Alcohol rehab explains how alcohol addiction can creep up on us. The switch from moderate drinking to problem drinking occurs so gradually that most of us don’t even notice. By the time the reality of our situation becomes undeniable, we are usually already well within the clutches of addiction.
People who have never tried alcohol can be baffled as to how we could fall into this trap. They don’t understand how wonderful this drug can make us feel in the beginning. Drinking can allow us to escape our worries, and it can boost our confidence and ability to socialise. It is usually only slowly over time that the negative effects start to outweigh the positive – or as they say in Alcoholics Anonymous, ‘alcohol gave me wings, but then it took away the sky’.
Binge-drinking means consuming an excessive amount of alcohol in a short period
Alcohol abuse is where people develop problems due to excessive drinking even though they are not physically dependent
Alcoholism – Alcohol Dependence
Alcohol dependence refers to a physical/psychological addiction characterised by increased tolerance and withdrawal symptoms
Alcohol use disorder (AUD) is now the preferred medical term for describing alcohol addiction. A high-functioning alcoholic is a person who is able to hide the worst effects of their drinking.
One of the reasons it can take people so long to break free of addiction is that they believe they have to fit a certain stereotype to be in trouble. The important thing to understand is, if you continue to drink despite the obvious negative consequences of this behaviour, you have an alcohol problem.
The DSM-IV-TR Diagnostic Criteria for Alcohol Abuse and Dependence provides guidelines for determining the severity of a drinking problem. Consider the list below and see how many of these statements would apply to you:
- Tried to control your drinking previously but failed long-term
Regularly end up drinking more than you planned
Feel reluctant about going to social events without alcohol
Alcohol is interfering with work, family, or social responsibilities
Large part of your day is devoted to drinking, getting over the effects of drinking, or thinking about it
Experience cravings and find it hard to cope without alcohol
Have used alcohol to manage withdrawal symptoms
Alcohol use is damaging your relationships, yet you continue to drink
Drinking has led to situations where you have been in danger
A loss of interest in healthy activities
Going to rehab can feel like a huge commitment. Unless you appreciate the need for this type of help, it is understandable that you are likely to feel resistant to the idea. If you view an inpatient treatment program as just somewhere, you go to quit drinking you are probably not going to feel too enthusiastic about the suggestion – especially if you have managed to quit without this type of help in the past. That is not what rehab is about.
The real goal of this program is to help you develop a new way of living where you no longer need alcohol (or any other drug) to cope.
One reason why you might feel resistant to rehab is the hope that you may one day be able to drink safely again. Maybe if you just stop for a few months, or limit alcohol to the weekends? This type of thinking can keep you trapped in misery for years. The reality is that alcohol addiction leads to permanent changes in the brain, so the only feasible treatment is complete abstinence.
There are no real entry requirements for alcohol rehab other than your desire to quit drinking. People these days are far more aware of the dangers of drinking, and this means they are able to spot the signs of alcohol problems earlier. If you can get help now before you cross the line into addiction, it can mean you avoid unnecessary suffering and loss.
Alcohol is a depressant, but it also stimulates the brain in the same way all drugs do. It increases the release of dopamine in your brain’s reward centre, making you feel great. Alcohol affects both “excitatory” neurotransmitters and “inhibitory” neurotransmitters – glutamate, Dopamine and GABA – increasing brain activity and energy levels while slowing the central nervous system down at the same time, resulting in slow and distorted responses.
Understanding the role of the neurotransmitter dopamine is helpful.
People with addictions are low on dopamine, causing addiction, depression, loss of satisfaction, poor focus and other symptoms. Low dopamine levels cause us to consciously and unconsciously seek out dopamine-raising substances or behaviours. All substances stimulate dopamine release or increase its activity and produce the hedonic response “I like that”.
Reward center: Changes in the way we experience pleasure and life.
Impaired memory: Euphoric recall despite negative consequences of Alcohol.
Self-medicating: Numbing negative thoughts and feelings.
Hijacked Brain: Human reward system is designed for survival but hijacked by chemical payoffs provided by Alcohol. The reward circuitry normally bookmarks important things: food, nurturing children, education, work and friendships. However, now it has been corrupted by the substance.