Few substances have cultural, religious, and social significance in the same way alcohol does. Since the beginning of time, alcohol has been a cornerstone of celebrations and ceremonies. It has been regarded as an indicator of wealth in some societies, and one of poverty in others. Some religions ban alcohol consumption; in others, it is an integral part of worship.
Given that alcohol has been an integral part of life for so many generations, it is perhaps not surprising that it is the most commonly abused substance in most parts of the world. According to the World Health Organization, alcohol is responsible for around three million deaths worldwide every year.
Here in Canada, it is estimated that over 20% of people who consume alcohol do so in excess of low-risk drinking guidelines. Substance abuse in Canada costs around $46 billion per year: alcohol and tobacco account for 63% of this amount.
But the true cost of alcohol abuse and addiction goes far beyond a dollar amount. People caught in the grip of an alcohol addiction are at risk of losing their relationships, their health, and even their lives.
What Is The Difference Between Alcohol Abuse And Alcohol Addiction?
Although the terms “alcohol abuse” and “alcohol addiction” are sometimes used interchangeably, they are two distinct conditions.
According to the American Psychological Association, alcohol abuse is a pattern of alcohol consumption that has “significant and recurrent adverse consequences”. These consequences can manifest in many ways: acting violently or dangerously while under the influence; failing to meet work or family obligations; being pulled over for impaired driving.
Alcohol addiction, on the other hand, is a physical and psychological dependence on alcohol. Some signs that you may have an alcohol addiction include the following:
- You feel as if you need alcohol in order to function
- You consume ever-increasing amounts of alcohol to achieve the same effects
- When you do not have access to alcohol, you suffer from intense withdrawal symptoms and cravings
- You consume alcohol at inappropriate times – for example, first thing in the morning, while driving, or while at work
- You are unable to stop drinking once you start, in spite of wanting to
While many people do suffer from both alcohol abuse and alcohol addiction, this is not always the case. Many people who abuse alcohol are not addicted: they may drink excessively but limit this behaviour to certain days, or specific social gatherings. They do not rely on alcohol to get them through their day. However, if you do abuse alcohol, you are at higher risk of developing an alcohol addiction at some point during your life. An alcohol rehab program can help you, whether you abuse alcohol, are addicted to it, or both.
What Factors Contribute To Alcohol Abuse And Addiction?
It should not come as a surprise that alcohol is the most widely abused substance in the world. Many societies are set up in a way that makes excessive alcohol use not only easy or acceptable, but desirable.
A Friendly Neighbourhood Liquor Outlet For Everyone
In Ontario alone, there are almost 900 LCBO (Liquor Control Board of Ontario) stores and convenience outlets. Additionally, wine and beer can now be purchased at more than 300 grocery stores across the province. While most liquor retailers do their best to follow safe alcohol sale guidelines, such as checking IDs to verify age, and refusing to sell to individuals who appear to be intoxicated, no system is perfect. One method by which people with alcohol use disorders hide their addictions is by purchasing from several liquor retailers in rotation. The sheer availability of retailers makes this very easy.
A Society That Celebrates Drinking
But while availability of alcohol might make life logistically easier for people with alcohol addictions, societal attitudes are more of a problem. People are often pressured to drink alcohol at social gatherings. If they decline, they are referred to as “party poopers”, or persuaded to have “just one”. Meanwhile, those who drink to excess are seen as “the life of the party”. This perpetuates the notion that one must drink alcohol in order to have a good time, and this could result on people drinking in spite of not really wanting to. After all, no one wants to go to a party and be regarded as “boring”.
An Escape From Stress
For many people, alcohol is an escape. Sometimes people need ways to cope with the stress of major life events, like job loss or spousal separation. Sometimes, alcohol provides a way to avoid the lasting effects of trauma that has been witnessed or experienced. The Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH) estimates that people with mental illnesses like depression, anxiety and PTSD are twice as likely as the general population to develop substance use disorders. With mental health stigmas still alive and well, many people are hesitant to seek the help they need, and they may fall into alcohol consumption as a coping mechanism.
What Are The Effects Of Alcohol Abuse And Addiction?
Like many substance use disorders, alcohol addiction can have far-reaching effects.
Physical And Mental Health
The World Health Organization states that harmful alcohol use – whether as a one-time occurrence or as an alcohol consumption pattern – can cause over 200 physical and mental health conditions. These include various cancers, liver disease, stroke, digestive complaints, depression, anxiety, and psychosis. In addition, people who are alcohol impaired are more likely to engage in behaviours that could result in injury or death, such as impaired driving.
One of the most dangerous elements of alcohol addiction is the effects of withdrawal. For people who have been consuming large amounts of alcohol for an extended period of time, unsupervised withdrawal can lead to high blood pressure, increased heart rate, and seizures. Delirium tremens, often referred to simply as “the DTs” is a serious seizure condition that can be fatal.
Alcohol abuse and addiction can result in the erosion of relationships with family members and close friends. This happens for several reasons, one of them being the fact that alcohol abuse can make a person behave aggressively. Many incidents of domestic violence begin with excessive alcohol consumption, and it doesn’t take long for family members to fear the person who is drinking.
But even in the absence of domestic violence, relationships can suffer. The person with the alcohol addiction may start to withdraw, favouring alcohol use over other activities. Combined with the deception of trying to hide the addiction, this can alienate family members. Many marriages have broken up due to alcohol addiction; many children have been removed from parents for whom alcohol use had taken precedence over family.
There are two elements to this one. First, alcohol doesn’t come free, and for people with an addiction, it is a necessary expense. Progressively larger amounts of alcohol need to be consumed in order to achieve the same effects, and it can easily get to the point where the addicted person has to choose between buying liquor or putting food on their table.
Secondly, excessive alcohol consumption often goes hand-in-hand with erratic behaviour. The addicted person might start showing up late or not at all. They may drink while at work, and this can affect work performance and interactions with coworkers and customers. Eventually, the individual may lose their job.
How To Get Help
If you feel that you are experiencing an alcohol abuse or addiction problem, or if you are concerned about someone you love, help is available. It is strongly recommended that you enter a medically supervised detox program, since withdrawal from alcohol can be extremely dangerous if attempted alone. At Thousand Islands Rehab Centre, we will get you through your withdrawal safely, and then we will design a comprehensive alcohol addiction rehab program that is tailored for your needs and circumstances. To get started, call us at 855-929-4045.