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Alcoholism is a disease that causes physical changes in the brain.

Oftentimes, alcoholism begins innocently enough. It may start with light social drinking or as a way to relieve some everyday stresses and then gradually become a regular habit. A physical compulsion and dependence on alcohol is what signifies alcohol addiction, which is a highly dangerous disease that takes the lives of millions every year. Alcoholism controls lives and destroys families, and requires professional treatment in order to stop drinking and achieve sobriety.

What’s the Problem?

Yes, even with certain restrictions, alcohol is a legal substance for those over the age of 21. Because of this, many people fail to recognize the true risks involved with drinking, and the fact that drinking too much is unhealthy in so many ways. Alcohol is a depressant drug that impairs the mind, hinders productivity and has the potential to damage careers, relationships and health.

Individuals addicted to alcohol often neglect the people and things that were once important to them. They may have trouble maintaining their responsibilities and make irrational decisions. In turn, these individuals often lose their jobs, find themselves in financial and/or legal trouble, and participate in dysfunctional relationships. Then there are the medical risks associated with alcoholism, such as liver failure, heart disease, cancer, pancreatitis and a weakened immune system.

Alcoholism also destroys families. Someone consistently under the influence of alcohol runs the risk of failing to carry out their duties at home, or nurture relationships with spouses or children. For example, a parent who is frequently drunk is often emotionally withdrawn; someone more focused on drinking than being present in the home puts extra pressure on other family members to take on the roles of others; and in order to feed the disease a great deal of money must be spent on drinking, which can financially affect an entire family.

The Effects of Alcoholism On Children

Parents have a powerful influence over their teens, and drugs and drinking are no exception. Adolescents who are exposed to alcoholic parents are at risk for developing drinking problems in their own lives, and so it’s of vital importance to be aware of your parental power.

More than one in 10 U.S. children live with an alcoholic parent and are at increased risk of developing a host of health problems of their own. According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) 7.5 million children, from 2005 through 2010, lived with a parent abusing alcohol during any given year. Most of those kids lived in two-parent households where one or both of the adults had a drinking disorder.

Common Warning Signs

As alcohol consumption increases over a prolonged period of time, users are compelled to drink greater and greater amounts in order to feel the same desired effects. The main characteristic of alcoholism is physical dependence, and so countless drinkers avoid seeking help; quitting means facing highly unpleasant withdrawal symptoms that should be medically monitored, such as nausea, vomiting and tremors.

Alcoholism is often referred to as an invisible disease, since many of its associated symptoms aren’t clear to the naked eye. However, warning signs of problem drinking are often present:

Tolerance. Perhaps the most obvious sign, someone addicted to alcohol builds tolerance and requires more alcohol to feel the effects as his or her non-addicted friends, who consume a “safe” amount and know when to stop drinking. Should an addicted individual stop drinking, even for a day, tolerance may present itself via visible withdrawal symptoms like nausea, shaking and sweating.

Loss of interest. What was once important to an alcoholic often goes neglected. Anything—be it a hobby, career or relationship—can take a back seat to obtaining and consuming alcohol.

Lying. Alcoholics often lie about the amount they drink, where they’ve been or who they’ve been with. The thing is, many problem drinkers are aware they have a problem and will do whatever it takes to cover up the disease in the face of loved ones out of guilt, shame, embarrassment or inflated pride.

Dangerous/risky behavior. The reason drunk driving, domestic abuse, fatal accidents and criminal activity are so heavily tied to alcohol use is because alcohol impairs judgement and produces feelings of inhibition and invincibility.

Depression/mental health disorders. Alcohol is a depressant, or a category of drugs that slow the central nervous system and can cause emotional fatigue, sadness, isolation and even suicidal thoughts and behaviors. Added to this are the common feelings of guilt, shame, worthlessness and helplessness often associated with chronic alcohol use, addicted individuals can fall under the heavy weight of depression, which may only perpetuate the cycle of drinking.

High-Functioning Alcoholics

Sometimes, warning signs of alcoholism are buried deep beneath the surface, and it’s a case of functioning alcoholism. A high-functioning alcoholic (HFA) can carry out their everyday responsibilities while still feeding their disease. Their jobs are secure, their relationships are intact, yet they are physically dependent on alcohol and cannot bear the withdrawal process should they stop drinking.

According to the Lane Report, “Of the alcoholic population in America, it is estimated nearly 20 percent are HFAs. Getting them to recognize they are alcoholic is difficult because most are in denial and point to their careers or standing in the community as proof that they do not have a problem.” Functioning alcoholics find ways to hide their problem, sneaking alcohol to work in their coffee mugs, leaving family functions to drink and then return intoxicated, or hiding alcohol around the house. When the addiction is discovered, they may say, “What’s the problem? I’m not hurting anyone.” But it is a problem. High-functioning alcoholics are not living their lives healthily or honestly, and alcoholism is a disease that only worsens over time. It’s not long before the ability to function is stripped away.

The Many Health Risks Associated with Alcoholism

Long-term abuse of alcohol carries with it a slew of health conditions that can be deadly. These risks include:

  • Liver damage
  • Pancreas damage
  • High blood pressure
  • Bleeding from the esophagus
  • Cancer of the esophagus, liver, colon, head and neck, breast, and other areas
  • Brain damage, i.e. impaired judgement and memory loss
  • Nerve damage
  • Fetal alcohol syndrome, if an expectant mother drinks while pregnant

Getting Help for Alcoholism

Alcohol may completely control countless lives, but those afflicted may very well be in denial that a problem exists—and fool themselves into thinking they just need to drink today, but tomorrow they’ll quit. They can stop anytime. Denial is a huge part of alcoholism, and denial cannot be cured by harsh or disorganized confrontation.

VRC understands the struggle, and we are here to help. We also know how stressful the situation can be for family members and are able to provide compassionate care so that families can overcome this disease as a unit. Our caring, professional staff understands that the right care is necessary to helping individuals safely recover from alcohol dependence. During treatment, we choose from a wide variety of therapy models and give clients the tools they need to live without alcohol. We apply evidence-based methods to help each individual address the underlying issues of alcoholism and return to his or her life in a healthy and sober way.

After the intensive outpatient treatment phase of recovery is complete, clients are invited to enroll in an enhanced outpatient program through our partnership with The Elzey Project. Those in recovery are also encouraged to join a support group, like Alcoholics Anonymous (AA).

We treat individuals with the dignity and respect they deserve, and we offer programs that are designed specifically for each client. Through our integrative approach to recovery, our ultimate goal is to help our clients not only recover, but to do so while transforming their lives.

Sobriety is possible. We are here to walk you or your loved one through the recovery process. 

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