Excessive alcohol use can increase a person’s risk of developing serious health problems in addition to those issues associated with intoxication behaviors and alcohol withdrawal symptoms.
Alcohol addiction, also known as alcoholism, is a disease that affects people of all walks of life.
It can cause changes to the brain and neurochemistry, so a person with an alcohol addiction may not be able to control their actions.
Alcohol has depressant actions on the central nervous system that are like other centrally acting drugs, such as barbiturates, benzodiazepines, general anesthetics and solvents, and anticonvulsants. Alcohol also enhances the sedative effects of antihistamines that are commonly used in the treatment of nasal congestion. Combining these medications with alcohol can result in significant CNS depression and reduced ability to carry out normal functions safely, such as automobile driving.
What health complications are associated with alcoholism?
Alcohol affects nearly all tissue and organ systems studied, and heavy drinkers show skeletal fragility and damage to tissues such as the brain, liver, and heart as well as increased susceptibility to some cancers. Alcoholism can also cause:
-Increased risk of cancer
-Suppressed immune function
Alcohol can enhance the hepatotoxic effects of acetaminophen (Tylenol) and the gastric irritating effects of NSAIDs, thus increasing the risk for the development of gastritis and upper GI bleeding. Chronic alcohol use can slow the metabolism of certain medications due to reduced liver function.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), drunk driving, for example, takes 28 lives every day in the United States. Drinking is also associated with an increased incidence of suicide and homicide.
In elders, the negative consequences of excessive alcohol use are even more severe than in younger populations. It is estimated that as many as 10% of patients with diagnosed Alzheimer disease may have an alcohol-associated dementia or a dementia presentation worsened by alcohol consumption. In elders, hip fracture, is associated with alcohol use through not only an increase in falls but also by a direct effect by exacerbating osteoporosis. Combined with smoking, elderly adults who drink heavy amounts had 36% faster cognitive decline compared to elders who drank lower amounts and did not smoke.
These complications are reasons why it’s important to treat alcohol addiction early. Nearly all risks involved with alcohol addiction may be avoidable or treatable, with successful long-term recovery.
Treatment of Alcohol Use Disorder
The treatment of alcohol use disorder includes the combination of the following:
-Medications include disulfiram, acamprosate, and naltrexone
-Day/Night Treatment/Partial Hospitalization Program (PHP)
-Intensive Out-Patient Program (IOP)
-Out-Patient Treatment (OP)
The most effective behavioral health approach involves a combination of counseling and medications. Early treatment is the best.
Disulfiram for Alcohol Use Disorder
Disulfiram is a medication that treats chronic alcoholism. It is most effective in people who have already gone through detoxification or are in the initial stage of abstinence. This drug is offered in tablet form and is taken once a day. Disulfiram should never be taken while intoxicated and it should not be taken for at least 12 hours after drinking alcohol. Unpleasant side effects (nausea, headache, vomiting, chest pains, difficulty breathing) can occur as soon as ten minutes after drinking even a small amount of alcohol and can last for an hour or more.
Acamprosate for Alcohol Use Disorder
Acamprosate is a medication for people in recovery who have already stopped drinking alcohol and want to avoid drinking. It works to prevent people from drinking alcohol, but it does not prevent withdrawal symptoms after people drink alcohol. It has not been shown to work in people who continue drinking alcohol, consume illicit drugs, and/or engage in prescription drug abuse. The use of acamprosate typically begins on the fifth day of abstinence, reaching full effectiveness in five to eight days. It is offered in tablet form and taken three times a day, preferably at the same time every day. The medication’s side effects may include diarrhea, upset stomach, appetite loss, anxiety, dizziness, and difficulty sleeping.
Naltrexone for Alcohol Use Disorder
When used as a treatment for alcohol use disorder, naltrexone blocks the euphoric effects and feelings of intoxication. This allows people with alcohol addiction to reduce their drinking behaviors enough to remain motivated to stay in treatment and avoid relapses. Naltrexone is not addictive, nor does it react adversely with alcohol.
Long-term naltrexone therapy extending beyond three months is considered most effective by researchers, and therapy may also be used indefinitely.
Day/Night Treatment/Partial Hospitalisation Program (PHP)
Individuals who have been suffering from substance abuse, and/or behavioral health disorders may benefit from PHP services. PHP is a huge first step for people who require more support than is offered in an IOP but is less restrictive and structured than a Residential Inpatient Program. Some of the program components include Individual counseling; Group counseling; Counselling with families; Substance abuse education; Life skills training such as anger management, communication skills, problem-solving, relapse prevention, decision making, and relationship skills; Non-Verbal therapies such as recreation therapy, art therapy; Training in health and medical issues; Employment or educational support services.
Intensive Out-Patient Treatment Program (IOP)
This level of care is designed for people who completed detoxification and are free from all physical side effects and withdrawal symptoms. It is a transition to a regular daily routine and balanced, productive lifestyle with a high level of healthy, professional support. Some of the program components include Individual counseling; Group counseling; Counselling with families; Substance abuse education; Life skills training such as anger management, communication skills, problem-solving, relapse prevention, decision making, and relationship skills; Non-Verbal therapies such as recreation therapy, art therapy; Training in health and medical issues; Employment or educational support services.
Out-Patient Treatment Program (OP)
Outpatient/Aftercare is the final step-down level of care which is created specifically for individuals who have completed the entire continuum of care from Partial Hospitalisation to Intensive Outpatient. Patients are supported in their new sober life and help them cope with the situations they face on a daily basis as they transition back into a healthy and productive lifestyle. Some of the services provided: Individual Counselling on a weekly basis; Family Counselling; Substance Abuse Education; Relapse-Prevention Skills; Co-Occurring Disorders Therapy; Trauma Recovery Therapy; Employment/Educational Support Systems; Motivational Training; Case Management Services; Legal Case / Court Assistance.