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What Defines Alcoholism?

Unlike other widely abused substances, the consumption of alcohol is not only recreationally legal, but also incredibly prevalent in today’s culture. According to the National Survey on Drug Use and Health in 2019, 85.6% of Americans 18 and older reported drinking alcohol at some point in their lives. This popularity and general social acceptance makes it that much more difficult to determine what constitutes “alcoholism.”

Also known as alcohol abuse, or addiction, and clinically referred to as alcohol use disorder (AUD), alcoholism is an illness categorized by the inability to properly maintain or regulate one’s alcohol intake despite severe negative consequences related to their drinking. Of all the adults in the US who drink, research shows that roughly 6.7% will develop an alcohol addiction.

Signs Of Alcoholism

The biggest indicator of alcoholism is when an individual is unable to control their drinking, but it is not the only one. The following are other common signs of an alcohol use disorder:

  • Spending a lot of time drinking or dealing with the aftereffects.
  • Wanting/trying to cut down several times, but cannot.
  • Giving up important or interesting activities to drink.
  • Continuing to drink even though it increases depression or anxiety or exacerbates another health problem.
  • Finding that the usual amount of alcohol no longer achieves the desired effect/feeling.

Remember that this list is not fully comprehensive and if you are concerned for yourself or a loved one, you should reach out to a treatment provider to learn about your options for recovery.

Is There Effective Treatment?

The best and most effective treatment path largely depends on the severity of the alcohol addiction, but usually consists of a supervised detox, some sort of therapy, the encouragement to attend a local support group, and occasionally prescribed medication.

An inpatient rehab facility provides the safest environment with which to begin treatment for alcoholism because of the on-site care and attention. After the initial detox period, patients may choose to remain at an inpatient center or might investigate the options available for outpatient programs.


Because alcohol can be so damaging to the body when consumed in large quantities and over time, detoxifying the system is paramount in regaining health. The detoxification process looks different depending on the individual’s drinking habits. For example, someone who engages in frequent binge drinking, defined by the consumption of 4 or more drinks for women and 5 or more for men in the span of around 2 hours, will likely experience more adverse effects than someone whose drinking is not as severe. Detox is only the beginning of treatment for someone living with alcoholism and because alcohol withdrawal can cause intense symptoms like Delirium Tremens, or alcohol withdrawal syndrome, it is never recommended to detox on your own.


There are many forms of therapy, but there are a few that are more suitable for alcohol addiction treatment. One of the most well-known types (and is also used for treatment in countless other scenarios and mental illnesses/disorders) is Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT). In CBT, therapists work with clients to analyze their thought patterns and behaviors and help them foster more effective processes based on the following core ideas:

  1. Psychological problems are partly based on an individual’s thinking pattern.
  2. Psychological problems are partly based on unhelpful learned behaviors.
  3. Individuals can learn more helpful ways to cope and deal with psychological problems which helps to alleviate symptoms and encourages more fruitful living.

Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT) is a derivative of CBT that focuses more intently on mindfulness and presence. By emphasizing the importance of reaching a state of internal calm, DBT encourages individuals to become aware of and listen to the senses, gaining a deeper understanding of the patterns and triggers that result in unwanted behaviors such as excessive drinking. For family members of those struggling with alcoholism, family therapy is a great way to begin mending the tears that addiction has made in the fabric of your household.

Support Groups

Joining a support group is extremely beneficial in the recovery process as it provides a safe space of people struggling with the same thing. Whether you’re the type to wear your thoughts on your sleeve and share your heartaches and hard times or you’d rather sit quietly and observe, engaging in community with those who understand has been proven to help.


Though prescribed medications meant to aid in alcohol withdrawal are available, less than 10% of those suffering with alcoholism who could benefit are taking them. As AUDs and other addictions are true mental disorders, medications can often assist in the psychological functioning of the brain to begin to make the necessary changes and adjustments.

Currently, the FDA has approved the use of several medications including, but not limited to Disulfiram, Naltrexone, and Acamprosate. Each of these affects the body and the way it interacts with alcohol differently. Disulfiram alters the way the body breaks down alcohol and thus makes you sick if you do drink while taking it. Naltrexone, conversely, helps to ward off cravings, but will not make you sick if alcohol is consumed; you may even feel drunk, but without the associated pleasure. Acamprosate works by communicating with systems in the brain that regulate cellular activity regarding fear and anxiety; in people who have been drinking for a long time, their systems are out of balance and this medication works to remedy that and provide stabilization.

Treating Alcoholism As Illness

It’s important to remember that first and foremost, alcoholism is an illness, not a choice. Those struggling under the tight grasp of alcohol are not inherently deciding to succumb; like other mental conditions, certain behaviors are largely out of their control and thus require outside intervention and treatment.

Can Alcoholism Be Cured?

The good news is that while often challenging and arduous, those living with an alcohol use disorder can, in fact, recover. According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA), about 1/3 of individuals who are treated for an alcohol addiction report no further symptoms after a year of treatment. Even those who might not meet the criteria of being fully recovered report significantly less alcohol consumption and alcohol-related incidents after receiving some form of treatment. Though the road to recovery and ultimate sobriety is paved with good will and intentions, relapse is to be expected. Overcoming alcoholism is a journey filled with many hills and valleys; the important thing is to be mindful of each time you fall and to use that experience to learn and grow and begin to move forward again.

Get Connected To Resources

If you or someone you love is struggling with their alcohol use, remember you are not alone. There are people available who can help answer any questions, comments, or concerns you might have. Contact a treatment provider to learn more and discuss your options for free, today.