Alcohol addiction is not a personal failure – rather, it is a disease of the brain that affects millions of people around the world.
Studies reveal that over 7.5 million people in the UK show signs of alcohol addiction. Many people envision a stereotypic alcoholic when they think of alcohol dependency, swigging cheap cider from a paper bag and staggering about the streets in the middle of the day.
In reality, people with an alcohol addiction can often function in everyday life and may not even realise they have a problem.
What is alcohol?
There are three main forms of alcohol known as isopropyl, methyl and ethyl. All three forms are toxic to humans but while isopropyl and methyl cannot be consumed, ethyl alcohol is found in wine, beer, cider and various spirits.
Alcohol is created when yeast breaks down the sugars in various foods. Red wine can be used as an example – the sugars in red grapes are fermented by yeast resulting in red wine, with alcohol being the element of the wine that causes intoxication.
Once created alcohol is then diluted and sold as a variety of beverages, with the level of dilution and concentration of alcohol known as the ‘proof.’
It is more common to drink alcohol than to abstain in the UK, with 57% of people aged 16 years and over-reporting that they choose to drink alcohol. 
Can you become addicted to alcohol?
Alcohol is the most commonly consumed drug in the UK. While many people choose to drink alcohol as a form of social lubricant or as a way to unwind after a busy week, it’s important to recognise that alcohol is a highly addictive and dangerous drug.
In 2018 there were 5698 deaths reported in England that were directly due to alcohol addiction. A further 1920 deaths were due to alcohol-related conditions such as cirrhosis of the liver. 
Anyone can become addicted to alcohol. In fact, more people are addicted to alcohol in the UK than they are to any other drug.
Why do people become addicted to alcohol?
There are a number of reasons as to why someone may become addicted to alcohol, with some of the most common causes listed below:
1. Physical dependency
If an individual has been drinking alcohol on a regular basis for a long period of time, their body may become physically dependent on the drug. When they try to cut back or completely stop their intake, they may experience withdrawal symptoms such as anxiety, seizures or hallucinations.
The fear of experiencing these withdrawal symptoms may prevent some people from seeking help for alcohol addiction, and they instead consume more alcohol in an effort to keep the withdrawal at bay.
2. Psychological dependency
A psychological dependency can occur when the chemical balance in the brain is altered by the regular consumption of alcohol, resulting in the person feeling the need to drink in order to feel normal and function in daily life.
As alcohol causes the brain to produce dopamine, we can become tolerant to the effects of this chemical reaction and find it impossible to achieve the same feelings of euphoria without consuming alcohol.
3. Pleasant associations
Alcohol is often associated with parties, celebrations and happy occasions. This can make it difficult to notice any potential negative effects because people generally consume the drug when they feel upbeat.
Over time, this can gradually lead to an unseen addiction – by the time the person realises that they have a problem, the physical and psychological dependence may have already taken hold.
How does alcohol affect the body and brain?
Alcohol affects every organ in the body including the brain, the liver and the skin.
A person does not need to drink heavily on a regular basis for alcohol to have an effect on their body and brain. Even drinking too much on a single occasion can result in negative health consequences. 
Many people are not aware that alcohol is not digested by the body. Instead, it quickly enters the bloodstream through the stomach and small intestine, first reaching the brain before spreading to other organs such as the kidneys, liver and heart.
As more alcohol is consumed, the brain begins to feel the effects. Initially, it will release dopamine which makes the person feel euphoric, but over time alcohol makes it more difficult for the brain to process information which can lead to slurred speech, lowered inhibitions and a lack of control. 
The liver also has to work harder to break down the alcohol and convert it into water and carbon monoxide. It can only convert one unit of alcohol per hour, which is why it is so important to drink within the recommended limits.
When these limits are exceeded, the liver may begin to struggle and over time can become scarred and unable to work without medical intervention.
While alcohol may seem like a fun and socially acceptable substance to consume in large quantities, the overwhelming negatives do not outweigh the positives.
If you do choose to drink alcohol make sure to line your stomach with a healthy meal beforehand, drink water between each alcoholic beverage and stick below the recommended limits.
What are the signs and symptoms of alcohol addiction?
Alcohol is both physically and psychologically addictive, and therefore symptoms of alcohol addiction can be physical, mental and behavioural in nature.
It’s important to note that a person does not need to display all or even most of these symptoms to be diagnosed with alcohol addiction.
If they struggle to decrease the amount of alcohol consumed and/or suffer withdrawal symptoms when they try to cut down or completely stop their alcohol intake, it is likely that they are struggling with an addiction to alcohol.
It can be difficult to spot the symptoms of alcohol addiction, as the person may deny the extent of their alcohol addiction and become secretive or even angry when questioned. If you feel concerned that you or someone you know is dealing with a dependence on alcohol, reach out for help today.
Below are some of the most common physical, mental and behavioural symptoms of an addiction to alcohol:
Physical symptoms of an alcohol addiction
- Frequently seeming intoxicated
- Feeling hungover even when no alcohol has been consumed
- Appearing tired, irritable and withdrawn
- Needing to consume more alcohol to experience the same effects
- Slurred speech
- Difficulty falling or staying asleep
- Inability to control body movements
- Engaging in risky behaviours, such as driving a car or looking after children while under the influence of alcohol
- Decreased reflexes
- Increased blood pressure
- Lack of grooming, little interest in appearance or personal hygiene
- Making poor decisions and judgements
- Lowered inhibitions
- Weight gain
- Mood swings
- Vomiting after consuming alcohol or during a binge
- Experiencing withdrawal symptoms when attempting to decrease alcohol consumption
Mental symptoms of an alcohol addiction
- Inability to remember previous behaviour, gaps in memory
- Blacking out after consuming a large amount of alcohol
- Lack of concentration
- Making poor decisions and judgements
- Intense cravings for alcohol
- Being unable to get through the day without alcohol
Behavioural symptoms of an alcohol addiction
- Becoming evasive and secretive
- Drinking alcohol alone on a regular basis
- Being dishonest about alcohol consumption
- Becoming isolated from friends and family
- Neglecting responsibilities at home and at work
What are the long-term risks of alcohol addiction?
Along with the unpleasant and often debilitating symptoms described above, long-term alcohol abuse can lead to serious and even life-threatening repercussions that have severe negative effects on general health and wellbeing.
Unfortunately, despite these consequences, many people with an alcohol dependency will be unable to see that they have a problem.
Alcohol is so socially accepted in our society that it can be difficult to recognise when an occasional binge or regular nightcap has spiralled out of control, and the risk of experiencing long-term repercussions increases the longer a person is addicted to alcohol.
Long-term risks of an alcohol addiction
- Legal troubles
- Financial troubles
- Damage to relationships with friends and family
- Job loss
- Chronic hypertension
- Injury to oneself or others
- Liver damage, known as cirrhosis
- Increased chances of heart disease or cancer
- Fatty liver disease
- Increased risk of stroke
- Irregular heartbeat
- Alcoholic hepatitis
Recovering from an alcohol addiction
While it is possible to recover from alcohol addiction, extreme care must be taken.
The first step towards recovery is detoxification, the process of removing all alcohol from the body. It is essential that this step is conducted under professional medical supervision in a rehabilitation centre, as suddenly cutting out alcohol completely is extremely dangerous and can lead to seizures or even death.
The process of detoxification can result in a number of alcohol withdrawal symptoms, depending on the level of addiction and the amount of time the individual has been consuming alcohol.
Alcohol addiction withdrawal symptoms
Individuals undergoing alcohol addiction withdrawal can present with mild, moderate or severe withdrawal symptoms. It’s important to note that these symptoms can change from mild to severe in a matter of hours, and this is another reason why medical supervision is so important.
Mild symptoms of alcohol withdrawal
- Slight headaches
- Feeling damp and clammy
- Mild involuntary tremors
- A lower tolerance to sound and light
Moderate symptoms of alcohol withdrawal
- Physical sickness
- Feeling confused and disoriented
- Excessive sweating
- Tingling sensations
- Feeling restless and anxious
Severe symptoms of alcohol withdrawal
Mild to moderate symptoms of alcohol withdrawal can quickly progress into severe and even life-threatening symptoms called delirium tremors. Without prompt medical treatment, individuals suffering from this condition may experience dehydration, hallucinations and seizures.
- Shaking throughout the entire body
- Physical sickness
- Excessive sweating
- Restlessness and agitation
- Hallucinations – visual, auditory and/or tactile
Once the alcohol withdrawal stage has been successfully completed, the next step is to enter a specialised rehabilitation centre specialising in alcohol addiction.
The treatments received at these centres will help the individual to successfully overcome the psychological dependency of alcohol and discover new coping skills to avoid falling back into the trap of alcohol addiction.
This can include medication, individual counselling and group therapy sessions.
Each person is unique and will therefore require a personalised combination of treatments. Our team can help you find a rehabilitation centre that will best suit your needs – get in touch today and take the first step on the road to recovery from alcohol addiction.