What does it mean to be an alcoholic?
An alcoholic is a person who suffers from alcoholism. They crave alcohol and cannot control themselves when it comes to consuming it. The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that there are at least 140 million alcoholics in the world, the vast majority of whom go untreated.
The American Medical Association has classified alcoholism as a disease since the 1960s. The problems associated with alcoholism are serious and comprehensive - they often affect every area of a person's life. This includes physical health, social life, emotional wellbeing, and psychological state.
Signs and symptoms of being an alcoholic include:
- Drinking alone or in secret
- Blacking out (drinking so much you can't remember whole periods of time)
- Having drinking rituals, and getting upset if those rituals are disrupted or commented on
- Needing more and more alcohol to feel its effect
- Not being able to limit alcohol consumption
- Having money, work, legal, and/or relationship problems caused by drinking
- Experiencing sweating, nausea, or shaking when going without alcohol
What are the risks of alcoholism?
Untreated alcoholism destroys a person's physical health. It slows the production of new blood cells and decreases bone density. Alcoholism often causes liver disease and is also associated with heart disease and cancer. Alcoholics are more susceptible to cardiac arrest, ulcers and other gastrointestinal problems. At its core, alcoholism speeds up the aging process of the human body.
Alcoholics are also at risk of alcohol-related accidents. Because alcohol dulls the mind and slows reaction time, many people trip, stumble and fall while intoxicated. Risks increase exponentially behind the wheel - drunk drivers kill and are killed in car accidents on a regular basis.
According to the National Institute of Health (NIH), close to 90,000 people die in from alcohol-related causes yearly, making it the fourth largest preventable cause of death in the U.S.
Alcoholics are often in denial about the state of their addiction, and as such it can remain undetected for several years. It's important to remember that for an alcoholic, drinking is compulsive - it's not something within their control. They are not "bad" or "wrong" for being addicted to alcohol; they need help. And the cost of not getting it is potentially life-threatening.
What is alcohol rehab?
Rehab, short for rehabilitation, is about support and recovery from alcohol addiction. Many alcohol treatment centers offer both inpatient and outpatient services, and keep treatment confidential. Depending on the severity of the alcoholism, an inpatient alcohol rehab center may be the best option.
The first step at an inpatient alcohol rehab center is often medical detox, which can last anywhere between 3 days to 2 weeks. Heavy drinkers are likely to have become physiologically addicted to alcohol, meaning they need professional medical help while ridding their body of it. Without structured support, detox symptoms can be agonizing and sometimes deadly. Inpatient alcohol rehab treatment centers are well equipped to help manage symptoms and keep people safe and comfortable as they detox and go through withdrawal.
After detox, you begin therapy. Depending on the rehab facility and program, you may have a combination of individual and group therapy. In individual therapy, you meet with a licensed mental health professional who can guide you through the steps necessary to better understand your situation and how to recover. This, alongside peer-based group therapy, is viewed as one of the best treatment options for alcoholism.
Group therapy allows people to share their struggles with one another in a safe environment, and to connect with those who've been through similar situations. Many report group therapy as an enlightening and uplifting experience. It allows for the opportunity for healing and growth in a truly non-judgmental setting.
A brighter future
Drinking problems do not go away on their own, and being an alcoholic can be exhausting. For many of those affected, everyday life can become a battle, often triggering depressive episodes, anxiety and sometimes even suicidal thoughts. Alcoholism almost always harms not only one's physical health, but one's career, close relationships, and future.
At its core, alcohol rehabilitation is a chance to turn your life around. If you or someone you love needs help, know that you're not alone. Millions have been through the same struggle and come out the other side. With the right support and care, you are fully capable of leading a healthy, happy, and meaningful life.
The sooner you or a loved one can get help, the better.