Alcohol Shakes and Tremors

Alcohol Shakes and Tremors | Harmony Recovery Center

Alcohol Shakes and Tremors – Alcoholic shakes, commonly referred to as tremors, are physical manifestations that most commonly become evident following sudden withdrawal from chronic drinking. Acute alcohol shakes indicate a person is very ill. They can be accompanied by even more dangerous complications, such as psychosis and seizures.

Uncontrolled shaking and trembling of the hands or other parts of the body are common among those experiencing alcohol addiction. Much of the time, a person with a drinking problem who shakes is showing signs of alcohol withdrawal syndrome, but there are other reasons why someone dependent on alcohol might shake.

Causes of Alcohol Shakes and Tremors

Alcohol is a central nervous system (CNS) depressant with a high potential for abuse and addiction. Alcohol reduces brain activity and energy levels, and excessive drinking can cause profound sedative effects. And when someone drinks large amounts of alcohol frequently, their body adapts to the continued presence of alcohol.

In an attempt to compensate for the depressant effects of alcohol, the brain releases more excitatory neurotransmitters than usual, which increases nerve activity and keeps the body in a more alert state. These changes in brain chemistry are one reason why chronic, heavy drinkers often do not appear as intoxicated as they should be. But, when a long-term drinker abruptly quits drinking, the brain continues to function as if alcohol were present.

In this overactive condition, a person will begin to encounter symptoms of withdrawal, such as tremors, anxiety, hyperactivity, sweating, and an elevated heart rate, among other possible effects. Shaking and other signs of alcohol withdrawal can onset as soon as six hours after a person has had their last drink. This fact is why some alcoholics wake up shaky and anxious in the morning and need a drink to calm nerves and feel steady.

Some people develop a very severe form of alcohol withdrawal called delirium tremens (DTs) that can induce severe shaking, shivering and tremors. Other symptoms of DTs include hallucinations, agitation, hypertension, fever, and seizures. Because delirium tremens symptoms can be lethal, it’s recommended that chronic drinkers who are detoxing from alcohol undergo a clinical detox supervised by medical professionals.

Alcohol withdrawal symptoms are usually at their most intense between 10-30 hours after the last drink, and they usually recede within 40-50 hours. Nonetheless, some people develop a more protracted condition called post-acute withdrawal syndrome (PAWS), which is hallmarked by psychological symptoms that can persist for up to a year.

Alcohol Shakes from Brain Damage

According to research, frequent and excessive alcohol consumption can damage the cerebellum, a region of the brain found near the top of the brain stem that controls balance, coordination, and fine motor movement.

Damage to the cerebellum caused by alcoholism can produce what is known as an intention tremor. An intention tremor is a specific type of trembling that is most pronounced when a person makes a deliberate or goal-oriented movement toward an object, but the tremor may also manifest when at rest.

Other symptoms of alcohol-related cerebellar dysfunction include impaired coordination and balance, clumsiness, an unsteady walk, and involuntary back-and-forth eye movements (nystagmus). Some people also develop damage to the peripheral nervous system, which can result in muscle weakness, numbness, tingling, and pain in their arms and legs. This condition is known as peripheral neuropathy, and it can contribute to falls and injuries.

Damage to the cerebellum from alcohol use usually takes about a decade to occur and can be seen on an MRI as shrinkage in the cerebellum. It is believed to be the result of alcohol’s toxic effects on the brain coupled with nutritional deficiencies (e.g., the B vitamin thiamine) commonly found among alcoholics.

Once symptoms of alcohol-related brain damage manifest, they will continue to get worse if drinking continues. The only way to prevent a worsening of symptoms is to quit drinking entirely. Although, as noted, this should not be attempted without medical help in cases of severe alcohol dependence.

Alcohol Shakes and Tremors | Harmony Recovery Center

Alcohol Shakes from Liver Disease

Alcoholism can also cause liver disease, which, in its advanced stages, can produce a characteristic flapping or shaking of the hands (asterixis). While there may be few observable symptoms in early liver disease, long-term liver dysfunction can produce a number of complications, including a potentially deadly brain disorder called hepatic encephalopathy (HE).

Hepatic encephalopathy develops when the liver becomes unable to effectively eliminate toxins that can damage brain cells from the blood. As these toxins, including ammonia, manganese and other substances, begin to accumulate in the brain, the individual will start to experience sleep disturbances, mood swings and difficulties with motor control, including a flapping tremor. Some people may develop tremors similar to those witnessed in individuals who have Parkinson’s disease.

While HE can also result in coma and death, fortunately, the condition can usually be resolved with treatment. Regardless, the development of HE is a foreboding sign. According to research, around half of all patients with liver cirrhosis die within one year of their first episode of HE, and 80% die of liver failure within five years.

Treatment for Alcoholism

Shaking that occurs as a result of long-term, excessive alcohol consumption is a surefire indication of a serious problem. Shaking during withdrawals likewise indicates alcohol abuse, and if it occurs frequently, should be treated by addiction specialists.

Harmony Recovery Center offers outpatient detox services as well as comprehensive addiction treatment in partial-hospitalization and outpatient formats. Our services include those clinically-proven to be essential for the recovery process, such as psychotherapy, counseling, and group support.

If you or someone you love is struggling with addiction, contact us today. Discover how we help people reclaim their lives so they can experience the long-lasting wellness and sobriety they deserve!

Understanding Blood Alcohol Concentration

Blood Alcohol Concentration | Harmony Recovery Center

Understanding Blood Alcohol Concentration – Blood alcohol concentration (BAC) describes the level of alcohol (usually ethanol) in the bloodstream at any given time. Law enforcement frequently uses this measurement to ascertain that person is legally intoxicated.

Medical professionals also use it to calculate health risks related to alcohol poisoning. An understanding of BAC necessitates an understanding of the characteristics of ethanol and how it affects the body as levels continue to increase.

Ethyl Alcohol Basics

Ethyl alcohol (ethanol) is derived from a chemical process known as fermentation, which occurs when sugar contained in various types of grains, fruit, honey, or other substances get broken down by microorganisms called yeasts. Alcohol is a waste byproduct created by yeasts during the breakdown of sugar.

There are four main kinds of alcoholic beverages derived from the fermentation process: beer, malt liquor, wine, and distilled liquor. A number of other drinks have evolved in recent years that also include hard seltzer water and cider but usually fall into the category of beer.

Each fermentation method produces ethyl alcohol at a different rate, meaning that means that each type of alcoholic beverage has a different average alcohol content. As an overall comparison of alcohol content, scientists use a measurement referred to as a “standard drink,” which equals about 0.6 oz. of ethyl alcohol.

Beer has the lowest alcohol content by volume (ABV) with 0.6 oz. in a 12 oz. serving. Malt liquor contains 0.6 oz. of ethyl alcohol per 8 oz serving, while wine contains 0.6 oz. of alcohol per 5 oz. serving. Distilled spirits such as rum or vodka that are 80-proof contain 0.6 oz. of alcohol in each 1.5 oz. serving.

These numbers equate to an ABV percentage of about 5% for beer, 12% for wine, and 40% for liquor, but this can vary widely. For example, very light beers can contain as little as 2.5-3% ABV, and it’s not uncommon for modern craft beers to contain as much as 8% alcohol or more. Some foreign specialty beers can contain up to 65% ABV. Realistically, wine can vary anywhere between 5-20% alcohol.

It’s important to realize that the high ABV of some of these alcohols is a better determining factor of a “standard drink” in related to its potential for intoxication than referring to them as “one serving” of beer or wine. Moreover, if you drink an entire 12 oz. beer at 65% ABV, that is roughly the equivalent of eight 1.5 oz. shots of liquor, not one.

Intoxication and Blood Alcohol Concentration

Although we don’t always think of it this way, alcohol consumption is actually a form of poisoning. The body confronts this poisoning by passing the ethanol in your bloodstream to your liver. This organ then gradually metabolizes the alcohol, rendering it nearly harmless.

However, the liver can only process what researchers call one standard drink per hour, and if a person consumes more, this will start to overwhelm its efficient but somewhat limited abilities. Intoxication occurs when the liver cannot process the alcohol as fast as it’s being consumed. Essentially, it backs up, and alcohol begins collecting in the bloodstream.

Blood Alcohol Concentration | Harmony Recovery Center

BAC and Effects

Blood alcohol concentration is measured by the weight of ethanol contained in a given volume of blood.

A BAC of .02-.04% may induce mild relaxation and lightheadedness.

At .06%, effects can include increase relaxation, mild euphoria, increased sociability and talkativeness, and some degree of judgment impairment.

A BAC of .08% is the standard for legal intoxication in all fifty states. This level is typically reached by drinking two standard drinks in two hours. Typical depressant effects of this level include clear impairment of judgment and muscle coordination, as well as impaired vision, hearing, and self-control.

A BAC from .10-.20% reveals increasing degrees of intoxication accompanied by increasingly impaired muscle function, balance, judgment, and memory.

As BAC nears or surpasses .20%, the truly toxic nature of ethanol begins to reveal itself. Effects associated with this level of intoxication include vomiting, blacking out, and decreased pain sensations resulting in a failure to notice or respond to injuries.

When BAC reaches .30%, passing out is common, and it may be difficult to arouse someone who has reached this point. A person with this much alcohol in their system can die from alcohol poisoning.

When BAC climbs to .35%, the affected person may stop breathing entirely. Percentages of 0.40% or higher commonly result in coma and death. However, some individuals have been reported to survive BACs much higher, presumably due to unique factors.

Symptoms of Acute Alcohol Poisoning

Being able to recognize the symptoms of alcohol poisoning is critical. If someone you know is experiencing this condition, they will be in no condition to help themselves and could die or incur severe injuries and complications as a result.

Warning signs include the following:

  • Confusion
  • Profoundly impaired coordination
  • Vomiting
  • Seizures
  • Irregular, shallow breathing
  • Blue-tinged or pale skin
  • Low body temperature
  • Stupor
  • Unconsciousness

Acute alcohol poisoning is a life-threatening medical emergency. If you suspect a person is suffering from alcohol poisoning, do not assume they will “sleep it off.” Call 911 immediately or visit the nearest emergency room as soon as possible.

In the meantime, do not try to make the person walk around (risk of falling) or put them in a cold shower (risk of hypothermia). Do not attempt to make him or her vomit or offer them food (risk of choking). Do not offer the person caffeinated beverages (risk of further dehydration).

Instead, try to keep the person conscious if you can. If he or she is unconscious, keep them sitting up or lay them on their side to ensure they do not choke on their own vomit, which is common due to alcohol’s ability to impair the gag reflex.

Blood Alcohol Concentration | Harmony Recovery Center

Factors that Affect BAC

In addition to the sheer amount of alcohol consumed and the speed at which it was consumed, several other factors can influence a person’s BAC. These include sex (male or female), weight, and the amount and type of food in the stomach.

In general, females produce a higher BAC than males for any given level or rate of alcohol use. Part of this equation is body fat, not one’s overall size. The presence of fat allows alcohol easier access to the bloodstream, and people with higher body fat levels tend to get intoxicated more quickly than some others with less fat. Women typically have more body fat than men.

Also, alcohol consumption being roughly equal, people with a relatively low body weight will typically incur higher BAC levels than those with higher body weights. The presence of food in the stomach tends to keep a person’s BAC lower by delaying the entry of alcohol into the bloodstream. Fatty foods and protein, in particular, help to hinder alcohol absorption.

One misconception is that a person’s tolerance may affect their BAC level. However, this is not the case. Instead, among those with a high tolerance, the liver does tend to become more efficient at metabolizing alcohol, meaning that it may take more alcohol to induce the outward signs of intoxication.

Treatment for Alcoholism

Chronic or excessive drinking can result in devastating consequences and wreak havoc on a person’s health and well-being. Those who engage in problematic drinking behaviors, such as binge-drinking or drinking every day, should seek professional treatment before the situation gets worse.

Harmony Recovery Center offers specialized addiction treatment in both partial-hospitalization and outpatient formats, comprised of evidence-based approaches proven vital to the process of recovery. These services include psychotherapy, counseling, group support, aftercare planning, and more.

If you or someone you love is suffering from an addiction to alcohol or other drugs, please contact us today to find out how we can help!

Alcohol and Anxiety Disorders

Alcohol and Anxiety Disorders | Harmony Recovery Center

Alcohol and Anxiety Disorders – Anxiety is a normal human reaction that is related to the brain’s “fight or flight” response mechanism. For some, however, anxiety is not merely a temporary concern—it tends to be pervasive and may increase in intensity over time. As a result, symptoms may begin to interfere with a person’s functioning and everyday activities and responsibilities, such as academics, work, and relationships.

There are many different types of anxiety disorders, but generalized anxiety disorder is the most common among them. Other disorders include obsessive-compulsive disorder, panic disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder, and phobia-related disorders.

Alcohol and other drugs are sometimes abused by those who suffer from anxiety disorders as a misguided means to self-medicate. One or two drinks may help the average person relieve stress and inhibitions, but chronic excessive drinking has not been shown to reduce anxiety and, in fact, may worsen it or, in some cases, be a direct cause of it.

What Is Generalized Anxiety Disorder?

Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD), is a mental health condition characterized by chronic anxiety and excessive worry and stress, even in circumstances where there appears to be minimal provocation. People who are diagnosed with GAD have experienced undue anxiety or distress on a daily basis for at least six months. These worries can be associated with any number of issues, including health, work, social interactions, and normal life situations. This anxiety can then result in additional significant problems in many of these same areas of life.

GAD symptoms may include the following:

  • Feeling restless or on edge
  • Being easily fatigued
  • Being agitated or irritable
  • Feelings of tension
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Uncontrollable anxious feelings
  • Feeling overwhelmed
  • Insomnia or sleep disturbances

According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, 20% of Americans with a mood or anxiety disorder also suffer from a substance use disorder.

Alcohol and Anxiety Disorders | Harmony Recovery Center

Other Anxiety Disorders Associated with Addiction

Panic Disorder

Panic disorder can be a very debilitating condition and is hallmarked by sudden, repeated episodes of extreme dread and feelings of impending doom or being out of control. These feelings are often by physical, terror-fueled symptoms, such as accelerated heartbeat and palpitations, chest pain, shortness of breath, dizziness, crying, sweating, crying, and trembling.

Panic attacks can be entirely spontaneous but are most often instigated by some particular fear of a thing or situation, such as a centipede or flying in an airplane during extreme turbulence.

Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder

Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) is characterized by chronic, unwanted thoughts and obsessions and compulsive, repetitive behaviors. These behaviors include activities such as excessive hand-washing, cleaning, counting, and neatly organizing everything in one’s environment.

The strict performance of these routines is required in order to temporarily repress compulsive thoughts. People who live with OCD only get a short respite from these anxious feelings through the act of these rituals, and performing them can further worsen anxiety.

Common symptoms of OCD include the following:

  • Germophobia, a fear of germs or contamination leading to excessive washing
  • Undesired or forbidden thoughts and feelings involving religion, sex or self-harm
  • Aggressive thoughts toward oneself or others
  • Having things placed symmetrically or in a specific order, arranging things in a precise way
  • Repeated checking on things, such as frequently reassuring oneself that the door is locked
  • Compulsive counting

Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder

Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is a potentially devastating mental health condition that can onset after a person has experienced a psychologically catastrophic event in which physical and/or intense emotional harm occurred in some manner. Such events include physical and sexual assault, childhood abuse or neglect, natural disasters, and military combat.

Having feelings of anxiety and fear both during and after a traumatic event is natural and serves the purpose of protecting us from future harm. However, individuals with PTSD continue to experience these feelings during circumstances that are, in reality, not at all threatening.

Signs and Symptoms of PTSD

Not every person who encounters a traumatic event or events will experience PTSD, and not everyone who suffers from PTSD has been exposed to an event that threatens their physical well-being directly. For example, some people can develop PTSD after a severe illness or the death of a family member or other loved one.

Symptoms usually manifest within three months of a precipitating event, but sometimes stay dormant until years later. In any case, to be diagnosed as having PTSD, the following symptoms must continue for more than thirty days and be severe enough to adversely impact relationships, academics, or career. These include the following:

  • One or more reexperiencing symptoms, such as flashbacks or nightmares
  • One or more avoidance symptoms, such as avoiding places or events that remind the person of the experience
  • Two or more reactivity or arousal symptoms, such as being easily startled or having explosive outbursts
  • Two or more mood or cognition symptoms, such as having negative thoughts about oneself or having feelings of self-blame

Once people experience traumatic circumstances, they may also develop feelings of guilt and shame that can manifest in alcoholism or drug addiction. Alcohol dependency can worsen PTSD symptoms and induce very uncomfortable side effects.

Alcohol and Anxiety Disorders | Harmony Recovery Center

Phobia-Related Disorders

A phobia is hallmarked by the intense fear of a specific object (e.g., needles), a living thing (e.g., spider), or situation (e.g., being in confined in a small space). Anxiety may be considered to be a natural reaction in many of these circumstances, but people who suffer from phobias experience terror and sometimes panic that is dramatically out of proportion to a situation’s actual potential for danger.

People with a phobia may present the following signs:

  • Having an irrational or unrealistic worry about being exposed to the object or circumstance that terrifies them
  • Making an effort to avoid the object or situation
  • Experiencing sudden and intense anxiety/panic when encountering the object or situation
  • Enduring contact with unavoidable objects or conditions while experiencing severe anxiety and fear

Other anxiety disorders include separation anxiety disorder (a fear of being apart from a person to whom one is emotionally attached) and social anxiety disorder. The latter, which is also sometimes referred to as social phobia, is hallmarked by an intense fear of social situations or situations in which the person has to perform or speak in front of others. Because alcohol lowers inhibition and is therefore known as a “social lubricant” it’s not uncommon for people with social anxiety to be heavy drinkers.

Anxiety Disorders and Substance Abuse Treatment

Substance use disorders (SUDs) are found much more often among people who suffer from anxiety disorders than the general population. Anxiety disorders, when left untreated, often lead people to experiment with drugs or alcohol as a means to self-medicate. Emotional symptoms caused by the use of these substances, such as depression, irritability, and general malaise, often exacerbate anxiety disorders and can perpetuate a never-ending cycle of substance abuse and mental health problems.

Alcoholism does not usually exist in a vacuum, and instead, tends to co-exist with another mental health disorder such as anxiety or depression. For this reason, a comorbid mental illness must be treated simultaneously with substance abuse, and not addressed as a separate entity.

Both anxiety and substance abuse are very treatable and should be addressed as soon as possible. Harmony Recovery Center offers comprehensive, evidence-based addiction treatment that includes behavioral therapy, counseling, group support, and aftercare planning for long-term sobriety.

Recovery from addiction and mental illness is a lifelong process, but it can begin now with our help! Contact us today to discover how we help people free themselves from the chains of addiction and begin to enjoy the healthy and satisfying lives they deserve!

Am I an Alcoholic?

Am I an Alcoholic? | Harmony Recovery Center | North Carolina

Am I an Alcoholic?: The Difference Between Casual Alcohol Use and Addiction – According to the 2015 National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH), nearly 87% of people aged 18 or older reported that they consumed alcohol at some point in their lives. About 70% said that they drank in the past year and more than half (56%) reported that they drank alcohol in the past month.

Some people use the terms “alcohol abuse” and “alcoholism” interchangeably. Neither of these terms is all that clinically helpful, however. Most health providers use specific diagnostic criteria and the term “alcohol use disorder,” which encompasses a spectrum of problem drinking ranging from mild to severe.

The term “alcoholic,” however, is commonly used to refer to someone who is addicted to alcohol and has developed physical and psychological dependence. Alcohol addiction is hallmarked by dependence and the development of tolerance, as well as excessive drinking despite the harm it is causing. There are two types of excessive drinking known as “heavy alcohol use” and “binge drinking” and a person abusing alcohol may engage in one or both of these behaviors regularly.

Am I an Alcoholic?: Self-Evaluation

If you have one or more of the above symptoms and you would like to investigate further, there are self-screening tests that are confidential and free to help you better understand your drinking habits. One is the CAGE Alcohol Assessment Quiz, which, although only four questions long, is said to identify 9 out of 10 alcoholics.

Another is the AUDIT Alcohol Assessment Quiz, which was designed by the World Health Organization (WHO) and consists of 10 multiple-choice questions.

Am I an Alcoholic?: Warning Signs

Behavioral Signs of Alcoholism

Some behaviors are strong indicators that an alcohol abuse problem is developing or in progress. Specific signs, habits, and behaviors to look for include the following:

Neglect of Important Responsibilities

Failure to attend to critical responsibilities might include, but are certainly not limited to, poor performance at school or work, neglect of family members (including children), not paying bills on time, and avoiding social commitments due to being drunk or hungover.

Risk-Taking and Encountering Legal Issues

Alcoholics often take risks that they otherwise would not if they were sober. In addition to drinking and driving, they might drink alcohol while taking medication that recommends against it, engage in dangerous activities such as swimming while drunk or performing stunts, or showing up to events intoxicated to the horror and embarrassment of loved ones. As a result of DUIs, charges for public intoxication or participating in domestic violence, alcoholics tend to have brushes with the law due to their risky behavior and sometimes illegal activities.

Drinking to Relieve Stress

Many cultures normalize the desire to have a drink or two after work or before bed to wind down, de-stress, and relax. The problem is that this “want” can turn into a “need” as a person develops a psychological dependence on alcohol. Alcohol abusers often think of this type of drinking as a personal right and a reward that may or may not actually be warranted.

Drinking in Spite of Strained Relationships

Am I an Alcoholic? | Harmony Recovery Center | North Carolina

Alcoholics usually encounter personal problems due to their drinking habits. Some people take these problems seriously, and when addressed, decide to cut back, quit, or seek help.

Many individuals, however, apologize repeatedly but do not change their habits or behavior. Some simply keep reassuring others that they WILL change or that everything’s okay. Still others begin hiding alcohol in places that only they know and drink in secret hoping that those concerned will not notice and leave them alone.

Other warning signs of alcoholism include the following:

  • Loss of interest in activities that were once found to be enjoyable
  • Having cravings for alcohol
  • Withdrawal symptoms upon cessation of use (sweating, anxiety, etc.)
  • Extreme moodiness, irritability, and agitation
  • Feelings of guilt associated with drinking habits
  • Drinking first thing in the morning to stave off a hangover or withdrawal symptoms (hair of the dog)
  • Inability to reduce the amount of alcohol that is consumed or stop entirely

The 5 Types of Alcoholics

When many people picture an alcoholic, they imagine a stereotype that seems nothing like themselves. They may think a homeless person begging on the street for money in order to drink, or someone who has lost everything to alcoholism. Unfortunately, this is the exception and not the rule.

While some severe, end-stage alcoholics may fit this profile, most alcoholics haven’t hit true “rock bottom,” or at least they don’t remain there. In reality, there are several different types of alcoholics of varying ages and levels of functioning.

If you are dependent on alcohol, you may recognize yourself as fitting into one of the following subtypes:

Young Adult Subtype and Young Antisocial Subtype

People who fall into the young adult subtype make up about 31% of alcoholics in the United States. They tend to drink less frequently than other subtypes, but when they do drink, they’re likely to binge and engage in risky behavior. Surprisingly, these individuals often come from families with relatively low rates of alcoholism.

More than half (54%) of this subtype have a psychiatric disorder known as Antisocial Personality Disorder (ASPD), a mental illness that’s hallmarked by irresponsible behavior and criminal activity that includes fights and assaults, a lack of remorse and regard for others, deceitfulness, and impulsivity. Many people with ASPD also have other substance addictions or mental health conditions such as anxiety or depression.

Functional Subtype

The high-functioning alcoholic makes up nearly 20% of all alcoholics in the United States. This profile is the furthest from the alcoholic stereotype, leading those who suffer and their loved ones to be in denial about their problem. They’re often successful, highly-educated, and hold down stable jobs and take care of families. In fact, nearly two-thirds (62%) of functional alcoholics have full-time employment, and 26% have earned a college degree.

Intermediate Familial Subtype

This subtype is only slightly less common (19%) than those considered to be high-functioning. They are, on average, about 38 years old and usually employed. About half of these individuals are from families with a long history of alcoholism, and about the same amount (50%) have also experienced clinical depression. Also, 20% have bipolar disorder, and many smoke tobacco and/or engage in other substance abuse, including that involving cocaine or marijuana.

Chronic Severe Subtype

Am I an Alcoholic? | Harmony Recovery Center | North Carolina

This is the rarest of all subtypes, making up only 9% of alcoholics. Most people in this group are middle-aged and experiment with drinking at an early age. Of the five subtypes, these individuals rate highest for other psychiatric conditions and abuse of other substances. About 80% are from families with a lengthy history of alcoholism.

Getting Treatment for Alcoholism

Whether you or a loved one is struggling with alcohol addiction, it’s important to be aware of the signs and realize that you (or your loved one) are not alone.

Discovering that you or someone you love is facing an alcohol abuse problem can be shocking and extremely worrisome. But with each drink, you continue to give away your freedom to a lie that if left unchecked, will probably continue to take from you until you have almost nothing left to give but your life.

Thousands of people battle alcoholism every day, and many make the decision to seek help. Harmony Recovery Centers offers comprehensive designed to treat alcoholism and other substance use disorders. We provide a variety of therapeutic services vital to the recovery process, including psychotherapy, counseling, and group support, among others.

Please contact us today to discuss treatment options. Discover how we help people reclaim their sanity and learn to lead healthy, fulfilling lives, free of alcohol or drug use!

Is Alcohol a Depressant?

Is Alcohol a Depressant? | Harmony Recovery Center

Is Alcohol a Depressant? – Alcohol is classified as a central nervous system (CNS) depressant, but the answer is slightly more complicated than that. Alcohol consumption, depending on the level consumed and an individual’s reaction, can result in both sedative and stimulatory effects.

For example, increased heart rate and aggression are two effects that are more commonly associated with a stimulant, but cognitive and motor skill impairments are more often characteristics of a depressant.

Some experts believe that persons who are at an increased risk of developing an alcohol use disorder do not respond as intensely to alcohol’s sedating effects as others do. In fact, alcoholism is more strongly linked to an increased stimulatory reaction to alcohol.

Alcohol affects the brain in a variety of ways. For one, it attaches to gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA) receptors, a brain chemical responsible for inducing feelings of relaxation, calmness, and sedation, as well as the suppression of breathing and heart rate. It also inhibits glutamate, an excitatory neurotransmitter that stimulates the central nervous system (CNS).

The Deception

In addition to its actions on GABA and glutamate, alcohol also releases dopamine, a feel-good chemical responsible for feelings of pleasure and reward. As dopamine increases, euphoric feelings begin to emerge, and those affected may continue to consume alcohol in an effort to “chase” the dopamine high. As more alcohol is ingested, however, more depressant effects will eventually develop.

Moreover, alcohol does not excite the central nervous system. Rather, it is the excessive release of dopamine which induces a feeling of pleasure and reward that may sometimes be suggestive of extra energy. But this effect is misleading—as a person continues to drink, the CNS continues to be increasingly depressed despite the increased presence of dopamine.

Combining Alcohol With Drugs (Polysubstance Abuse)

Alcohol, like benzodiazepines, sedatives, and muscle relaxers, is a CNS depressant. All these substances repress activity in the brain and body. When alcohol is used in combination with another depressant, the risk of life-threatening CNS depression dramatically increases. Moreover, when CNS activity begins to slow to a crawl, the risk of coma and death begets a very real and present danger.

Conversely, stimulants boost activity in the CNS and include substances such as amphetamines, caffeine, and cocaine. Some people use stimulants as they are drinking to reduce alcohol’s depressant effect and counteract the adverse effects of stimulants, including anxiety, nervousness, and agitation.

Using alcohol with stimulants, however, is potentially even more dangerous. Indeed, people may continue to consume alcohol while still feeling energic and elated from stimulant use under the erroneous belief that he or she is not at risk for other adverse consequences.

However, combining alcohol with short-acting stimulants, such as cocaine, is particularly dangerous, because alcohol’s depressant effect can continue long after the effects of the stimulant have subsided. In fact, mixing alcohol and cocaine increases the risk of sudden death by 20 times over the use of either substance alone.

Using alcohol in conjunction with other stimulants, such as prescription amphetamines, increases the risk of seizures and heart-related complications such as irregular heartbeat and heart attack. Also, continuing the consumption of alcohol while intoxicated by stimulants increases the risk of alcohol poisoning—a condition that can prove life-threatening for those who reach a blood alcohol concentration of .4 or higher.

Finally, alcohol and other psychoactive drugs can produce serious psychological effects, such as major depression, anxiety, suicidal ideations, irritability, aggression, delusions, and hallucinations.

Is Alcohol a Depressant? | Harmony Recovery Center

Treatment for Alcohol Addiction

Persons struggling with drug or alcohol addiction are encouraged to enroll in one of our treatment programs and participate in either partial-hospitalization program (PHP) or intensive outpatient therapy. PHP offers many of the same therapeutic services as residential treatment while allowing patients more flexibility to attend to personal obligations such as family, work or school.

These programs can be equally effective as residential programs, however. They offer comparable treatments, including individual psychotherapy, individual and group counseling, group support, and aftercare planning services. Conversely, outpatients can enjoy even more scheduling flexibility while they engage in therapy sessions several times per week and fully adjust to life outside of treatment without the use of drugs or alcohol.

Why Harmony Recovery Center?

Alcohol addiction is a serious and potentially life-threatening condition that requires long-term treatment and support. While there is no cure for alcoholism, it can be effectively treated. Those who seek treatment can reclaim their lives and begin to enjoy long-term sobriety and well-being.

Harmony Recovery Center offers a secure, structured environment and professional addiction specialists who are trained to identify and address the needs of each person through an in-depth, custom approach to abuse and addiction treatment.

If you or someone you love is abusing alcohol or other substances, you should seek treatment as soon as possible. Call us now to learn about our treatment options. Discover how we help people free themselves from the chains of addiction indefinitely!

Negative Effects of Alcohol

Effects of Alcohol | Harmony Recovery Center | North Carolina

Negative Effects of Alcohol: Physical, Emotional, and Social – Drinking too much alcohol, whether occasionally or consistently over time can take a severe toll on one’s emotional and physical well-being—not to mention social life, including interpersonal relationships, financial situation, and criminal record.

Following is a comprehensive list of the potential negative repercussions of alcohol abuse in all areas of life.

Negative Effects of Alcohol: Mental and Emotional

Excessive alcohol use adversely impacts memory and learning functions—the correlation between alcoholism and mental health, in particular, appears to affect a person’s ability to retain new memories. While both female and male alcohol abusers tend to experience similar learning and memory problems, women appear to be more affected.

Also, alcoholics often incur diffuse brain damage in multiple regions simultaneously. According to research, the prefrontal cortex is particularly vulnerable to the effects of substance abuse because it is connected to every lobe in the brain. Since the prefrontal cortex controls executive functioning—planning, problem-solving, setting goals, and inhibition—alcoholics put themselves at an increased risk for a wide variety of behavioral, cognitive, and emotional issues.

Moreover, alcoholism and depression often co-occur, and consuming alcohol heavily has been associated with a myriad of negative emotional states, such as anxiety and depression. Whether alcohol abuse actually causes these disorders is up for debate, but research certainly suggests that it does exacerbate it.

Negative Effects of Alcoholism: Physical

The Brain

Brain function is associated with both the physical and mental effects of alcoholism. Indeed, alcoholism impairs the communication pathways of the brain and can alter its structure and function. These disruptions can affect mood and behavior and make it more difficult to think clearly and move with coordination.

The Heart

Drinking heavily over time or even too much during one episode can cause damage to the heart, and lead to problems including cardiomyopathy, arrhythmia, stroke, and high blood pressure.

The Liver

Alcoholism can take a toll on the liver and has been linked to many health complications, including fatty liver, alcoholic hepatitis, fibrosis, and cirrhosis. Also, drinking too much alcohol at one time, especially if the liver has already been damaged, can lead to acute liver failure and death.

Effects of Alcohol | Harmony Recovery Center | North Carolina

The Pancreas

Alcohol consumption causes the pancreas to produce toxic substances that can eventually result in pancreatitis, dangerous edema (swelling), and inflammation of blood vessels in the pancreas, which impairs digestion.

Immune System

Drinking an excessive amount of alcohol can impede the immune system, and therefore, chronic drinkers are more vulnerable to disease. Long-term alcohol abusers are more apt to contract diseases such as pneumonia and tuberculosis than others who drink occasionally or abstain.

Cancer

Based on substantial research, there is a scientific consensus that an association exists between alcoholism and several forms of cancer. In fact, the National Toxicology Program of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services classifies alcohol consumption as a human carcinogen.

Evidence also shows that the more alcohol a person drinks over time, the higher the risk of developing cancer associated with excessive alcohol use. According to statistics from 2009, around 3.5 percent of all cancer fatalities in the U.S. (around 19,500) were also alcohol-related.

Clear patterns have appeared between alcohol consumption and the development of the following types of cancer:

Cancers of the Head and Neck

Alcohol use is a known risk factor for some head and neck cancers, particularly those of the oral cavity (e.g., mouth, larynx, and pharynx). People who consume more than 3.5 drinks per day have at least a twofold higher risk of developing these cancers than non-drinkers do.

Esophageal Cancer

Alcohol use is also a significant risk factor for esophageal squamous cell carcinoma. Those who have an inherited deficiency in an alcohol-metabolizing enzyme have a much higher risk of developing esophageal squamous cell carcinoma after using alcohol.

Liver Cancer

Alcohol use is a primary cause of hepatocellular carcinoma (liver cancer). The other major causes are chronic hepatitis B or hepatitis C virus infections.

Breast Cancer

More than 100 studies have investigated the link between alcohol consumption and the risk of breast cancer among women. This research has consistently revealed that an increased risk of breast cancer is associated with increased alcohol use. An analysis of over half of these studies found that women who drank more than 45 grams of alcohol each day (about three drinks) had a 1.5 times greater risk of developing breast cancer over non-drinkers.

Colorectal Cancer

Alcohol use has also been linked to a modestly increased risk of colon and rectal cancers. An analysis of dozens of studies that examined the link between alcohol consumption and colorectal cancer risk showed that those who regularly drank 50 or more grams of alcohol each day had 1.5 times the risk of developing colorectal cancer than non-drinkers or those who drank infrequently.

Negative Effects of Alcoholism: Social

Many alcoholics gradually withdraw from society, spending less time participating in activities they once enjoyed and interacting with friends and family. They may even find a new social circle of friends whom they prefer to spend time with (perhaps other heavy drinkers) or they may be solitary drinkers, further isolating themselves from friends, family, and society.

Alcoholism has a ripple effect—it begins by impacting those closest to the person who is suffering, and proceeds to expand outward into far-reaching areas. For family members and friends, loving an alcoholic is not always easy. Effects may include the following:

  • Feelings of guilt related to enabling the alcoholic’s drinking habits and behavior
  • Blaming oneself for the actions of the alcoholic
  • Embarrassment and shame related to the alcoholic’s behavior
  • Fear that alcoholic will harm themselves or someone else
  • Attending to the responsibilities of the alcoholic, which sometimes means children must act as a parent (e.g., babysit the alcoholic and take care of other young siblings)
  • Distress over altercations with the alcoholic when he/she is intoxicated
  • Mental or physical abuse suffered at the hands of the alcoholic when he or she is intoxicated
  • Resorting to drug or alcohol use oneself as a means to cope or self-medicate

Effects of Alcohol | Harmony Recovery Center | North Carolina

Alcohol addiction not only impacts the alcoholic and their loved ones, but there are also consequences for anyone they come in close contact with, such as co-workers. Each year, alcohol abuse is related to an increase in homelessness, expenses for the criminal justice system, law enforcement, and physical and mental health care, as well as a decrease in work productivity.

Alcoholism impacts almost every aspect of society, including the following:

  • More DUI-related accidents
  • Increased traffic deaths
  • Private and public property damage
  • Increased medical claims and higher insurance premiums
  • A decline in health and the development of chronic health conditions
  • Increased medical claims
  • More work-related accidents

Treatment for Alcoholism

Alcoholism is considered to be a chronic disease, but it can be effectively treated using a combination of therapeutic approaches, including psychotherapy, individual and group counseling, 12-step meeting participation, group support, health and wellness programs, and aftercare planning.

Harmony Recovery Centers offers evidence-based treatment in partial-hospitalization and intensive outpatient formats. Our highly-trained addiction professionals are dedicated to providing patients with the tools and support they need to recover and maintain consistent, ongoing sobriety.

If you or someone you love is addicted to alcohol, call us today and find out how we help people free themselves from the use of drugs and alcohol indefinitely!

What Is Wet Brain?

Wet Brain | Wernicke-Korsakoff Syndrome | Harmony Recovery Center

What Is Wet Brain? – Wet brain is a certain kind of damage to the brain that develops after chronic, excessive alcohol use. Also known as Wernicke-Korsakoff syndrome, wet brain is caused by a thiamine (vitamin B1) deficiency. Thiamine is a vitamin vital for the body that doesn’t occur naturally—a person must ingest it to reach their daily recommended amount.

Levels of thiamine in a person’s body decrease as a result of a deficient diet, which sometimes occurs among those who chronically abuse alcohol. Also, alcohol impedes the absorption of thiamine and reduces the reserve of thiamine stored in the liver. Alcohol also interferes with an enzyme that switches thiamine into an active state.

Thiamine is a coenzyme employed by the body to metabolize food for energy and to maintain proper heart, nerve, and brain function. Several enzymes in the brain require thiamine to work correctly, and some enzymes that need thiamine are essential for the synthesis of brain neurotransmitters, including acetylcholine (ACh). ACh is used to carry messages between neurons in the brain and is vital for cognition, learning, and memory.

What Causes Wet Brain?

As a person abuses alcohol in excess over a prolonged period and thiamine deficiency persists, brain damage occurs. The National Institute on Alcoholism and Alcohol Abuse (NIAAA) states that thiamine deficiency is an uncommon occurrence in developed countries other than among individuals with a severe alcohol use disorder or diseases such as HIV.

Wernicke-Korsakoff syndrome consists of two individual conditions—Wernicke’s encephalopathy and Korsakoff’s psychosis. Wernicke’s encephalopathy results in neurological symptoms caused by biochemical lesions in areas of the central nervous system. It most often affects specific areas of the brain, including the thalamus and hypothalamus, which play a role in memory.

Korsakoff’s psychosis is a chronic condition that tends to develop after Wernicke’s encephalopathy symptoms abate. Korsakoff’s psychosis occurs as a result of irreversible damage to the regions of the brain responsible for memory.

Wet Brain Symptoms

The signs and symptoms that occur as a result of wet brain vary depending on whether the individual is currently suffering from Wernicke’s encephalopathy or Korsakoff’s psychosis.

Wernicke’s encephalopathy produces a few characteristic symptoms, including the following:

  • Confusion
  • Memory impairments
  • A loss of mental activity that can lead to coma or death
  • Impaired muscle coordination (ataxia), leading to a slow or unsteady gait

Furthermore, some people also experience vision changes, such as unusual, back-and-forth eye movements, double vision, and droopy eyelids.

When Korsakoff’s psychosis onsets, people may lose the ability to create new memories, experience profound memory loss, and encounter both auditory and visual hallucinations.

The primary symptoms of alcoholic Korsakoff syndrome include the following:

  • Confabulation
  • Lack of insight
  • Apathy
  • Anterograde and/or retrograde amnesia
  • Fixation amnesia (very short-term memory loss)
  • Minimal content in conversation

The NIAAA estimates that around 85% of those who suffer from alcohol addiction and have Wernicke’s encephalopathy will develop Korsakoff’s psychosis as a result.

Wet Brain | Wernicke-Korsakoff Syndrome | Harmony Recovery Center

How Common Is Wet Brain?

According to the NIAAA, as many as 80% of those with an alcohol use disorder also have a thiamine deficiency. The National Organization for Rare Diseases (NORD) states that Wernicke-Korsakoff syndrome occurs in 1-2% of the U.S. population. The condition affects more males than females and is equally distributed between ages 30-70.

Currently, it is not accurately known how many people have Wernicke-Korsakoff as a result of alcoholism, since many of the individuals who suffer most severely from the disease are homeless and do not seek medical care.

How Is Wet Brain Diagnosed?

There is no specific diagnostic test used for all suspected cases of wet brain. Generally, a health professional will identify a vitamin deficiency based on a patient’s physical appearance, behavior, and gait. If a doctor is aware of a patient’s alcohol use disorder and he or she exhibits symptoms of wet brain, further testing can be ordered.

Because there is not one standard test used to diagnose the condition, the physician will instead perform a thorough examination of the neurological system. The doctor will examine the eyes to identify problems such as back-and-forth movement and the misalignment of pupils. He or she will also check the person’s reflexes, as individuals with the condition typically have abnormal or diminished reactions.

People who suffer from wet brain also tend to have reduced muscle mass and weakness because thiamine is, in part, responsible for the development of muscle tissue. The disease alters a person’s gait, so the doctor will also evaluate how the person walks.

Often, those with the condition have an accelerated heart rate, also known as tachycardia. Blood pressure and body temperature may also be reduced because the disease affects the parts of the brain responsible for managing these vital functions.

The Prognosis

Statistics issued by Merck Manuals estimate that the mortality rate of those who have Wernicke’s encephalopathy is between 10-20%. Of the patients who survive, 80% will also develop Korsakoff’s psychosis. Without treatment, the disease will continue to get worse and can lead to coma or death.

Wernicke-Korsakoff syndrome isn’t fully curable, but with treatment, health providers are often able to slow or stop its progression. Treatment can help with different aspects of the disease, but some severe complications such as memory loss aren’t always reversible after the disease advances.

However, as with most diseases, early detection is crucial and has the potential to minimize and reverse some of the damage. Therefore, those who suspect that they or someone they love are suffering from Wernicke-Korsakoff syndrome should seek treatment immediately to reduce the amount of brain damage incurred.

How Is Wet Brain Treated?

To treat wet brain, a physician will usually prescribe medications to control symptoms such as rapid eye movement. He or she will instruct the patient on various ways to increase thiamine in their body and may prescribe a vitamin supplement to raise these levels. The person may be given vitamin B1 through oral medication or intravenous injection.

Supplementing thiamine may improve certain symptoms of wet brain including:

  • Confusion
  • Delirium
  • Vision and eye movement
  • Muscle coordination

Of note, thiamine supplementation will not likely improve memory or intellect. Those with wet brain are highly encouraged to seek treatment for their alcoholism—if they haven’t already—to stop or delay the progression of the disease.

Wet Brain | Wernicke-Korsakoff Syndrome | Harmony Recovery Center

Wet Brain Complications

In addition to the potential for coma or death, Wernicke-Korsakoff syndrome causes permanent, irreversible damage to the brain, which impairs the person’s memory and cognition capabilities. A person may also encounter challenges with social and personal interactions, and impaired coordination and problems with gait can result in falls and injuries.

Those who have the condition can also develop permanent alcoholic neuropathy, which affects the central nervous system. Unfortunately, people who develop Wernicke-Korsakoff syndrome also tend to have shortened lifespans.

Treatment for Alcoholism

Those who suffer from alcohol use disorder put themselves at risk for medical complications, such as liver damage, nutritional deficits, and an increased risk of several types of cancer. In some cases, nutritional deficiencies can result in long-term consequences, including wet brain.

Alcoholism is not curable, per se, but it is undoubtedly treatable. Harmony Recovery Center employs a comprehensive approach to addiction treatment that includes research-based therapeutic modalities, such as psychotherapy, group support, individual and family counseling, and aftercare planning services.

These services are facilitated by caring addiction professionals who provide clients with the tools, resources, and support they need to recover and begin to enjoy long-lasting wellness and sobriety.

Coping with addiction is a life-long process, but you don’t have to do it alone. Contact us today and discover how we can help you achieve the life you deserve!

Alcohol Withdrawal Medication

Alcohol Withdrawal Medication | Harmony Recovery Center

Alcohol Withdrawal Medication – Alcohol withdrawal refers to a cluster of symptoms that occur from abrupt cessation of alcohol use following chronic or prolonged consumption. Withdrawal management (also commonly referred to as a medical detox) is a process in which a patient is supervised and treated while his or her body is eliminating toxins associated with drug or alcohol use.

Withdrawal management is designed to help those recovering from a substance use disorder to better cope with withdrawal symptoms once they discontinue the use of their substance of choice. During a medical detox, a variety of alcohol withdrawal medications may be used to relieve certain symptoms and prevent dangerous complications.

Medications Used for Alcohol Withdrawal Management

Benzodiazepines

According to the American Society of Addiction Medicine (ASAM), the standard protocol to treat alcohol withdrawal symptoms is through the use of benzodiazepines (benzos). Benzos are primarily used to treat anxiety, control seizures, and to promote sleep. Research has also found that benzos are effective in managing even more complex withdrawal symptoms in those who are attempting to recover from alcohol use disorders.

The process usually involves administering a dose of a benzodiazepine (e.g., Librium, Ativan, Valium, or some other long-acting benzo) to manage the majority of the withdrawal symptoms a person is experiencing. Using this protocol, most symptoms, including hallucinations, anxiety, and seizures, can be reduced or prevented. In some instances, several other medications can be used, but the standard procedure is to use a benzo as the primary alcohol withdrawal medication.

Unfortunately, benzos also have the potential for abuse and induce symptoms comparable to alcohol intoxication when misused. For this reason, persons who receive benzo medications during the withdrawal process may be weaned immediately following discharge from detox or supervised closely by a physician over weeks or months, during which time the dosage is gradually tapered down.

Antihypertensive Medications

Some research has suggested that certain antihypertensive medications, such as Catapres (clonidine), may be useful in treating alcohol withdrawal. The drug may assist in managing mild or non-complicated alcohol withdrawal symptoms, such as moodiness, high blood pressure, sweating, tremors, anxiety, and irritability.

Anticonvulsants and Muscle Relaxers/Antispasmatics

Certain types of anticonvulsant drugs may be beneficial in the treatment of some symptoms of alcohol withdrawal, including those used for seizure control. The drug Neurontin (gabapentin) has been used to treat seizures in persons undergoing alcohol withdrawal and may help to address some other symptoms, including nausea, tremors, anxiety, and high blood pressure.

The drug Topamax (topiramate) is FDA-approved to treat seizures but has not been approved to treat complications associated with alcohol use disorders. Its mechanism of action is comparable to the drug Campral (acamprosate) and may help in managing alcohol cravings. The drug Lioresal (baclofen) is a muscle relaxant that may also be helpful in reducing cravings during the withdrawal process that occur in those recovering from alcohol use disorders.

Antipsychotics

People who are experiencing hallucinations may receive antipsychotic medications to control hallucinations until the condition has stabilized. Antipsychotic drugs may be beneficial in treating individuals who are psychotic and aggressive and may allow treatment professionals to initiate other medical procedures to help stabilize them.

Alcohol Withdrawal Medication | Harmony Recovery Center

Other Medications

If individuals encounter other mild symptoms, they may be prescribed medications to address these issues, as well. These problems can include discomfort associated with headaches, nausea, irritability, insomnia, etc.

Medication for the Treatment of Alcoholism

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has approved three medications for the treatment of alcohol use disorders. These medications include disulfiram, naltrexone, and acamprosate, none of which directly address withdrawal symptoms.

Disulfiram

Disulfiram (Antabuse) was the first alcohol withdrawal medication approved by the FDA. When a person uses Antabuse, the body can no longer metabolize acetaldehyde, a toxic byproduct that is produced by alcohol consumption. This action causes the toxin to accumulate in the systems of those who drink. The presence of large amounts of acetaldehyde causes extremely uncomfortable side effects, including nausea and vomiting, sweating, and headaches.

Ideally, Antabuse should cause an adverse reaction to alcohol that is so incredibly unpleasant that the alcoholic will avoid drinking at all costs. Nevertheless, alcoholism is a chronic and often unyielding disease, and many people in its grip continue to drink even after taking Antabuse, or simply stop using it.

For this reason, Antabuse has a high rate of non-compliance among patients, so physicians are often hesitant to prescribe the drug. Nonetheless, research indicates that Antabuse can be effective when used as part of a comprehensive treatment program that also includes behavioral therapy and other evidence-based approaches. Even so, because Antabuse causes a buildup of toxins, drinking heavily while using Antabuse can lead to serious complications, including death.

Naltrexone

Naltrexone is commonly sold under the brand names ReVia (oral tablets) and Vivitrol (monthly injections). Its primary mechanism of action is as an opioid antagonist, meaning that it alters the way in which the brain responds to opioid exposure, as well as exposure to alcohol, as a side effect. Naltrexone hinders some of the neural receptors that respond to the presence of alcohol, thereby reducing its pleasurable effects.

When consumed orally as a tablet, naltrexone must be used exactly as directed for the drug to be effective. When delivered via injection, however, the drug only needs to be administered once a month. This ease of use may foster compliance because there is no need to take a pill daily, so the patient cannot suddenly decide to skip a dose in favor of relapse.

However, the injectable formulation of naltrexone can also cause problems of its own, including pain, infection, or tissue damage at the injection site. Naltrexone in either form can produce side effects such as headaches, nausea, and fatigue. Using too much naltrexone can also cause liver damage.

Alcohol Withdrawal Medication | Harmony Recovery Center

Acamprosate

Acamprosate (Campral) is the most recent drug to be approved for the treatment of alcoholism. Like naltrexone, acamprosate acts on the brain by altering it’s response to alcohol, so that the person taking it is less likely to experience cravings. Acamprosate may also reduce some of the chronic physical effects of alcohol withdrawal, such as depression, jitteriness, and sleep disturbances.

Research has revealed that alcoholics who had taken acamprosate experienced lower relapse rates and a greater number of sober days than people who hadn’t use it. Naltrexone and acamprosate are commonly prescribed together, and this combination can make treatment even more effective.

Treatment for Alcoholism

While medication-assisted therapy can be very effective at reducing withdrawal symptoms and helping people remain sober long-term, they are not a substitute for formal therapy. Rather, they should be used in conjunction with a comprehensive treatment program that also includes psychotherapy, individual and group counseling, peer support groups, health and wellness programs, and aftercare planning.

Harmony Recovery Center offers these services in both partial-hospitalization and intensive outpatient formats. We employ highly-skilled addiction specialists who facilitate these services and provide patients with the tools, resources, and support they need to experience a full recovery and begin to reclaim the health and satisfying lives they deserve.

If you or a loved one is struggling with an alcohol use disorder, please contact us today. Discover how we help people free themselves from the grips of substance abuse so they can experience long-lasting sobriety, happiness, and wellness!

What Is an Alcoholic?

What Is an Alcoholic? | Harmony Recovery Center | North Carolina

What Is an Alcoholic? – The term “alcoholic” is a non-medical term for a person who consumes alcohol beyond their ability to control it and is thus unable to stop drinking independently. Most often this is accompanied by habitual intoxication, daily drinking, and the consumption of larger amounts of alcohol than most others.

As noted, the development of “alcoholism,” or a person being an “alcoholic,” are not clinical diagnoses. Rather, they are somewhat archaic yet commonly used terms. Accepted modern medical terminology is largely based on the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 5th Edition (DSM-5), which places various levels of alcohol abuse or addiction under the category “alcohol use disorder,” ranging from mild to severe.

Alcoholics Anonymous defines alcoholism as “a physical compulsion, coupled with a mental obsession, to consume alcohol.” The individual usually has intense cravings for alcohol, often at times when drinking is imprudent or inappropriate.

When speaking about the everyday references to alcoholics or alcoholism, most people tend to imagine a person who is not merely a binge drinker or occasionally imbibes too much. Furthermore, the average person doesn’t usually think of someone who drinks daily but rarely becomes highly intoxicated and manages to control their lives.

Instead, they imagine a person who has developed a chemical dependence on alcohol, drinks way too much way too often, and clearly exhibits addiction through an obsession with obtaining and using alcohol. In short, an alcoholic is perceived as an addict, perhaps no different than a person who is addicted to prescription painkillers, heroin, or cocaine.

What Causes Alcoholism?

A precise, singular cause of alcoholism has not yet been identified. Alcohol dependence has been defined as a condition that occurs when a person drinks so excessively and so frequently that it changes the structure and function of their brain.

When a person consumes alcohol, dopamine levels increase just as they do with exposure to many other drugs. Dopamine is a neurotransmitter responsible for feelings of pleasure and reward. Normal, everyday activities can boost dopamine, including eating, socializing, and exercising.

However, certain drugs and alcohol increase dopamine to levels far beyond natural stimuli, and therefore, promote further substance use/abuse and ultimately, addiction. Over time, a person developing an alcohol addiction begins to have strong cravings for alcohol.

These cravings may be accompanied by unpleasant withdrawal symptoms when alcohol use is discontinued, even for a short period. Depending on many factors, such as a person’s genes, environment, psychology or stress levels, he or she may be more vulnerable to becoming an alcoholic and find themselves unable to abstain for even the most logical of reasons.

Signs of Alcoholism

For those suffering and their loved ones, it is crucial to be able to identify the behavioral signs of an alcoholic, which include:

  • Drinking alone or in secret
  • Hiding alcohol and drinking patterns from others
  • Blacking out and severe memory loss
  • Exhibiting an inability to limit one’s alcohol consumption
  • Exhibiting extreme cravings for alcohol
  • Engaging in risky, impulsive, or violent behavior when drinking
  • The onset of withdrawal symptoms when not drinking, such as shakiness, trembling, sweating, nausea or fatigue
  • Denying that a problem exists despite clear evidence to the contrary
  • Neglecting activities once considered important or enjoyable in favor of drinking
  • Placing alcohol use above personal responsibilities and relationships
  • Poor academic or work performance
  • Needing to consume increasing amounts or more potent drinks in order to produce the same effect (tolerance)

What Is an Alcoholic? | Harmony Recovery Center | North Carolina

Health Consequences

Alcohol use can impact every organ in the body. The most commonly known related conditions are liver disease and cirrhosis, but there are many other adverse medical complications of alcohol use including the following:

  • Heart problems
  • Increased risk of stroke
  • Pancreatitis
  • Gastrointestinal problems
  • Malnutrition
  • High blood pressure
  • Insomnia
  • Sleep disturbances
  • Impaired cognition
  • Mood swings
  • Anxiety
  • Depression

What’s more, long-term alcohol consumption increases the risk of developing cancers of the mouth, throat, esophagus, liver, colon, and breasts.

Risk Factors—Age and Gender

Alcoholism is a progressive, chronic disease that will eventually take its toll on the entire body. For older adults who have been long-term alcoholics, cognitive impairment is entirely possible, and numerous studies have linked alcoholism to an increased risk of dementia. Many people who are alcoholics past middle-age have been so for a long time, even decades.

It is vital to understand alcoholism’s truly insidious nature, which, tragically, is frequently overlooked and underestimated. A person can remain a relatively “high-functioning” alcoholic for years or decades and appear to be mostly stable. However, stressful circumstances, such as the loss of employment, forced retirement, divorce, financial problems, or the death of a loved one, can prove to be enough to send someone over the deep end.

This underlying instability of the alcoholic is just one reason why it is so important for those close to them to understand the nature of addiction in general. An addict is not always a person already at “rock bottom” in the throes of addiction, but also a seemingly normal person who may be just one step away from slipping into that abyss.

Moreover, there is something to be said for seeking treatment at any stage of problematic alcohol use, as it may help prevent an escalation of the disease and the problems associated with it. Also, as an addiction becomes more intense an ingrained, recovery also becomes progressively more difficult and complicated.

Finally, women, due to differences in rates of metabolism also are often more apt to become addicted to alcohol sooner than men and are twice as likely to die from conditions related to alcoholism. Both sexes are under-treated for alcoholism, however, even though a higher percentage of men are diagnosed as having an alcohol use disorder.

Alcoholism, Treatment, and Recovery

What Is an Alcoholic? | Harmony Recovery Center | North Carolina

Discontinuing the use of alcohol is not always enough to dramatically improve the quality of one’s life because long-term abstinence often requires additional emotional and mental health support. Moreover, many people who are alcoholics struggle with co-occurring mental illness that requires concomitant treatment.

Harmony Recovery center specializes in the treatment of addiction to drugs and alcohol as well as co-existing mental health disorders, such as depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder, and trauma. Achievements in emotional, physical, and spiritual balance hallmark our treatment, as clients build and restore energy levels, repair relationships, and find a renewed purpose.

We employ a holistic approach to treatment that addresses all aspects of the person, his or her addiction, and their unique circumstances. We seek to change perceptions and bring new purpose into the lives of both the patient receiving treatment and their loved ones.

We offer a comprehensive approach to addiction treatment that consists of evidence-based services vital to the recovery process. These approaches include behavioral therapy, individual, group, and family counseling, peer group support, health and wellness programs, medication-assisted therapy, and aftercare planning for continual long-term treatment and support.

Highly-skilled, compassionate addiction professionals facilitate these services with expertise and provide our clients with the tools and resources they so urgently need to achieve abstinence, prevent relapse, and sustain long-term sobriety and wellness.

If you or a loved one is exhibiting signs of alcohol addiction, please contact us as soon as possible for a free consultation and to discuss treatment options. We are dedicated to helping people free themselves from the grip of addiction and reclaim the healthy and fulfilling lives they deserve!

What is Delirium Tremens?

There’s no cute way to put this – delirium tremens is one of the most frightening and dangerous effects of alcohol withdrawal. Commonly referred to as DTS, delirium tremens is a state of psychosis seen in chronic alcoholics upon cessation of alcohol use. If you’ve heard stories about alcoholics trying to fight imaginary spiders off their skin, or talking about pink elephants, or suffering extreme paranoia, you’ve heard about alcoholics suffering through DTs.

The history of DTs is nothing new. DTs have been referred to in popular literature, television, and movies since there was a name for it. There’s a famous scene in Huckleberry Finn where he describes his father going through DTs and a famous vintage French poster that shows a father suffering from DTS as his family watches with horror. Throughout history, DTS has been referred to as barrel fever, blue horror, pink spiders, and other terms. Delirium is a Latin term that translates to ‘going off the furrow.’

What Is Actually Happening?

You would think quitting cold turkey alcohol would be a good thing but medically that’s not the case. When you’re an alcoholic you are chemically dependent on alcohol. Dependent seems like hyperbole but it’s true – your brain cannot function without alcohol. When you quit drinking alcohol your brain doesn’t receive the same rush of endorphins it’s used to and what it now believes is normal – so it panics.

During withdrawal, your brain cannot function properly and the erratic impulses of neurotransmitters it sends can result in a myriad of symptoms like DTS. Symptoms of DTS can occur anywhere from a few hours to several days after an alcoholic quits drinking. The worst and most dangerous symptoms can occur anywhere from 24 hours to 5 days after alcohol cessation.

Does Everyone Get Delirium Tremens?

No. Not all alcoholics will experience DTs if they quit. There are varying estimates of how many alcoholics suffer through DTs through the New England Journal of Medicine recognizes occurrence in 4% of withdrawing alcoholics. There are ways to know if you’re more susceptible to DTs should you quit drinking cold turkey.

Can DTS Kill You?

Yes, you can die from delirium tremens, or more accurately from the symptoms. 2% of DTS patients receiving medical treatment die while 25% of DTS sufferers who don’t receive medical treatment die according to A Dictionary of Hallucinations. DTS is deadly serious but is much more manageable with medical help.

Susceptibility To DTS

Any alcoholic can experience DTS but you’re more likely to suffer if you have a long history of alcohol abuse or drink copious amounts of alcohol frequently.

Length of Alcohol Abuse

The longer your drinking career, the more likely you may experience DTS. Drinkers with a long history of alcohol abuse have taught their brains that they’re only okay when they’re drinking. If the brain has been used to alcohol for several decades, it may panic once you take it away.

Amount of Alcohol Abuse

The more you drink, the more susceptible you are to DTS. The more you drink, the more neurotransmitters you release and the faster you will become chemically dependent on alcohol. A brain that’s used to two to three beers a day will act much differently than a brain that’s used to a twelve-pack every day when you take the alcohol away.

Symptoms of Delirium Tremens

There are several symptoms of DTS which can onset rapidly. Anyone alcoholic suffering from the following symptoms should seek medical attention immediately – except for the last one.

  • Psychosis – Loss of touch with reality
  • Formication – A tactile hallucination. Sufferers of DTS often report bugs crawling on their skin
  • Auditory and Visual Hallucinations – Sufferers may talk to people who aren’t there or complain about a non-existent visual
  • Extreme anxiety including feelings of imminent death
  • Paranoia
  • Seizures – One of the more dangerous symptoms of DTS
  • Spiking Blood Pressure
  • Rapid Heart Rate
  • Fever
  • Profusive Sweating
  • Heart Attack – The physical symptoms of DTS like elevated blood pressure and rapid heart rate can lead to heart attack
  • Death

How to Avoid Deliriums Tremens

You can avoid the dreaded DTs by seeking treatment in a certified detox center, rehab facility, or hospital. DTs are caused by a sudden cessation of alcohol and its effect on your brain – but professional facilities know how to combat alcohol withdrawal.

Rather than force your body to go through immediate withdrawal, doctors and treatment professionals will taper your body and brain off alcohol. Before treatment doctors will get a full medical report and drinking history to properly wean you off alcohol with lowered health risks. Modern treatment facilities use benzodiazepines, barbiturates, and other drugs that have the same neuroglial effect of alcohol to stair-step you down to complete sobriety.  

If a medical emergency happens in a detox facility or treatment center, you’ll be able to receive treatment right away. If you try self-detox from alcohol at home your chances of getting DTS or dying are significantly higher.

Getting Help Today

If you or a loved one is an alcoholic and ready to get sober, do not try quitting by yourself or you could suffer through DTS. Before quitting, talk to your primary care physician or a treatment facility to figure out the safest way for you to get better right away. Once you have a plan in place you’ll be ready to sober up in a safe, controlled environment with only a slim chance of DTS taking control.

DTS is the scariest of all alcohol withdrawal symptoms and one of the most lethal. DTS happens during alcohol withdrawal so if you’re an alcoholic who wants to quit, get help immediately from a detox center or treatment facility. With the help of treatment, you can safely detox from alcohol and start your new life far from the fear of DTS.