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Definition Of Alcohol Addiction

According to The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA), alcohol addiction (alcoholism, alcohol use disorder, AUD) is a diagnosable medical condition in which an individual’s alcohol consumption causes distress or harm. Many alcoholics will experience common symptoms including:


1. Having the physical craving or urge to drink

2. Dependence that includes withdrawal symptoms when drinking is stopped

3. Increased tolerance levels in which more alcohol is required to obtain the same effects

4. Inability to control or stop drinking once started Prevalence of Alcohol Addiction

Prevalence of Alcohol Addiction

Alcohol use disorder (AUD), or what is commonly called alcohol addiction, is a leading risk factor for personal death and disability; it affects approximately 4% of the adult population. In 2019, alcohol use caused 2.2% of female deaths and 6.8% of male deaths, and disability-adjusted life years (DALYs) were 2.3% in females and 8.9% in males.

Alcohol is one of the most commonly abused substances in the United States today. It is legal for adults over age 21, easy to obtain, and fairly inexpensive. Alcohol consumption is socially accepted and even promoted widely by the media. Many of these people are considered light or moderate drinkers, but many also engage in binge drinking episodes.

According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA), binge drinking raises your blood alcohol concentration levels to 0.08. Binge drinking is defined as consuming more than four drinks in a two-hour sitting for a woman and five in a sitting for a man. Even those engaging in binge drinking may not have a drinking problem necessarily.

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Symptoms of Alcohol Addiction

According to Harvard Health, alcohol use disorder (AUD) is a medical condition that doctors diagnose when a patient’s drinking causes distress or harm. The condition can range from mild to severe and is diagnosed when a patient answers “yes” to two or more of the following questions.

In the past year, have you:


  • Had times when you ended up drinking more, or longer than you intended?
  • More than once wanted to cut down or stop drinking, or tried to, but couldn’t?
  • Spent a lot of time drinking? Or being sick or getting over the aftereffects?
  • Experienced craving — a strong need, or urge, to drink?
  • Found that drinking — or being sick from drinking — often interfered with taking care of your home or family? Or caused job troubles? Or school problems?
  • Continued to drink even though it was causing trouble with your family or friends?
  • Given up or cut back on activities that were important or interesting to you, or gave you pleasure, in order to drink?
  • More than once gotten into situations while or after drinking that increased your chances of getting hurt (such as driving, swimming, using machinery, walking in a dangerous area, or having unsafe sex)?
  • Continued to drink even though it was making you feel depressed or anxious or adding to another health problem? Or after having had a memory blackout?
  • Had to drink much more than you once did to get the effect you want? Or found that your usual number of drinks had much less effect than before?
  • Found that when the effects of alcohol were wearing off, you had withdrawal symptoms, such as trouble sleeping, shakiness, irritability, anxiety, depression, restlessness, nausea, or sweating? Or sensed things that were not there?

If you have any of these symptoms, your drinking may already be a cause for concern. The more symptoms you have, the more urgent the need for change. At Coastline Behavioral Health, a health professional can conduct a formal assessment of your symptoms to see if an alcohol use disorder is present.

The Disease Model of Alcohol Addiction

According to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders 5th edition (DSM-V), AUD is defined as a collection of brain function impairment and uncontrolled behavior, including tolerance development, withdrawal, uncontrolled increasing intake, and craving for alcohol.2 Alcohol addiction is a disease involving the brain reward circuit, and individuals with AUD are at high risk of anxiety, depression, impaired cognition performance, and illicit drug use. Alcohol addiction is closely linked to liver disease, such as alcoholic hepatitis and liver cirrhosis, which is a major cause of personal death and disability worldwide. Alcohol addiction is a chronic illness characterized by relapse and remission. The disease model of alcoholism depends on it being a physical addiction that cannot be controlled, distinguishable by specific symptoms and requiring specialized medical treatment. Cycles of physical cravings and withdrawal symptoms, including shaking, sweating, nausea and dizziness, are part of the reason alcoholism has been classified as a physical disease.

Seeking Treatment for Alcohol Addiction

Alcohol-related problems — which result from drinking too much, too fast, or too often — are among the most significant public health issues in the United States. Many people struggle with controlling their drinking at some time in their lives. Approximately 17 million adults ages 18 and older have an alcohol use disorder (AUD) and 1 in 10 children live in a home with a parent who has a drinking problem.

Alcohol addiction, like other substance addiction, causes alcohol seeking and maintenance of alcohol use, involving several neurotransmitter systems such as dopamine, serotonin, opioid peptides, glutamate, and γ-aminobutyric acid (GABA).

Medical treatments targeting the above neurotransmitter systems such as disulfiram (an aldehyde dehydrogenase inhibitor), naltrexone (an opioid receptor antagonist), nalmefene (an opioid receptor modulator), and acamprosate (multiple targets) are used for the treatment of alcohol addiction in Europe and the United States, as well as many other psychological interventions and therapies.

The good news is that no matter how severe the problem may seem, most people with an alcohol use disorder can benefit from some form of treatment. Research shows that about one-third of people who are treated for alcohol problems have no further symptoms 1 year later. Many others substantially reduce their drinking and report fewer alcohol-related problems.

A diagnosis of alcoholism can be scary but it does not mean that treatment and help are not readily available. Staying sober requires diligence and support. The trained professionals at Coastline Behavioral Health can help alcoholics identify social, emotional and environmental triggers. Many alcoholics also suffer from mental health disorders as well, making the road to recovery seem much more daunting.

Success Rates Treating Alcohol Addiction

Alcoholism or alcohol addiction is actually more prevalent than drug addiction, and surveys show that approximately 20% to 50% of all rehab enrollments are for alcohol addiction treatment. People who choose professional treatment for help with alcoholism recovery have higher alcohol rehab success rates, with at least 40% remaining sober for at least 12 months after rehab—especially if they follow individualized aftercare recommendations and get involved in sober support groups after rehab—compared to 23% for those who try to get sober on their own.

According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, up to 90% of alcoholics will have at least one relapse during the first four years after they get sober. However, the way a recovering alcoholic handles a relapse is key to their long-term sobriety.

Recent studies indicate that completing an alcohol treatment and rehabilitation program increases your chances of not only avoiding a relapse, but also minimizing the negative effects of a relapse. The success rates of treatment programs are higher when they are designed to help people understand how the process of addiction works and provide them with healthy coping tools that will help them deal with difficult feelings or situations, and handle triggers as they arise during recovery.

The statistics of recovering alcoholics show greater success for those who complete a professional treatment program and stay committed to a sober aftercare plan post-treatment, particularly when the plan includes making healthy lifestyle changes that minimize triggers and emphasizing the importance of staying committed and connected to a network of sober friends as strategies for recovery.

Active participation in a sober support community and getting back on track quickly after a relapse can help sustain long-term recovery. Study participants who stayed sober for 10 years reported that they had a stronger sense of purpose and greater satisfaction with their lives than participants who had gone back to drinking.

An integrated alcohol rehab program gives you access to recovery tools that aren’t available to alcoholics who sober up without treatment. Through detox, counseling, group therapy, medication therapy and recovery education, Coastline Behavioral Health will teach you how to manage the chronic disease of alcoholism.

What Factors Contribute to My Success?

It takes several factors to support and maintain the personal and lifestyle changes you learn to make in rehab. These factors can help to ensure your long-term success, including:

1. A strong support system.

Your support network should include not only counselors or therapists but sober friends, partners and family members as well. Your recovery may also include a spiritual component that may provide comfort, strength and support.

2. Participation in self-help groups.

Whether you choose a spiritually based 12-step program like Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) or a secular group, the skills and strength you gain from active participation in regular meetings will help you grow and evolve in recovery.

3. Medication therapy.

Anti-alcoholism medications like naltrexone can help you fight the cravings for alcohol. A study published in the Archives of General Psychology showed that alcoholics who took the anti-addiction drug naltrexone were almost twice as likely to stay sober as those who didn’t take medication.


4. Personal motivation.

Your commitment to your own recovery is one of the most important factors in your ongoing success. During rehab you will learn how to use healthier strategies to cope with problems and difficult feelings, and you will practice utilizing these tools as an alternative to reaching for a drink. This transition takes time and can be challenging, so your addiction therapist and care team will work to keep you motivated as you get accustomed to using new coping mechanisms.

Statistics can teach you a lot about the factors that affect alcohol rehab success rates, but when it comes to your own sobriety, your participation and motivation are what really make the difference. The programs at Coastline Behavioral Health support your personal recovery goals through individualized treatment programs that recognize your unique needs. If you are ready to overcome your dependence on alcohol and reclaim your life, contact us today to learn which program will suit your needs, help you achieve sobriety success and set you on the road to long-term recovery.



1. Understanding Alcohol Use Disorder | National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA). Published 2017. Accessed April 29, 2021.

2. What are the DSM-5 criteria for Alcohol Use Disorder? Published November 11, 2019. Accessed April 29, 2021. or-alcohol-use-disorder

3. Disease Theory of Alcoholism | Dual Diagnosis. Dual Diagnosis. Published 2014. Accessed April 29, 2021.

4. Alcoholism Statistics – Alta Mira Recovery. Alta Mira Recovery. Published 2018. Accessed April 29, 2021.


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