Understanding alcohol addiction

Can’t quite grasp alcoholism as a “disease”? A look at the basics of defining alcohol addiction and its treatment, here.

minute read

Alcohol addiction remains a growing problem across the world. Where we work in the UK, over 1.6 million people are clinically alcohol dependent. But what is alcohol addiction, exactly? And how can it be treated?

We explore here. Then, we invite your questions about addiction to alcohol at the end. And we want to hear from you! In fact, we try to respond to all legitimate questions with a personal reply.

The definition of addiction

Let’s begin by looking at the medical definition of addiction. To clarify, addiction is,

“The repeated involvement with a substance or activity, despite the substantial harm it causes, because that involvement was (and may continue to be) pleasurable or valuable.”

Addiction is characterized by patterns of use which are unhealthy and can lead to compulsion, or cravings. Further, addiction is defined as a chronic, relapsing brain disease. In this case, repeated drinking – either larger quantities or regularly – can lead to the desire to drink more. And over time, the consequences of alcohol addiction impact on both physical and mental health.

Alcohol addiction is a mental health issue that has far-reaching consequences both for sufferers and their family and friends. When drinking develops into an addiction it is crucial a person knows there is help and support available and they are capable of recovery. It is with effective treatment that addiction can be overcome.

Am I a heavy drinker or an alcoholic?

There is a line between what would be classed a ‘heavy drinker’ and what would be classed as an ‘alcoholic’. Although it is important to know the difference, it should be noted there are negative mental and physical health repercussions regardless. The problems of alcohol addiction can be social, financial and potentially legal, as well as health-related.

When does drinking become a problem? The symptoms of addiction can include:

  • A compulsion to drink
  • Drinking more and more over time
  • Experiencing physical or emotional withdrawal
  • Drinking in the morning to ease withdrawal
  • Rearranging lifestyle around drink
  • Concealing drink
  • Lack of control, and feelings of regret
  • Drinking despite mounting physical/social/financial problems

The above symptoms of addiction to alcohol are simply a rough guide to recognize problem drinking patterns… but all are strong signs that an addiction is present. If you or someone you know are exhibiting them, it should be a warning of an underlying problem with alcohol. If this is the case, the importance of relevant and compassionate early intervention is invaluable and the first step on the road to recovery.

Why do I drink?

To understand alcohol addiction, a person needs to consider the reason they might drink. To begin, most people drink because they like the way it feels. It begins with the rewards they receive when drinking, the pleasurable feeling it gives them. To be more technical, the brain releases natural ‘reinforcers’ (opioid-like transmitters) which raise circulating dopamine levels and create a feeling of satisfaction. With increased exposure, a person will continue to seek out this feeling and this can lead to needing a little more of the pleasurable thing, in this case alcohol, to create it. This in turn creates a greater tolerance to alcohol, which in itself propels the need for greater amounts.

Addiction and mental health

When an addict is dependent on alcohol, any stoppage to the intake can result in withdrawal, the effects of which are usually opposite in nature to the acute reward effect and include anxiety, emotional agitation/depression, tremors and sweating. This becomes the point where there is a crossover with addiction and other mental health issues, the root cause of which is the initial alcohol dependence.

The further consequences of alcohol addiction are not to be underestimated; there has been a documented rise in multi-disorders in the UK, often beginning with addiction, making it even more important that people fully understand and recognise an addiction.

Support with alcohol addiction

Signs you may have a drinking problem can be pushed aside for some time. But what can you do when you’re ready for help?

As the UK’s leading independent provider of addiction treatment services, Priory provides professional, specialist treatment programmes for a wide range of addictive substances and behaviours at over 300 locations across the UK. We offer a nationwide network of specialist clinicians who will devise an individually tailored addiction treatment programme, ensuring all patients achieve the best possible outcomes with us.

If you would like to make a referral please call 0800 090 1354 or visit www.priorygroup.com for more details.

About the author
Priory is the leading provider of behavioural care in the UK including mental healthcare, education and children’s services, adult care and older people’s care. As the UK’s leading independent provider of addiction treatment services, Priory provides professional, specialist treatment programmes for a wide range of addictive substances and behaviours.
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