Alcohol Misuse, Addiction & Treatment

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

Alcohol Misuse Overview

Alcohol is a widely consumed and socially acceptable substance in the U.S. It’s less stigmatized than other substances that can lead to addiction, unfortunately making it one of the most misused substances.

Throughout 2018, a quarter of adults 18 years old or older consumed enough alcohol to be considered heavy drinking.1 That same year, 3.4 million 18- to 25-year-olds and 11 million people aged 26 or older were diagnosed with alcohol use disorder (AUD).2

Alcohol use occurs across a wide, complicated spectrum, and it can be difficult to recognize when it becomes an addiction. The good news is that most people with an alcohol use disorder can benefit from treatment.

With the right help from professionals, recovery from alcohol use disorder and reducing harmful alcohol use is possible and within reach.

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What Is Alcohol Use Disorder?

Alcohol addiction is a chronic medical disease, where compulsive alcohol consumption causes not only health problems affecting many different systems in the body, but may also have negative social and occupational consequences.3

The substance interferes with how the brain works, causing problems with learning, memory and coordination, as well as changes in mood and behavior.3

Medical and clinical professionals diagnose someone with alcohol use disorder (AUD), also known as alcoholism or alcohol addiction, when that person can no longer control or stop their alcohol use, despite knowing it can cause negative consequences.4

It’s important to understand that alcohol use disorder, like all substance use disorders, is not a moral failing—it’s a serious, but treatable, disease.5

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Signs of Alcohol Use Disorder

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Effects and Health Risks of Alcohol Use

Short-Term Effects of Alcohol Use

Alcohol is fast acting, which means it can enter your bloodstream and make you feel the effects within 10 minutes of consumption. As you continue to consume alcohol, your blood alcohol concentration level (BAC)—the amount of alcohol present in your bloodstream—will increase.11

Short-term effects of alcohol use can include:11, 12

  • A lessening of inhibitions.
  • Feeling relaxed or sleepy.
  • Slurred speech.
  • Problems with limb movement and coordination.
  • Stroke.
  • Memory problems.
  • Difficulty concentrating or maintaining focus.
  • Breathing problems.
  • Emotional instability.
  • Alcohol poisoning (confusion, vomiting, hypothermia, loss of consciousness).
  • Pregnancy or fetal complications among pregnant women.

As alcohol use continues a person may begin to regularly experience episodes of binge or heavy drinking, abuse alcohol regularly, or develop an alcohol use disorder, worsening their health and increasing the risk of developing chronic medical conditions.

Long-Term Health Risks of Alcohol Use

The long-term health risks of alcohol use are wide-ranging and can include:12

  • High blood pressure.
  • Heart disease.
  • Stroke.
  • Liver disease.
  • Digestive problems.
  • Cancers, including breast, mouth, throat, esophagus, liver, and colon.
  • Learning and memory impairment, including dementia.
  • Mental health disorders, including depression and anxiety.

Those who regularly consume heavy amounts of alcohol may also experience unintentional injuries (e.g., falls, burns, motor vehicle crashes), unemployment or problems at work, an increase in hostile or aggressive behavior, financial strain, and increased conflicts with family or friends.13

Alcohol Addiction Treatment

Alcohol use disorder treatment is available for those who are ready to stop their problematic drinking and maintain sobriety. Treatment for addiction or alcoholism is effective, and lifelong recovery is possible.

Many people who enter treatment benefit from an individualized treatment approach, meaning that their course for treatment is dependent on factors that specifically affect them.14

Recovery First Treatment Center photo

Alcohol Abuse Treatment at Recovery First

Located in Hollywood, Florida, Recovery First Treatment Center offers a comprehensive collection of alcohol use disorder treatment options for those interested in sobriety.

You can learn more about the facility online or call our admissions navigators day or night with questions. We walk you through the treatment admissions process and are here to support you at every step of your recovery journey.

Recovery First Treatment Center photo


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.