the company of friends or at a party. However, some people drink far more often than that, and still others drink heavily or binge drink on a regular or even frequent basis.
It can be challenging to figure out when alcohol consumption crosses the line from frequent enjoyment to abuse or addiction, and to determine when someone needs help with an alcohol problem due to excessive alcohol use.
The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) define the levels of alcohol abuse as follows:
- Binge drinking occurs when one consumes enough alcohol in one sitting to bring the blood alcohol concentration to 0.08 percent or more, which is considered to be legally impaired. On average, this results from about five drinks for males and about four drinks for females within about two hours
- Heavy drinking is about 15 drinks per week for men, and about eight drinks per week for women.
- Alcohol abuse is generally considered to be regular drinking that can result in physical harm or damage to a person’s relationships or responsibilities. Alcohol abuse does not necessarily mean a dependence on alcohol is present.
- Alcoholism, alcohol addiction, or alcohol dependence is a psychological disorder and chronic condition that results in an inability to stop drinking, even if it causes problems in various aspects of the person’s life.
Any of these issues can be considered a drinking problem, depending on the effects of the drinking on the person’s life, ability to function, and relationships.
Physical Signs of Alcoholism
The website WebMD lists varying degrees of physical symptoms of alcoholism. At the beginning of the disease, these symptoms may be limited and hard to recognize. However, as the disease progresses, the symptoms become more pronounced and easy to recognize, and these symptoms are clear signs that help is needed. The symptoms include:
- Loss of memory of the events that occur while one is intoxicated, referred to as a blackout
- Unexplained injuries, accidents, or illnesses
- Loss of appetite
- Red or puffy face; redness and growth of the bottom part of the nose
- Infections or skin sores
- Digestive difficulties or pain
- Loss of libido
- Severe withdrawal symptoms when drinking is stopped, including seizures
Alcoholism also results in needing more alcohol to produce the same results that were previously achieved with smaller amounts.
Some of these symptoms are signs that a person’s alcoholism has been present for a long time, and intervention via rehab is undoubtedly warranted. When alcoholism is sufficiently advanced, more severe physical manifestations may occur, such as various cancers or cirrhosis of the liver.
Psychological Signs of Alcoholism
The psychological signs of alcohol addiction can be a little harder to see. Behaviors and events to look out for include:
- Strong cravings for alcohol
- Guilt or shame about drinking
- Hiding drinking from others
- Feeling a need to drink first thing in the morning to stave off withdrawal symptoms
- Feeling a loss of control over drinking; drinking more than intended, not able to stop drinking
Even feeling a slight loss of control over drinking behaviors can be a sign that an individual should seek professional help. If a number of these psychological signs are present, an alcohol use disorder is likely the issue, and rehab is required.
If a person is experiencing seizures and hallucinations when attempting to stop drinking, it may be due to a condition called delirium tremens (DTs). This is a serious condition that requires medical intervention to detox from alcohol. Because of the risk of DTs, a person struggling with alcoholism should never attempt to quit drinking altogether. In order to withdraw from alcohol, medical detox is required.
Social Consequences of AlcoholismThese physical and psychological symptoms are not the only indications that rehab is needed. Certain psychosocial behaviors or events that occur on a regular basis can also indicate alcohol abuse or addiction that necessitates intervention, according to NIAAA. These include:
- Drinking interferes with the ability to keep up regular responsibilities at work or school
- The person shows an inability to stop drinking even if it interferes with relationships
- Less time is spent on favorite activities and more time is spent drinking
- The person regularly engages in activities that are dangerous while drinking, like driving
- The person has legal problems, or has become violent with family members or friends, due to drinking
When an individual’s drinking interferes with life to this degree, rehab is the best option to regain control and achieve recovery.
Types of Alcohol Rehabilitation Programs
There are a variety of alcohol rehabilitation program options for people with alcohol problems. Inpatient programs are the most intensive and provide around-the-clock care. Inpatient rehab is also more costly and requires you to stay at the alcohol rehabilitation center for the duration of your treatment.
Partial hospitalization programs are available to individuals who may benefit from the supervision, structure, and guidance of inpatient rehab but are stable enough to live at home.1 After receiving intensive care for several hours during the day, the person in treatment will then spend the night at their own home or in a sober living home.
Outpatient programs are less intensive and allow you to live in your own home during treatment, minimizing the impact that alcohol rehab has on obligations such as work and school.
Regardless of the format of rehab treatment, most alcohol rehabilitation programs feature similar key components. Because many heavy drinkers who suddenly stop consuming alcohol may experience uncomfortable and potentially life-threatening symptoms of withdrawal, medically supervised detoxification is often recommended as the initial step of an alcohol rehab program.
Other integral parts of alcohol rehab programs include behavioral therapy, a form of treatment that aims to change drinking behavior, individual and group counseling, and peer support groups.
Some alcohol rehabilitation centers may also prescribe medications to help manage symptoms of withdrawal or reduce cravings and potential relapse.2 The non-addictive alcohol treatment medications approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (naltrexone, acamprosate, and disulfiram) can be used alone but are most effective when part of an overall rehab plan that includes counseling, group therapy, and social support.
Getting Help and Going to Rehab
When a person who is having trouble with alcohol abuse or alcoholism – or family or other loved ones – recognize that there is an alcohol use disorder occurring, it is time to find a rehab program. This may seem like an intimidating process, but there are various resources that can help.
State and local governments often offer rehab information and resources for local facilities and programs through their substance abuse or behavioral health divisions; the organizations to contact can be found through the Directory of Single State Agencies (SSAs) for Substance Abuse Services. In addition, the federal government’s Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Agency (SAMHSA) provides an online search engine that can provide guidance to those seeking a facility.
For alcoholism or severe alcohol abuse, medically supported, research-based residential rehab is the most recommended option for treatment.
This type of care provides the services most likely to help individuals develop and implement tools and strategies that can sustain recovery from alcohol abuse.
- Yanos, P.T., Vreeland, B., Minsky, S., Fuller, R.B., & Roe, D. (2009). Partial hospitalization: compatible with evidence-based and recovery-oriented treatment? Journal of Psychosocial Nursing and Mental Health Services, 47(2), 41-7.
- National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. (2014). Treatment for Alcohol Problems: Finding and Getting Help.