Practical Recovery is one of San Diego’s trusted leaders in the treatment of alcohol addiction.

Alcohol is the most commonly used addictive substance in the U.S. Approximately 1 in every 12 adults struggles with alcohol abuse or dependence.

Ethanol is the type of alcohol found in alcohol beverages such as beer, wine and liquor. It is classified as a depressant, which means that it inhibits the function of the central nervous system.

Short-Term Effects of Alcohol

The short-term effects of alcohol depend on the amount ingested. The effects of alcohol can be measured in terms of blood alcohol concentration (BAC), which refers to the amount of alcohol in the bloodstream. In small to moderate amounts (BAC < 0.06), alcohol can create the feeling of being “buzzed” which can include increased energy and confidence and decreased inhibitions. In larger amounts (BAC from 0.08-0.30), alcohol can create significant impairment, including:

  • Slurred speech
  • Drowsiness
  • Vomiting
  • Impaired judgment
  • Loss of coordination, attention, memory
  • Slowed reaction time
  • Blackouts
  • Loss of consciousness
  • In very large amounts (BAC > 0.30), alcohol can lead to loss of consciousness, alcohol poisoning, and death.

Long-Term Effects of Alcohol

When used in large amounts over a long period of time, alcohol can cause a lot of physical problems, including:

  • Sexual problems
  • Permanent brain damage
  • Liver disease/cirrhosis
  • Ulcers
  • Gastritis
  • Pancreatitis
  • Cardiomyopathy
  • Malnutrition
  • Cancer of the mouth/throat

Alcohol Withdrawal Symptoms

Alcohol withdrawal symptoms can start as quickly as a few hours after the last drink and can persist for weeks in people who are dependent on alcohol. The symptoms can range from mild to severe and even life-threatening. Common symptoms of alcohol withdrawal include:

  • Headache
  • Nausea/vomiting
  • Shakiness/trembling
  • Sweating
  • Anxiety
  • Insomnia
  • Seizures

Delirium Tremens

Delerium Tremens (known commonly as the DTs) is a series of potential alcohol withdrawal symptoms that can be fatal. The symptoms include:

  • Confusion and disorientation
  • Changing levels of alertness
  • Severe agitation
  • Fever
  • Hallucinations
  • Delusions
  • Severe sweating
  • Seizures
  • Body tremors

Because alcohol withdrawal can be fatal, it is important to ask your doctor whether you’re in need of medically supervised alcohol detox.

The Science Behind Alcohol

Once alcohol is ingested, it is absorbed into the bloodstream and carried throughout the body. The stomach and small intestine absorb most of the alcohol; a small amount is excreted through breath and urine. Alcohol is metabolized (broken down) by the liver. A normal healthy liver can process about ½ half ounce of pure alcohol per hour. Alcohol that is not broken down by the liver goes to the rest of the body, including the brain.

The rate at which alcohol is absorbed and metabolized is influenced by the following factors:

  • Body weight
  • Gender
  • Age
  • Pattern of alcohol use
  • Medications
  • Genetics

Over time, the body builds up a tolerance to alcohol, which means that it takes more alcohol to feel the same effects. Increased tolerance is one sign of alcohol dependence.

Treatment and Medication

Treatment for alcohol addiction involves both detox and behavioral therapies, as well as the possible use of medication.

Medications used in the treatment of alcohol dependence include:

  • Benzodiazapines—Benzodiazapines, such as Librium and Lorazepam (Ativan), are the primary medication used to help reduce withdrawal symptoms.
  • Antabuse (Disulfuram)—Antabuse can be used to help support abstinence from alcohol by causing an adverse reaction to alcohol, making the idea of drinking less tempting. When alcohol is ingested while on Antabuse, it can cause nausea, vomiting, severe headache, and blurred vision in addition to other noxious effects.
  • Anti-craving medications—Some medications such as Naltrexone and Acamprosate (Campral) can reduce cravings for alcohol. In addition to reducing cravings, Naltrexone blocks opioid receptors in the brain, thereby reducing the pleasurable effects of alcohol.

Alcohol addiction is serious. If you or a loved one is struggling with alcohol misuse or dependency, it is important to seek help. Call us. If we can’t help, we’ll refer you to someone who can.