Alcohol Addiction & Abuse

Learn more about alcoholism & how to get help if you have concerns about your drinking habits.

Alcohol is a legal substance that is safe to use in moderation. However, at Sanctuary Lodge, we understand how common alcohol misuse and addiction is. There are many alcohol-related terms including alcoholism, alcohol use disorder, alcohol dependence and alcohol abuse. If you are suffering from any of these issues, we assure you there is hope for an alcohol-free and healthy future.

At Sanctuary Lodge, we are dedicated to your recovery. We have helped thousands of people through the recovery process by using a combination of cutting-edge addiction treatments, effective therapy and 24-hour care provided by highly qualified medical staff.

Sanctuary Lodge offers you a safe, comfortable and stress-free environment to complete your rehabilitation programme. We ensure that your treatment is tailored specifically to your situation and covers not only your addiction but also any coexisting medical issues. (1)

Alcohol Abuse Vs Alcohol Addiction

The recommendation is to consume no more than 14 units of alcohol each week. Consuming more than this is detrimental to your health and is considered alcohol abuse, although abusing alcohol does not necessarily lead to addiction. (1)

Many people binge-drink occasionally and exceed 14 units. This is unhealthy, but if you are not physically dependent on the substance and can go long periods before drinking alcohol again, it is unlikely you have an addiction.

However, if you build a tolerance to alcohol through frequent consumption, your body may become dependent on it. Excessive alcohol consumption can also have psychological effects that can create emotional dependence. If you have become both physically and mentally dependent on alcohol, you are suffering from alcohol addiction. (2)

woman struggling with alcohol addiction
risk factors on letters

Alcohol Addiction Risk Factors

There is no one cause of alcohol addiction, and anybody can be affected, although there are a few factors that may make you more at risk. Some known risk factors include genetic predisposition, environmental factors and repeated exposure. Social influence, gender and age can also play a role in your risk of developing alcoholism. It is estimated that 9% of British men and 3% of British women are alcohol-dependents. (3)

It is essential to understand that not everybody who falls into a risk category for alcohol addiction will develop the disorder, but being aware of this may help you understand why you may need to consider taking precautions.

Genetic Factors

Unfortunately, your genetics and biology can influence your risk of alcoholism. Many people can control their alcohol intake and feel no cravings to continue drinking. Others experience such intense feelings of pleasure during alcohol consumption that their brain has the desire to repeat the behaviour continually.

There are chemicals in the brain that give you a predisposition to alcohol addiction. The genes that cause these chemicals are hereditary and therefore, can run in families.

Environmental Factors

The environment that you live in plays a large role in your attitude towards everything, including alcohol. In some countries or rural areas, access to alcohol is limited and alcoholic drinks are expensive. If you can’t access alcohol easily, you are at a lower risk of alcoholism than those who live in areas close to bars, pubs or shops that sell alcohol.

Your wealth can also impact alcohol consumption. People in a higher income bracket are more likely to drink alcohol excessively. It is estimated that 80% of people in the UK who earn over £40,000 annually drink alcohol, and only 47% of people who earn less than £10,000 consume the substance. (5)

Repeat Exposure

Some people have never tried alcohol, and therefore their risk of developing alcoholism is low. The more alcohol you drink, the higher your risk of alcoholism. Men who drink 15 drinks per week or more and women who drink 12 drinks per week or more are at a higher risk of developing alcoholism.

Repeated exposure to alcohol is particularly influential in the development of alcohol addiction if you are regularly consuming five or more drinks per day. (6)

The reason that repeated exposure increases the risk of alcoholism is that your body begins to build a tolerance and needs more alcohol each time to experience the same pleasure. If you only drink alcohol occasionally and in small quantities, your body does not have the opportunity to increase its tolerance. However, it’s also related to your genetic predispositions and other factors.

Further reading: Why do people turn to alcohol?

Further reading: Why Do Those with Alcoholism Resist Recovery?

The 5 Stages of Alcohol Addiction

At Sanctuary Lodge, we understand that alcohol addiction is a complex condition that usually develops slowly. Therefore, recognising that you are becoming addicted can be hard.

If you think that the following stages of addiction might apply to you or a loved one, contact us as our services can ensure you get the help you need.

a boy watching his father drink

Stage 1

The first stage of developing an alcohol addiction is usually occasional binge drinking and experimentation with alcohol. Many people, particularly young adults, experience this stage of alcohol consumption and don’t develop a tolerance, dependence or addiction.

If you fall into any of the risk categories, however, this stage could develop into a deeper problem. (7)

Stage 2

The next stage is alcohol abuse. This stage involves frequent alcohol use that is above the NHS recommendations. You may also have started drinking alone, in situations where alcohol consumption is not appropriate or to alleviate anxiety. Extremely frequent alcohol consumption will raise your body’s tolerance for alcohol, which can lead you to increase the amount you drink.

Drinking alcohol to improve your mood or reduce stress indicates you might be forming an emotional or psychological dependence. (7)

Stage 3

Stage three of developing alcohol addiction includes drinking out of habit, poor sleeping patterns and mood issues. By this stage, the amount of alcohol you are consuming is probably starting to affect many aspects of your life, and this indicates that you have developed a problem with alcohol.

Despite alcohol consumption beginning to negatively affect your life, at stage three, most people still enjoy the effects of alcohol as their lives haven’t changed drastically. (7)

Stage 4

Once you have reached stage four, a physical dependency will have developed alongside the psychological dependency. Your tolerance to alcohol at this point will be high, and your body will be used to receiving alcohol to function normally.

Additionally, at this stage, if you don’t drink alcohol, you will start to experience withdrawal symptoms such as nausea, tremors and excessive perspiration. (7)

Stage 5

The final stage is alcohol addiction. If you are at this stage, you will need alcohol to function physically and mentally, but you will no longer enjoy the effects of alcohol. Cravings for alcohol at this time can be intense and hinder your ability to enjoy activities you once loved. At stage five, you will not be unable to deny your cravings for alcohol.

Once you have an alcohol addiction, it can become obvious something is wrong, and it can start to impact your relationships, work and health.

Further reading: Alan Carr’s Partner Turns to Alcohol Due to Loneliness

man struggling with alcoholism

Health Complications Associated with Alcoholism

Your health, safety and happiness are the most important things to us at Sanctuary Lodge. Our primary goal is to help you maintain a healthy lifestyle, which is not possible if you are drinking alcohol excessively.

Alcohol addiction has numerous effects on your physical and mental health, and the negative impacts of your addiction are exacerbated if you mix alcohol with other drugs such as heroin.

Alcoholism also affects the wider community and puts pressure on emergency services.

Physical Health

One of the most common effects of alcoholism is liver problems, including liver cancer, cirrhosis of the liver and liver disease. Liver conditions are common as the liver removes toxins from your blood, and when there is an excess of alcohol in the bloodstream, it works in overdrive, which leads to complications.

Wernicke-Korsakoff syndrome is another health condition associated with alcoholism, as alcoholics often become malnourished. It is a brain disorder caused by a lack of thiamine or vitamin B1. The condition can cause confusion, issues with your eyes or vision and balance issues. (8)

Other physical health concerns include high blood pressure, nerve damage, gastrointestinal problems, and damage to your brain cells. (6)

Mental Health

Physical health is not the only thing that excessive alcohol consumption affects. Over time, the use of alcohol changes your brain chemistry. The brain maintains a careful balance of chemicals called neurotransmitters, and this balance is altered when you consume alcohol. To compensate for the chemicals that alcohol releases, the brain adjusts the neurotransmitter levels.

A change in the balance of neurotransmitters not only increases alcohol tolerance and creates a dependency, but it also lessens the natural production of chemicals that produce feelings of happiness and pleasure. Consequently, you may start to feel increasingly anxious, depressed or even suicidal. (9) Therefore, it is common to receive a dual diagnosis of alcoholism and a mental health condition.

Mixing Alcohol with Drugs

Mixing alcohol with other drugs is often risky. Alcohol is a depressant, whereas substances like cocaine are stimulants. Therefore, they work against each other when consumed simultaneously, which has a severe impact on the central nervous system. (10)

Frequently mixing two drugs is called polydrug use, which poses another set of health concerns. Cocaethylene production is specifically associated with people who mix alcohol and cocaine. When these two substances are combined, cocaethylene develops in the liver and passes into the bloodstream. The risks of cocaethylene in the bloodstream are cardiovascular issues, stroke and increased impulsivity.

Alcoholism and Families

Many consider alcoholism a family disease, as it affects not only the person suffering but also their loved ones. Living with an alcoholic can be particularly complicated as families witness the extent of the condition.

People often don’t know how to help a family member who has alcoholism, and sometimes they unintentionally enable alcoholic behaviour. Most families have good intentions but also want to protect their loved one. Protecting someone with alcoholism by covering or lying for them enables their addiction. (12)

Additionally, many alcoholics develop co-dependent relationships with members of their family as they rely on them for financial or emotional support, and family members attach their self-worth to helping care for the alcoholic. Co-dependent relationships often stop alcoholism sufferers from seeking professional help.

a boy watching his parents drink alcohol

Children of Alcoholic Parents

A fifth of people who are treated for alcohol addiction in the UK live with a dependent child. (5) Many children of alcoholic parents don’t have positive role models and stability in their lives. The impact of a dysfunctional childhood can cause issues for people in adult life, and these children often struggle to maintain functional relationships, have trust issues, engage in approval-seeking behaviours and judge themselves harshly. (13)

Also, children who have alcoholic parents are four times more likely to develop alcohol issues themselves. This is because alcoholism is thought to be hereditary. (1)

If a mother drinks during her pregnancy, her child could be born with foetal alcohol syndrome. Alcohol can be passed to a baby through the placenta, which can damage development, affect cells in their brain and spinal cord or result in miscarriage. Babies who survive foetal alcohol syndrome may have lifelong problems. (14)

group therapy session

Getting Help for Alcohol Addiction

If you or a loved one needs help with alcohol addiction, the best option is rehabilitation. Our alcohol rehabilitation programme involve 24-hour inpatient care in a calm and safe setting to ensure your comfort and the best chance of recovery. Outpatient programmes are available as part of our aftercare plan.

During rehabilitation, you will also receive psychotherapy that is individual to your addiction, mental and physical health. The types of psychotherapy we offer include cognitive behavioural therapy, family therapy, psycho-social workshops, co-dependency support and psychodynamic therapy. We are dedicated to your health; thus, we will create a bespoke treatment plan, including both one-to-one and group counselling, made up of the most suitable holistic and traditional methods.

If you are alcohol-dependent and require detoxification, our programmes offer medical detox to keep you safe and help you cope with uncomfortable withdrawal symptoms.

Your care doesn’t end as you walk out of the door. Recovery is an ongoing process. This is why we provide free aftercare.

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Alcohol Addiction FAQ

Is there a cure for alcohol addiction?
There is no absolute cure for alcoholism, and some people relapse. However, the treatments and therapies that rehabilitation programmes offer are extremely effective in helping you manage your condition, and many remain sober for the rest of their lives. (15)
Is alcohol addiction a disease?
Yes, alcoholism is considered a chronic brain disease because alcohol alters your brain chemistry. Once the balance of neurotransmitters in your brain has changed, your reward centre becomes pathological. (15)
How long does it take to become addicted to alcohol?
There is no set time for the development of alcohol addiction. Everybody is different, and not everyone who abuses alcohol becomes addicted. Some people may abuse alcohol for years before developing alcoholism, whereas for others, it may only take a few weeks. (1)
How do I help an alcoholic?
There are many ways you can help someone who has an alcohol addiction. Understanding alcoholism is the first step to helping your loved one recover, as it is important to learn what is beneficial to their recovery and what behaviour may enable their addiction. Being supportive but firm and intervening when the time is right will also help an alcoholic seek the professional help they need. (16)

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