Understanding Alcohol and Its Addictive Nature
To explain alcohol use and dependence, one should first understand the different chemical processes when an individual drinks. Alcohol is a depressant, meaning it slows down brain activity and has sedative effects on its user.
Once alcohol enters your body, it begins to dissolve in water — blood plasma — which means that your whole body becomes affected once you consume even small amounts of alcohol.
The initial process occurs when an enzyme called alcohol dehydrogenase (ADH) breaks down ethanol molecules. It then converts them into acetaldehyde–a highly toxic compound responsible for producing hangovers–in the liver through oxidation.
Acetaldehyde gets broken apart before it turns into acetaldehyde and converts into harmless carbon dioxide or acetic acid. However, this process is not flawless.
Because the chemicals are being broken down in a specific order and they react with each other to produce toxic compounds like acetaldehyde, there may be some delay before the first step can take place.
This means that your body will try to convert alcohol into acetaldehyde as fast as possible while struggling to break it apart again. However, once the initial breakdown of ethanol occurs, an enzyme called catalase significantly speeds up chemical processes by breaking down acetic acid (a product of oxidation) back into the water at lightning speed.
One thing remains clear: understanding how alcohol works inside our bodies provides us with insight on why individuals may feel different effects after consuming varying amounts of alcohol–in addition to explaining what happens when it is consumed.
Alcohol Abuse & Misuse
Alcohol is one of the most commonly abused substances in the world. Despite this, alcohol is also one of the oldest and most common substances known to man.
According to a 2019 report, 2.9 percent of anyone over the age of 12 was diagnosed with alcohol abuse disorder in the United States. That is nearly 15 million individuals.
But what constitutes alcohol consumption as abuse? Here are three categories for alcohol consumption in the United States.
According to the Dietary Consumption guidelines, moderate alcohol consumption is classified as men over the legal drinking age consuming two or fewer alcoholic beverages in a day and women consuming one or less in a single day.
According to most US health organizations, including the World Health Organization (WHO), any alcohol use that exceeds these limits is considered harmful to your health.
In 2019, 25.8 percent of 18- to 64-year-olds (29.7 percent of men and 22.2 percent of women) claimed that they binge drank in the previous month.
Binge drinking for a man consists of consuming over five alcoholic drinks within two hours. Whereas a woman who consumes four.
Binge drinking is the most prevalent, costly and deadly form of excessive alcohol use in America. Binge drinking is defined as a pattern of drinking that results in a person’s blood alcohol concentration (BAC) being 0.08 g/dl or higher.
As a baseline, they consider men consuming five or more drinks in about two hours and women consuming anything more than four as binge drinking.
This type of drinking is also called heavy episodic drinking. It refers to men having over 14 drinks in one month or women consuming at least seven alcoholic beverages per week.
High-risk drinkers have an increased chance for health problems such as liver disease, heart disease, hypertension (or high blood pressure), stroke, cancer and even harming others while driving drunk.
If you find yourself falling in either the binge drinking or high-risk drinking categories regularly, consider reaching out to Windward Way Recovery and talk to one of our experts. There are many ways to get your drinking habits under control, and talking to someone with experience on the matter can be very helpful to get you on the right path.
Health Risks From Alcohol Abuse
When alcohol is consumed in excess, especially on a chronic basis (or overtime), it can cause several physical and mental health issues. Here are the short-term and long-term health risks that are associated with the overconsumption of alcohol.
Short-term Health Risks
In the short-term, the overconsumption of alcohol can result in or lead to:
- Alcohol poisoning and overdose.
- Alcohol blackouts.
- Severe dehydration.
- Sexually transmitted diseases.
- Heart attacks.
- Slurred speech.
- Slowed reaction time.
- Lessened motor functions.
- Weight gain.
- Passing out.
In the most extreme cases, alcohol can lead to death or long-term hospitalization.
Long-Term Health Risks
Alcohol can have many long-term effects on the body, especially if you abuse alcohol consistently. The long-term effects of alcohol can impact the following organs:
- Brain – including memory loss, depression and delayed thought process.
- Heart – including high blood pressure and irregular heart rate
- Liver – liver disease or even failure in severe cases can result from drinking too much alcohol over time.
- Stomach – ulcers are common when you drink heavily for prolonged periods; the increased acidity levels caused by excessive consumption also put stress on your stomach lining, which can irritate to develop. However, this is not seen with occasional drinkers. More advanced stages of ulcer development include perforation (the hole that develops in the gut wall) resulting in infection, which requires emergency surgery. The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse & Alcoholism (NIAAA) states that there is no completely safe level of drinking.
- Pancreas – The pancreas produces a hazardous chemical in the presence of alcohol, which can cause pancreatitis.
- Reproductive system – because men and women react differently to alcohol, the impact on reproductive organs varies greatly. For men, this can include decreased testosterone levels, abnormal sperm production, erectile dysfunction (ED). In women, they can experience infertility issues & irregular menstruation cycles.
Alcohol abuse is a significant factor in many suicides due to its depressive effects on moods and thoughts. The NIAAA concluded that “Alcoholism increases suicide rates by seven-fold among men.”
If you are concerned you may be at risk for any of the above health risks, talking to Windward Way Recovery can help you get the assistance you need.
What Happens to the Body If You Have Alcohol Use Disorder?
If a person has alcohol use disorder, also known as AUD, the body becomes dependent on alcohol. When the brain is used to receiving a specific amount of alcohol to function correctly, suddenly stopping or decreasing that level will lead to many health risks. This is known as alcohol withdrawal.
Understanding Alcohol Withdrawal
Understanding alcohol withdrawal is necessary for someone who has AUD and is looking to limit or completely rid themselves of the overconsumption of alcohol.
If someone has been drinking heavily and then suddenly stops, their brain will experience an imbalance in chemicals used to receive from the alcohol.
The body can begin going through withdrawal as early as eight hours after stopping heavy alcohol consumption if there has not been any time for the liver to process some of it out naturally.
Symptoms can include:
In severe cases of overconsumption, it can lead to death or long-term hospitalization if there is no immediate medical attention given by qualified professionals who know how to deal with these situations appropriately.
If you have an issue understanding what Alcohol Withdrawal Syndrome entails or whether you or a loved one suffer from it, please reach out to us at Windward Way Recovery for more information today.
Types of Alcohol Withdrawal
Alcohol withdrawal varies based on each individual’s circumstances. Some things to consider are age, how long one has had AUD (Alcohol Use Disorder), and the amount consumed daily.
There are three main types of alcohol withdrawal:
Mild/minimal – Symptoms may include mild anxiety, insomnia and nausea/vomiting
Moderate – Significant changes in mood, seizures
Severe – Symptoms from severe withdrawal include delirium tremens (DTs), which are fatal in around five to 10 percent of cases.
If experiencing moderate or severe withdrawal symptoms, there are ways to mitigate the impact and bring down the effects. However, it’s important to see a doctor or talk to professionals first before attempting any self-medication.
Timeline of Alcohol Withdrawal Symptoms
The timeline of withdrawal symptoms will vary based on the specific case. Someone who has been drinking heavily for a long time with no breaks in between may experience more severe side effects, while someone who has only drunk once now and then may experience much milder symptoms.
Here is what a general timeline may look like.
Six hours after you stop drinking
Six hours after drinking, mild effects are to be expected. Some of these symptoms include nausea, vomiting and insomnia.
12 to 48 hours after your last drink
After about two days, you should be aware of any adverse symptoms such as loss of coordination, headache, nausea and vomiting. You may start hallucinating (between 12 and 24 hours after you stop drinking) or have seizures within the first two days after quitting. You can perceive things that aren’t there.
48-72 hours after you stop drinking
Delirium tremens, or DTs as they’re often called, generally begins in this period. These are severe symptoms that include vivid hallucinations and delusions.
Signs of Alcohol Withdrawal
If you are unsure whether you are experiencing symptoms from alcohol withdrawal, understanding the signs of withdrawal can help you know what is happening to your body.
Common symptoms include:
- Increased heart rate
- Severe anxiety
- Abdominal pain
- Loss of appetite
Suppose you are experiencing any of these symptoms. In that case, it may be time for medical detoxification through a professional healthcare provider with experience treating patients who have severe alcohol use disorder (AUD). All medications given during this process will vary depending on the type and severity of withdrawal that one experiences, but most often, benzodiazepines like Valium will play an important role when dealing with Alcohol Withdrawal Syndrome (AWS). Reach out to Windward Way Recovery today.
Treatment for Alcohol Withdrawal
Alcohol withdrawal is a medical condition that needs to be addressed by qualified professionals familiar with the various symptoms, medications are given and types of alcohol withdrawal.
Detoxification can come in many forms, including through medication or other therapies such as therapy sessions.
An experienced physician will monitor the person’s health throughout this period, ensuring no changes indicate further complications.
Medications may include:
- Benzodiazepines (Valium/Librium). These help calm anxiety.
- Anticonvulsants (Neurontin). These prevent seizures.
- Antidepressants like Naltrexone, Vivitrol, SSRIs (Zoloft used to treat mood disorders), and many others.
If you are looking for the best treatment for you, consult with your doctor or reach out to Windward Way Recovery. Their experts will discuss options that are right for you and make sure you are comfortable and prepared for your road to recovery.
Can You Prevent Alcohol Withdrawal?
While understanding alcohol withdrawal is essential, you can also take steps to avoid the symptoms altogether.
If you plan and understand how long it can take for your body to process alcohol, things may help manage some of these symptoms before they start.
The best way to prevent Alcohol Withdrawal Syndrome (AWS) is by understanding what triggers this condition so one does not have a low tolerance anymore, thus allowing their body a more leisurely time processing all the excess toxins in the bloodstream once.
Some suggestions would be:
- Avoid alcohol consumption on an empty stomach.
- Stay hydrated.
- Find a way to cope with anxiety and stress that may trigger heavy drinking episodes.
- Be aware of how much you are consuming overall – understanding blood alcohol content (BAC) can be helpful in understanding if one is at risk for withdrawal or not.
While prevention of withdrawal will depend on the level of abuse and longevity of use, these tips should minimize some of the symptoms that you may experience when trying to detoxify.
Suppose you are looking for more information on understanding alcohol withdrawal. In that case, Windward Way Recovery is here to help connect patients with qualified clinicians who can provide treatment through medication or understanding what each individual’s body needs during this time.
Contact Windward Way Recovery Today
Alcohol consumption can have many adverse effects on your health, ranging from short-term to long-term risks depending on the individual’s experience.
However, if someone has been experiencing alcohol use disorder and is looking to leave their drinking habits in the past, withdrawal symptoms can be severe and should not be taken lightly.
To avoid withdrawal symptoms, it is essential to understand how alcohol affects the body, the reasons behind alcohol consumption, and what triggers heavy drinking episodes to prevent AWS by understanding their physical response to toxins in the bloodstream.
If there are any questions about understanding alcohol withdrawal or if someone would like more information on detoxification through medication or other therapies, contact Windward Way Recovery today.
Schedule a free consultation with an expert who understands addiction treatment options for patients going through alcohol abuse withdrawal.