How Alcohol Use Disorder Occurs & What Happens During Detox
Addiction creates dependency, a situation in which your brain’s chemistry is altered. When this happens, a person loses the ability to simply say no to the substance. They need it because their brain demands it. At some point, a person may no longer be able to stop using on their own. Recognizing addiction is the first step. Then, professional treatment can help, beginning with alcohol detox.
Do You Have an Addiction to Alcohol?
Because alcohol is so easy to access and often thought of as a safe drug, it can be very worrisome. You may not realize you have an addiction or that you’re overusing the substance until it becomes impossible to stop using. What makes it even harder to manage is that so many people use alcohol on a routine basis and in social settings. It seems normal. How can you develop an addiction when others do not?
About 5.8 percent of the U.S. adult population has developed alcohol use disorder (AUD). That amounts to 14.4 million people, according to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. AUD can have several causes, such as:
- Drinking at an early age, which can increase the risk of developing dependency as an adult
- Drinking to minimize high-stress situations, especially when stress is constant
- Genetic makeup and predisposition for dependency on alcohol or other drugs
- Polysubstance abuse, in which a person using drugs along with alcohol
- Untreated mental health disorders in which alcohol is used as a type of self-help
If you use alcohol often, you are at risk for developing alcohol use disorder. You are also at risk if you binge drink a few times a month. There is no set amount of consumption that means you’ll become addicted.
Why Addiction Happens – Why Can’t You Stop?
Alcohol can cause dependence. Within your brain are chemicals known as neurotransmitters. They are made up of small molecules that help the brain communicate with the body, regulating body functions and behaviors. Alcohol changes the way neurotransmitters communicate. This forces the brain to change how it interacts with the body.
Over time, with ongoing exposure to alcohol, the brain adapts to these chemical imbalances. Eventually, the brain requires alcohol to accommodate the new “normal.” When you stop using alcohol, you disrupt the function of the brain. You deprive it of the substance it has learned to rely on. The brain reacts by causing you to feel cravings and withdrawal symptoms. Your brain is trying to demand that you drink so it can function. That’s why it is so hard to stop drinking on your own.
What Happens During Alcohol Detox?
When the brain has become dependent on alcohol, discontinuing use of alcohol will cause detox to begin. During this time, your body and brain are forced to learn to cope without access to the drug. This learning process is accompanied by a range of mild to severe side effects depending on length and severity of use.
- Cravings and withdrawal symptoms, which may include nausea, physical pain, and headaches. Some people with more serious dependence may even experience seizures.
- Sickness, vomiting, and racing pulse as your body, particularly your kidneys and liver, starts removing the toxins from your system. This process can take several days. The length of time depends on your metabolism, severity of your addiction, and organ function.
- Anxiety, insomnia, and possible hallucinations as your mind adjusts to the lack of alcohol in your system.
Why Inpatient Detox Is Important
Inpatient alcohol detox is an opportunity for you to step away from your daily life and live in a drug-free environment. In a drug and alcohol detox center, you will have access to medications to help minimize the pain and discomfort of withdrawal. Healthcare practitioners will be available 24/7 to provide you with immediate help should you need it.
As your body begins to recover, you’ll also start working on your mental health needs. You’ll work with a therapist to learn about addiction and to engage in cognitive behavioral therapy. You’ll receive support through one-on-one counseling, group therapy, and experiential therapy. Most importantly, you’ll gain control over your future again.
There’s no pressure, judgment, or lecturing involved in this process. You’ll have the option to transition into traditional residential treatment after detox to continue to help support your healing.
Alcohol detox is your opportunity to break through the limitations you’re facing right now and find a way forward to a healthier, happier self. For many people, detox is the beginning of the journey to finally reclaim their lives.
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