Recovery from Alcohol Addiction – A 2019 Guide

Alcoholism leads to about 88,000 deaths every year in the USA, according to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC). 1 It’s essential to understand the differences between social moderate alcohol consumption and drinking that’s harmful, dangerous and which can become a possibly fatal addiction. It’s important to note that when alcohol consumption becomes abusive, with the help of a treatment program and ongoing support, even the most serious cases of alcoholism can be successfully treated.

Guidlines to Determine the Severity of Drinking

What’s the Difference Between Social or Moderate Drinking and Alcoholism?

First, let’s define what the CDC considers a drink. In the USA, a standard drink contains 0.6 ounces (14 grams) of pure alcohol. Pure alcohol in this amount is typically found in: 1

  • 12 oz of beer (about 5% alcohol content)
  • 8 oz of malt liquor (about 7% alcohol content)
  • 5 oz of wine (about 12% alcohol content)
  • 1.5 oz of 80-proof liquor (about 40% alcohol content) such as vodka, whiskey, gin and rum.

To avoid the risk of developing alcoholism, also called Alcohol Use Disorder (AUD), it’s important to either drink moderately or stay within the limits of low-risk drinking. Of course, no one under the legal drinking age should consume alcohol, and if you haven’t had a drink, it’s better not to start at all.

Moderate drinking is: 1

  • Up to 1 drink per day for women
  • Up to 2 drinks per day for men


Low-risk drinking is: 2

  • For women, no more than 3 drinks on any single day
  • For women, no more than 7 drinks per week
  • For men, no more than 4 drinks on any single day
  • For men, no more than 14 drinks per week.

Binge drinking is a particular problem among young people. The NIAAA’s (National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism) definition for binge drinking is the routine of alcohol consumption that produces BAC (blood alcohol concentration) levels to 0.08 grams/deciLiter. 2  These BAC levels usually occur after 5 alcoholic drinks for males and 4 alcoholic drinks for females over a period of about 2 hours.

SAMHSA (Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration) describes binge drinking as 5 or more drinks for males and 4 or more drinks for females, during one episode for a minimum of 1 day in the past 30 days. 2

A 2017 survey by drugabuse.gov stated that 62% of college students and 56% of non-college young people reported alcohol use in the past month.

Heavy Drinking: SAMHSA calls it heavy alcohol use when binge drinking happened on 5 or more days in the past month. 2

How is Alcohol Use Disorder (AUD) Defined?

Problem drinking that turns serious is a medical condition known as alcohol use disorder (AUD). AUD is the term that some healthcare professionals use in place of the word alcoholism, but frequently the two are used interchangeably. AUD is a chronic relapsing disease of the brain that includes: 3

  • using alcohol is a compulsion
  • a loss of control over how much alcohol is consumed
  • a negative emotional state occurs when not drinking alcohol

Tens of millions of people, both younger and older, in the USA have AUD.

  • 6.2% (a little more than 15 million adults) 18 and older had AUD in 2015. 3
  • Of those approximately 15 million adults, 9.8 million were men and 5.3 million were women 3
  • 623,000 adolescents ages 12-17 had AUD in 2015. About 5.2% of young people who had AUD in the past year received treatment. 3

These statistics add up to a total of close to 16 million people suffering from AUD each year.

Diagnosis Criteria for Alcohol Use Disorder (AUD)

An AUD diagnosis must meet the following criteria: 3

The person must demonstrate at least 2 of the 11 criteria below during the same 12-month period. The level of severity of the AUD diagnosis (mild, moderate or severe) depends on how many of the 11 criteria you (or someone you know) meets.

The criteria for AUD diagnosis are:

  1.  Were there occasions where you drank more or for longer than anticipated?
  2. Have you tried to cut back or stop drinking but couldn’t?
  3. Do you spend large amounts of time drinking or recovering from its after effects?
  4. Do you get cravings or urges to drink?
  5. Have you noticed that drinking (or dealing with sickness from it) repeatedly interferes with your home or family responsibilities? Has your drinking caused relationship, work or school troubles?
  6. Do you continue to drink despite you knowing it causes problems with your loved ones?
  7. Have you sacrificed activities that you enjoyed or were important to you so that you could drink instead?
  8. Have you found yourself in dangerous situations during or after drinking? Examples: driving, swimming, walking in a dangerous area, having unsafe sex.
  9. Continued to drink despite the fact it made you feel anxious, depressed, or alcohol was making another health problem worse? Or you had a memory blackout and continued to drink?
  10. You’re drinking much more to gain the same effects, because your usual number of drinks are having less effect than before?
  11. When alcohol is wearing off, you’ve experienced withdrawal symptoms, such as the shakes, irritability, restlessness, anxiety, depression, trouble sleeping, nausea, sweating or hallucinations?

Get Started on the Road to Recovery

If you or a loved one have any of these symptoms, the pattern of alcohol consumption may be a cause for concern. The more symptoms present, the more urgent it is to change the situation. A healthcare professional can conduct a formal assessment of the symptoms to determine if AUD exists.

Even if the problem is severe, most people suffering from AUD can improve from treatment and attain successful recovery from AUD.

If you or a loved one have any of these symptoms, the pattern of alcohol consumption may be a cause for concern. The more symptoms present, the more urgent it is to change the situation. A healthcare professional can conduct a formal assessment of the symptoms to determine if AUD exists.  

Even if the problem is severe, most people suffering from AUD can improve from treatment and attain successful recovery from AUD. 

Alcohol Addiction Treatment

The more someone drinks, the more tolerant to alcohol the body becomes. At the same time, the brain may become more dependent on its influence. When the effects of alcohol wear off, a person who is dependent on it can experience uncomfortable and distressful withdrawal symptoms ranging from mild to possibly fatal.

Alcohol Withdrawal Side Effects

  1. Mild: nausea, vomiting, abdominal pain, insomnia, fatigue, anxiety, depression, loss of appetite, shakiness, mood swings, brain fog and heart palpitations
  2. Moderate: raised blood pressure, irregular heart rate, higher body temperature, rapid respiration, confusion, excessive sweating, irritability and intensified mood disturbances
  3. Severe Delirium Tremens (DTs): fever, hallucinations, seizures, agitation, severe confusion and possibly death

The first step in alcoholism treatment is addressing any withdrawal symptoms to relieve the person’s discomfort and preventing any more serious symptoms from happening. Withdrawal treatment also provides an opportunity to encourage the person to enter long-term AUD treatment. 4

 Types of Detox

People who need a medically supervised detox can be safely and effectively treated on an inpatient basis at a hospital or clinic. Or the detox can be conducted on an outpatient basis. Inpatient means the person resides in the facility during the detox. Outpatient means the person goes home after receiving treatment that day, and then returns for further treatment for a set period of time until the detox is completed. 

 

Outpatient vs Inpatient Detox

Outpatient Detox
The best candidates for outpatient detox treatment should show only mild to moderate withdrawal symptoms, have no medical conditions or serious mental disorders, and have no history of seizures or DTs. Also, the person should have a sober friend or relative that can help throughout the process. Most outpatient detox programs require the individual to report in everyday, so that the clinician can reassess the symptoms, look for any medical issues, and see how effective the detox has been up to that point. 4

Inpatient Detox
Inpatient detox is the safest setting for alcohol withdrawal treatment, because a residential setting makes sure the individual is carefully monitored and supported 24/7. Inpatient treatment centers can provide a better chance for continuing AUD treatment. Also, inpatient detoxification keeps the person away from alcohol-related social and environmental triggers and stimuli that may increase the risk of relapse. 4

Inpatient detox works best for people who have a past history of severe withdrawal symptoms such as seizures or the DTs, have had many past detoxifications, have a co-occurring mental health or physical illness, had recent high levels of alcohol consumption, don’t have a reliable support network or are pregnant. 4

Detox Withdrawal Treatment
Most detox programs treat clients using what’s called pharmacological treatment (medications). Even if the symptoms are mild, using medications helps reduce alcohol-induced toxicity of nerve cells, also known as neurotoxicity. If no medications are used and neurotoxicity develops, it can lead to an increased chance of seizures for future withdrawals. 4

Most effective medications for detox: 4

  • Benzodiazepines to control insomnia and anxiety as well as seizures
  • Adrenergic medications to reduce elevated pulse and blood pressure
  • Anti-seizure medications to reduce the risk of seizures and to treat mood and anxiety disorders without sedative effects

Medical Detox for Alcohol Withdrawl

It’s important that anyone who has a severe drinking problem to avoid a sudden stop in drinking. When drinking is suddenly stopped, the onset of alcohol withdrawal symptoms can be so rapid and serious that it could put the person in immediate danger of medical complications or death. The safe way to quit drinking and manage any withdrawal symptoms is to have a professional medical detox. 4

AUD Treatment After Detox 

Once detox is completed and the brain and body have been cleared of alcohol, the next recommended step is to enter some type of formal inpatient or outpatient treatment. Right after detox and beyond, the risk of relapsing back into drinking is high, because AUD is a chronic and relapsing brain disease. Without some type of treatment or support, the overwhelming cravings and urges for alcohol can lead a person to pick up a drink. One drink leads to another and an alcohol addiction is once again active and doing harm.

Inpatient Rehab: Residential treatment for alcohol use problems makes alcohol inaccessible when cravings and urges happen. An inpatient setting also gives the person a chance to relax in a safe and secure environment without having to deal with the stress that daily living can bring. Around the clock monitoring, medications, support and therapies are available in an inpatient treatment center.

Outpatient Rehab: Outpatient treatment can be effective for people who have a mild case of AUD. Outpatient treatment (OP) can take place through a doctor’s office, a clinic, and frequent attendance of 12-step support group meetings. OP is well-suited for people who have job and family commitments and also have good social support.

Other services typically provided by both inpatient and outpatient programs include:

  • Individual therapy
  • Group counseling
  • Medication management
  • Mental health issues treatment
  • Holistic therapies
  • Family therapy
  • Aftercare plans


Find the Help You Need Now

Silvermist Recovery is committed to providing confidential, high-quality therapy to effect real change. Our inpatient addiction treatment center gives you or a loved one the opportunity to heal from substance abuse in a private setting, and our aftercare program offers long-term support for long-lasting recovery. The inpatient and aftercare treatment programs at Silvermist Recovery incorporate evidence-based treatments to help young adults develop their abilities, recognize their individualism, and minimize their addictive traits and behaviors to lead sober, rewarding and fulfilling lives.