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Some addictive substances are viewed differently from others. Alcohol, unfortunately, has a relatively good reputation. “Social drinking” is generally viewed as positive. Thus, it can contribute to alcohol addiction remaining undetected longer than, say, a drug addiction.  

Alcohol use disorder (AUD) impacts roughly 14 million American adults and nearly a half million adolescents (ages 12–17). Translation: This is a relatively common medical condition. Even so, it is usually beyond the control of the person to address it. Even when the consequences — health, social, occupational, or otherwise — become obvious, the person with AUD cannot stop or control it.

What is Alcohol Addiction?

AUD is a brain disorder that is categorized as mild, moderate, or severe. The more severe, the more lasting the changes it causes in the brain. This increases the person’s vulnerability to relapse. That said, AUD can be effectively treated to the point of recovery.

The 3 Stages of Alcohol Addiction

  1. Binge/Intoxication

Here is where alcohol earns its acceptable place in our culture. Early on and in small doses, it can provide the user with allegedly positive outcomes, e.g.

  • Social interactions feel easier and smoother
  • Anxiety is (initially) reduced
  • Euphoria is experienced

However, when you seek these perceived benefits, your brain is changed. Your internal reward system becomes skewed to create a habit. It can reach the point where stimuli that remind you about drinking are enough to trigger you to seek out alcohol. Left unchecked, this transforms into a compulsion.

  1. Negative Affect/Withdrawal

“Why don’t you just stop?” It’s a question often asked of someone with AUD. If only it was this easy. In phase two, the person in question experiences physical and emotional withdrawal symptoms. Your brain now demands the perceived positive feelings. When it doesn’t get them, it responds by triggering a range of negative symptoms. More often than not, these symptoms lead you to consume alcohol to ward off these lows more than to seek out the highs.

  1. Preoccupation/Anticipation

Even when you’re able to abstain from alcohol, an area of your brain (prefrontal cortex) is perpetually preoccupied with the details of your next drink. The prefrontal cortex marshals its organizational skills in the name of getting more alcohol — as soon as possible.

Signs of Alcohol Addiction to Look For

There are somewhat obvious physical signs like impaired memory and thinking, slurring your speech, and demonstrating poor coordination. These, however, can very temporarily happen to anyone who has drank too much. The more relevant hallmarks of AUD come into play when the person begins to build their lives around the consumption of alcohol. For example:

  • You spend large parts of your day engaged in activities like procuring alcohol, drinking it, or recovering from it.
  • In between all that, the craving is your dominant emotion.
  • Losing your ability to keep up with your obligations at work, school, or home.
  • In response, you cut back on your activities to free more time for drinking.
  • You are aware of the toll alcohol is taking on you but you don’t stop.
  • Trying to stop but failing.
  • Taking part in dangerous, risky behaviors like drinking while driving or operating machinery.
  • Needing more alcohol to ward off the withdrawal symptoms
  • Severe withdrawal symptoms, e.g delirium tremens (DTs)

Time is of the Essence

If someone you know is displaying any of the signs above, it’s likely they’ve been struggling with AUD for a while. Or perhaps it’s you who is coming to terms with the situation. Either way, let’s get things started with a free and confidential consultation. Substance Use can be treated and you can reclaim control of your life. I’d love to help you make that happen.

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