Alcohol Addiction: Effects, Withdrawal, & Treatment

Learn what alcohol use disorder is and how to find treatment for alcohol addiction.

Alcohol Use Disorder

Get more info on the various aspects of alcohol addiction and effective treatment.

Alcohol Misuse Overview

More than half of American adults aged 18 and older—over 131 million people—drink alcohol. And in 2021, nearly a quarter of those people (23%) met the criteria for an alcohol use disorder.1

Each year, 1 in 5 deaths among adults ages 20 to 49 is due to excessive alcohol use. The CDC defines excessive alcohol use as anyone who engages in binge drinking or heavy drinking, as well as underage drinking or drinking while pregnant.2

Binge drinking is defined as 4 or more drinks for women and 5 or more drinks for men on a single occasion. Heavy drinking is considered 8 or more drinks per week for women, or 15 for men.3

With each episode of excessive drinking, all considered alcohol misuse, a person is at increased risk of developing an alcohol use disorder. Choosing to drink moderately or abstain from alcohol completely can help people avoid the consequences of alcohol misuse.3,4

Did you know most health insurance plans cover alcohol addiction treatment?
hands holding glasses filled with alcohol toasting in celebratory fashion

What Is Alcohol Use Disorder?

An alcohol use disorder (AUD) is a chronic disease that involves the continued, uncontrollable consumption of alcohol despite its negative impact on a person’s health and well-being.4

AUDs can range in severity and may sometimes also be referred to as “alcohol addiction” or the outdated and stigmatizing term “alcoholism.”4

While excessive alcohol use can contribute to the increased risk of alcohol use disorder, genetic factors, family history of AUD, and having certain mental health conditions can also play a role in increasing a person’s risk.4

Those with an AUD are in luck, there are a variety of treatment approaches that can help people stop drinking and maintain abstinence. It is important to remember that AUD is not a moral failing—it is a serious, yet treatable brain disease.4

Treatment Options for Alcohol Use Disorders

Signs of Alcohol Use Disorder

It can be difficult to recognize when alcohol use becomes an addiction.

Addiction medicine specialists define addiction as a treatable, chronic medical disease involving complex interactions among brain circuits, genetics, the environment, and an individual’s life experiences, where substance use becomes compulsive and is continued despite harmful consequences.5

For those who are concerned about a loved one’s drinking, there are usually signs of alcohol use disorder that they can look out for.

woman sitting with her elbows on a table, holding a glass of alcohol in one hand and resting her chin on the other. She has a hopeless or sad expression on her face.

Effects & Health Risks of Alcohol Use

Potential Risks of Alcohol Misuse

There are many potential consequences associated with alcohol misuse, including serious and lasting effects on brain function and behavior.3

Excessive alcohol use is associated with increased risk of the following short- or long-term complications:3

  • Injury from falling, drowning, burns, car crashes, or other accidents.
  • Experiencing violence.
  • Consequences from risky sexual behaviors, including unintended pregnancy or sexually transmitted diseases.
  • Elevated blood pressure.
  • Heart disease.
  • Stroke.
  • Liver diseases.
  • Several cancers.
  • Weakened immune system.
  • Learning or memory problems.
  • Dementia.
  • Worsening or triggering of co-occurring mental health conditions.
  • Family or work difficulties.
  • Alcohol use disorder.
  • Alcohol poisoning.

Signs & Symptoms of Alcohol Poisoning

Alcohol poisoning, or alcohol overdose, is a dangerous condition that can occur when a person drinks too much and too fast. As high amounts of alcohol enter the bloodstream, certain areas of the brain that control basic life-supporting functions—like breathing and heart rate—begin to fail.8

Drinking more increases a person’s blood alcohol concentration (BAC), and a high BAC puts a person at greater risk of harm. A severe alcohol overdose can lead to permanent brain damage and may even be fatal.8

Signs and symptoms of alcohol poisoning may include:8

  • Confusion or stupor.
  • Going in and out of consciousness or loss of consciousness.
  • Vomiting.
  • Seizures.
  • Extremely slow (less than 8 breaths per minute) or irregular breathing (10 or more seconds between breaths).
  • Slow heart rate.
  • Cold or clammy skin, possibly bluish skin coloring.
  • Diminished reflexes (including gag reflex).
  • Low body temperature.

If you or someone around you is experiencing alcohol poisoning, it is important to get emergency medical help immediately. Call 911 right away.

Alcohol Dependence & Withdrawal

Chronic alcohol use can lead to physiological dependence. Once a person develops a dependence on alcohol, they are likely to experience withdrawal symptoms if they suddenly stop drinking or cut back their use.6

man struggling with alcohol detox

Medical Detox for Alcohol Withdrawal

Severe withdrawal symptoms can be dangerous and life-threatening and require medical attention. A person at risk of experiencing severe withdrawal symptoms will benefit from undergoing alcohol withdrawal in a supervised medical setting.9

Enrolling in a medical detox program can minimize the risk of complications and help ensure safety and comfort during the process.9

doctor holding the hands of a patient and comforting them during medical detox for drugs or alcohol

Rehab for Alcohol Addiction

Getting treatment for alcohol addiction can be life-changing. Alcohol rehab provides professional support, resources, and skills to help sustain long-term recovery from AUD.


Alcohol Addiction Treatment in Florida

If you or a loved one needs help for alcohol misuse or addiction, there is hope. Recovery First is an inpatient rehab near Miami that offers several types of addiction treatment designed to meet the individual needs of each patient.

Our caring staff and admissions navigators are available 24/7 to answer any questions you may have about treatment options, the rehab admissions process, alcohol rehab insurance, or other ways to pay for rehab.

Call or contact us online, and let us help you begin the path to recovery today.

Beautiful photo of a sunrise over the ocean waves and shoreline in Florida


Am I addicted to alcohol?

The best person to diagnose whether you have an alcohol use disorder or not is a doctor or mental health professional. There are signs of alcohol abuse that you may be identify on your own, but a diagnosis should come from a medical professional.

Why is alcohol addictive?

We know that consuming alcohol leads to the release of endorphins in the brain, which can produce feelings of pleasure and reward. When someone abuses alcohol regularly, it can create changes in the neural circuits in charge of motivational processes that drive subsequent alcohol-seeking behavior.

What is the link between heredity and alcohol addiction?

Although more research needs to be done to understand how genetics affects someone’s predisposition to alcohol abuse, researchers have identified some genes that can impact a person’s chance to becoming addicted to alcohol.21

ADH1B and ALDH2 are two genes that so far are the strongest known to affect the risk of alcoholism. A handful of others (GABRA2, CHRM2, KCNJ6, and AUTS2) are currently being studied for their impact.21 Note that genes can either increase the risk of alcohol abuse or protect against that risk.

Genes aren’t the only thing that influence how a person might deal with alcohol consumption—their environment is an indicator as well.22

Learn more about how genetics impact the chance for alcohol abuse.

How can I help someone who is addicted to alcohol?

Supporting a loved one or friend can be an incredible help to their recovery journey.20 Avoid providing medical advice or your own diagnosis and focus on encouraging and helping your loved one to see a medical or mental health professional or find the right treatment program for them.

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