There are many different substances that can be abused or used to such excess that addiction becomes a problem. Alcohol is the most commonly abused substance in the world. Alcoholism indiscriminately affects people from all walks of life, career fields, income brackets, and genders. According to the Centers for Disease Control, more than 88,000 people die each year in the United States from alcohol-related illnesses. Approximately one in eight American adults today meet the diagnostic criteria for an alcohol use disorder.
The statistics regarding alcoholism are more than concerning. More than fifteen million people in the United States struggle with a disorder related to alcohol abuse, but only eight percent of those seek or receive treatment for their addiction. In some cases, individuals who struggle with significant alcohol addiction deny they have a problem at all. To achieve recovery and sobriety, it is essential for someone with alcoholism or an alcohol-related addiction to somehow reach the stage where they are ready to seek help or where they accept, and they have an addiction. Knowing the signs and symptoms of alcohol abuse is an essential first step in the process of getting help. Some of the common signs and symptoms of alcoholism or an alcohol-related disorder include:
- Increased or new problems at work or at school that can be traced back to drinking.
- They are engaging in dangerous or questionable activities as a result of drinking. These activities can include binge drinking or blackout drinking, gambling, or criminal activity.
- Drinking to the point of being “blackout drunk.” Being blackout drunk means, someone has consumed so much alcohol that they do not remember what happened while they were drinking.
- Continuing to drink despite increased health problems that are exacerbated by alcohol consumption. This can include heart disease, liver disease, and diabetes, among others.
Alcohol addiction treatment stages
The good news is alcoholism and alcohol-related disorders, or addictions are treatable. According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, roughly one-third of people who have complete treatment for alcohol addiction report no further symptoms one year after treatment has been completed. In a previous post, there was a discussion about the six stages of recovery from addiction. Recovery from alcoholism and alcohol use generally follows the same six stages. Specific to alcoholism the stages may look something like this:
- Precontemplation-During this stage, the alcoholic will not admit to having a problem. In this stage, they will not willingly seek treatment, but, through legal force may be sent to rehab or detox.
- Contemplation-During this stage, the alcoholic is aware their drinking is causing problems. They have reached the point where they are ready to consider making a change. They may intend to seek treatment but won’t commit to it just yet.
- Preparation- This is the stage where the alcoholic is committed to changing the negative behavior associated with their drinking. They will begin to take steps to seek treatment and start the recovery process.
- Action-The alcoholic has taken the steps to defeat their addiction. This generally means they have entered rehab and are going to detox and a related alcohol addiction treatment program.
- Maintenance-This stage occurs after inpatient rehabilitation, or their chosen treatment program is over. During this stage, the person focuses on maintaining sobriety and maintaining the progress they made during treatment.
Stage six-termination or recovery
Stage six can be two different things. Some programs say that stage six is termination. During the termination stage, the alcoholic has completed treatment and has overcome their addiction. They are sober and thriving. Often, termination is bundled into the maintenance stage and not given its own category.
Stage six can also be relapse. Not everyone will experience relapse, but unfortunately, a large majority of people will. Sometimes people who are entering rehabilitation programs are doing so for the second or third (or more) time. Various studies have found that relapse rates can range from sixty to as high as ninety percent during the first year following the end of treatment. There are several different causes of relapse.
In the first two years, people are at risk of post-acute withdrawal syndrome. Unlike physical withdrawal, which is often experienced during the early stages of detox, post-acute withdrawal syndrome causes intense psychological or emotional symptoms, including anxiety, irritability, difficulties with concentration, changes in energy levels, and problems sleeping. These symptoms can cause someone to begin drinking again to help alleviate the challenges they are facing.
Success in sobriety
In the end, recovering from alcohol addiction is not solely about maintaining sobriety. For many, it will be about starting over and reinventing their lives so they can remain healthy and happy without using alcohol. This will usually involve changing their social circles and changing how and where they live. It may also include changes in diet, starting new hobbies, exercising, and finding healthy alternatives to drinking. Below we examine many of the things that can help sobriety become a lifestyle.
Changes in living situation
It is not uncommon for someone who is newly out of a rehabilitation program to want to surround themselves with like-minded people who are going through the same experiences. Returning home after treatment can be challenging, especially if the home was where drinking took place. Returning back to one’s original living situation may cause them to experience many of the same circumstances and stressors that caused them to turn to alcohol in the first place, which makes relapse significantly more probable. Having a supportive and substance-free home to go to is essential. This is why some people will choose to spend some time in a sober living home immediately after treatment ends.
Sober living homes are highly structured homes that are alcohol and drug-free environments. This helps to reinforce the healthy habits and coping mechanisms that were learned during a stay in rehab. Residents live alongside others who are also experiencing the challenges and successes of recovery. This provides several benefits. First, it helps to create a strong and supportive network of people the individual can turn to when faced with triggers. Second, it helps to add new people to their circle of friends who share similar goals.
At sober living homes, residents are expected to remain dry and not bring alcohol or other substances into the house. Many homes will require residents to sign a contract that agrees they will follow a strict set of rules, including random drug testing, curfews, and participation in support groups and counseling.
Millions of people recovering from alcoholism find continued participation in a twelve-step program such as Alcoholics Anonymous is highly beneficial to helping maintain sobriety. These support groups consist of men and women of all ages who share their experiences related to addiction and provide a source of accountability for each other.
These meetings are generally free and frequently happen throughout many cities and towns. Members are encouraged to follow twelve steps for recovery that have remained the same for decades. The steps teach them how to cope with addiction, avoid triggers, and find peace in sobriety. Members are also encouraged to find a sponsor (another member further along in their sobriety journey) who can act as a mentor. Many members find their sponsor to be a key figure in avoiding relapse early on.
Changes in social circle
For many recovering alcoholics, a new circle of friends may be critical to their continued recovery. The social circle they spent time with prior to deciding rehab was the right choice can be triggering. These are the friends they spent time with while drinking and went to the bars with. These may also be the friends who supplied alcohol or for whom they purchased alcohol. Finally, these are the friends who may not be in the same stage of recovery or sobriety, and therefore, spending time around them may be triggering. Maintaining sobriety is challenging enough when surrounded by like-minded individuals. Spending time with those who are consistently drinking is likely to make relapse more likely.
When you feel good physically, your mental and emotional well being are likely to follow. Eating healthy foods will help to increase stamina and reduce the risk of long-term illness and disease.
Unfortunately, boredom is a common cause of relapse. Prior to rehab, one’s addictions took up so much time and energy (and caused added drama) that sobriety can feel empty and dull. It is vital to find new hobbies that are exciting and inspiring. Participating in clubs or activities that were once out of reach due to addiction can give an individual working on their sobriety, an outlet that doesn’t involve drinking. Participation in clubs or activities will also introduce new people who share similar interests, which grow the circle of friends outside of those who could be triggering. These friendships can lead to better health as well as improved social skills and confidence. Sometimes these things are hard to achieve without alcohol as a confidence booster.
Exercise and self-care
Exercise can help to prevent mood swings and combat cravings by finding an alternate outlet for energy. Exercise releases endorphins, relieve stress, and promotes overall emotional wellbeing. Self-care is also very important. Find the time to learn about the various self-care techniques such as meditation or mindfulness. If you are not able to meditate on your own, try a guided meditation. Any self-care routine, no matter how simple, can help to achieve inner peace and emotional stability during the recovery process.
Develop a plan for triggers and cravings
Cravings for alcohol are likely to happen, and during the early stages of recovery, they can be very intense. A strong alcohol treatment program such as that offered here at The Hills can prepare you for these inevitable challenges by helping you learn new coping skills to deal with stressful triggers, alcohol cravings, and social pressure to “have just one drink.” It is vital to avoid drinking triggers whenever possible. If certain people, places, or activities trigger alcohol cravings, it is a good idea to avoid those situations altogether. This may include making significant social changes such as finding new things to do with old drinking buddies or finding new buddies to hang out with. Despite best efforts, there will be times when someone offers to buy a round of drinks. Preparing ahead for these situations will make it easier to respond in the moment.
Managing cravings can be challenging. Here are a few strategies to try if cravings are becoming overwhelming:
- Talk to someone you trust-this could be a sponsor, a family member, a supportive friend, a counselor, or someone from your faith community.
- Find a distraction-until the urge passes, find something that is distracting to participate in. Go for a walk, listen to music, clean the house, or complete a task of some kind. Try whatever works until the craving subsides.
- Review the reminders of why you quit drinking-when cravings are strong, take a moment to consider all the good that has come from recovery and sobriety. This will help forget the negatives and the cravings.
According to substance abuse counseling services, true recovery has four milestones. If you have achieved these, you have likely entered recovery.
- It is possible to address problems as they arise (in the moment) without getting stressed out and turning to alcohol to relieve the stress.
- There is at least one person who you can be completely honest with about your addiction and your stressors.
- You have set personal boundaries and recognize which addiction issues belong to you and which can be attributed to the input of others.
- When you are tired, you take the time to restore physical and emotional energy without drinking.
If you or a loved one are ready to commit to treatment for alcoholism, contact us here at The Hills. Our facility offers first-class residential treatment for alcohol addiction and other addiction-related issues. We will walk you through the treatment process and help you to understand the steps necessary to achieve recovery and sobriety. If it is time for a new, healthier you, we look forward to speaking with you.