Quitting alcohol with the help of professional treatment sets you up for a safer withdrawal process and gives you a better chance at long-term sobriety.

is one of the most commonly abused substances in the world. It’s also addictive, and it can be both difficult and dangerous to try to recover from an alcohol addiction on your own. For these reasons, it’s important to understand your options for alcohol addiction treatment if you or someone you love is struggling to control their drinking.

What Is Alcoholism?

Alcoholism is a catch-all term that refers to a person that struggles with drinking, also called alcohol abuse. However, there are different subtypes of alcohol abuse, including:

  • Binge drinking: When a woman has four or more drinks per occasion, or a man has five or more drinks per occasion 
  • Heavy drinking: When a woman has eight or more alcoholic beverages per week, or a man has 15 or more alcoholic beverages per week.

To be diagnosed with an alcohol use disorder (AUD) — the clinical term for alcohol addiction — a person needs to show specific signs and symptoms related to alcohol abuse over a period of time.

Signs of Alcoholism

Many different signs of alcoholism exist. Together, these signs form the basis of how doctors are able to diagnose alcoholism. To be diagnosed with an alcohol use disorder, a person must have shown at least two of these signs within the past 12 months: 

  • Drinking alcohol in larger amounts or for longer periods than intended
  • Making unsuccessful attempts to cut down or stop drinking, even though you want to do so
  • Spending a lot of time obtaining, drinking or recovering from alcohol
  • Having cravings for a drink
  • Alcohol interferes with your ability to fulfill your obligations at work, school or home
  • Drinking even though it causes social or interpersonal problems
  • Giving up social, work or recreational activities because of drinking
  • Drinking even when it is dangerous to do so, such as before driving
  • Drinking even though you know it is harming your mental or physical health
  • Needing increasing amounts of alcohol to achieve the same effects as before
  • Having withdrawal symptoms when you try to stop drinking

Alcohol Abuse and Addiction Statistics

Alcohol is one of the most commonly abused substances in the world, and it leads to more than three million deaths each year. In America, more than 14.5 million people have an alcohol use disorder, including more than nine million men. In Georgia, key statistics related to alcohol use and addiction include:

  • More than half of adults in Georgia have had at least one drink in the past 30 days. 
  • About 6% of Georgians drink heavily.
  • Almost 14% of Georgians binge drink. 

Common Questions About Alcoholism

What makes alcohol addictive?

Alcohol is addictive because it triggers the brain’s reward system, leading to changes in neurotransmitter levels in the brain. Many of the neurotransmitters affected by alcohol, such as dopamine and the brain’s natural opioids, play a major role in motivation. This can start a person down the pathway of addiction as their body begins relying on alcohol more and more. Further, because of these same neurotransmitters, it is hard for a person to stop drinking after they start. If a person is addicted to alcohol, stopping drinking will cause uncomfortable and dangerous withdrawal symptoms.

How long does it take to get addicted to alcohol? 

The length of time it takes to get addicted to alcohol can vary widely. Addiction occurs when a person continues needing to use alcohol despite it having negative consequences in their life. It can take different people vastly different times to reach that point, even if they are drinking the exact same amount.

What is a high-functioning alcoholic?

A high-functioning alcoholic is a person who is able to maintain work, social, family and financial obligations despite relying on alcohol. About 20% of people who struggle with drinking fall into this category. Regardless of their ability to outwardly adapt to drinking, high-functioning alcoholics can have the same alcohol-related health risks as other alcoholics.

What happens when you stop drinking?

If you drink heavily on a regular basis, your body becomes physically dependent on alcohol because it adapts to alcohol’s presence. If you suddenly stop drinking, you can go into alcohol withdrawal, which can be both uncomfortable and dangerous. If you drink heavily, it is recommended to seek a doctor’s advice before quitting alcohol.

Can you die from alcohol withdrawal?

Alcohol withdrawal can be deadly in some cases. Delirium tremens, the most serious complication of alcohol withdrawal, is fatal in up to 37% of cases if left untreated. For this reason, you should not quit drinking without medical advice. Medical supervision during detox may also be necessary.

Alcohol Withdrawal

Alcohol withdrawal occurs when you quit drinking after your body has become used to the presence of alcohol. Symptoms can range in severity from mildly uncomfortable to life-threatening. 

Withdrawal occurs because chronic drinking disrupts the brain’s balance of the neurotransmitters gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA) and glutamate. When you suddenly stop drinking, your brain becomes overexcitable due to an excess of glutamate. This leads directly to withdrawal symptoms.

Alcohol Withdrawal Symptoms

Alcohol withdrawal symptoms can vary widely in severity. However, even if symptoms appear mild at the start of withdrawal, they can quickly worsen. For this reason, medical oversight is a necessity if you are planning on quitting drinking. 

Withdrawal symptoms can begin within a few hours or days after quitting drinking. Symptoms may include

  • Sweating 
  • Pulse faster than 100 beats per minute
  • Hand tremor 
  • Insomnia 
  • Nausea or vomiting 
  • Hallucinations 
  • Agitation 
  • Anxiety 
  • Seizures

In severe cases, withdrawal complications like delirium tremens can arise. This condition can be fatal if left untreated.

Alcohol Withdrawal Timeline

Alcohol withdrawal symptoms can start anywhere from a few hours to a few days after the last drink, depending on the person and their level of alcohol dependence. Symptoms can vary widely, but a typical alcohol withdrawal timeline will include:

StageTime since last drinkSymptoms
Stage oneSix to eight hoursMild symptoms like tremor, anxiety or nausea
Stage two12 to 24 hoursTremors, agitation, insomnia, hallucinations and delirium tremens
Stage three12 to 48 hoursIncreasing severity of Stage two symptoms, may include seizures
Stage fourTwo to five daysDelirium tremens, confusion, agitation, fever, fast heartbeat, high blood pressure, sweating
Stage fiveOne to six monthsIncreased anxiety and sleep problems

Quitting Alcohol Cold Turkey

Quitting alcohol cold turkey without medical oversight is very dangerous. This is because alcohol withdrawal symptoms can range in severity and may be fatal in some cases. Symptoms can escalate quickly, and symptoms like hallucinations can make you unable to seek help when you need it. For this reason, it is important to never quit drinking cold turkey. Instead, seek medical advice from your doctor when you decide to cut back on your drinking. Your doctor may recommend an alcohol detox program for you to safely be weaned off alcohol.

Alcohol Detox

In an alcohol detox program, you are admitted to a facility and gently eased off alcohol while under around-the-clock care from doctors and nurses. As the alcohol leaves your body, the medical team will continuously monitor you to make sure that withdrawal symptoms are under control. If symptoms arise, they can be treated as medically necessary to give you the safest and most comfortable withdrawal possible.

Alcoholism Treatment

Medical detox is only the first step in alcohol addiction recovery. While detox can cleanse your body of alcohol, it is easy to lapse back into drinking unless you undergo a rehab program. In rehab, you learn to explore why you began to rely on alcohol, and you begin developing safer coping mechanisms and skills for avoiding alcohol in the future. Many different rehab options are available, including:

  • Inpatient rehab: In this program, you live onsite at the rehab facility and are able to focus on rehab without outside distractions like work or school.
  • Partial hospitalization: While in a partial hospitalization program, you live onsite at the facility or at home, but undergo at least 20 hours of rehab each week with more free time in between.
  • Intensive outpatient: In this program, you have at least nine hours a week of rehab. This allows you to begin balancing rehab with work or school obligations.
  • Outpatient: In outpatient treatment, you attend up to nine hours of rehab a week and have eased back into your daily life in the outside world.

Following rehab, it is important to remain focused on your recovery over the long term to avoid lapses. Aftercare options, including alumni and support groups, help you maintain a recovery mindset over the months and years to come.

Get Help Today

If you or someone you love is struggling with alcohol abuse and addiction, help is available at The Recovery Village Atlanta. Contact us today to learn more about how our professional alcohol addiction treatment programs can help you begin a healthier, alcohol-free life in recovery.

The Recovery Village - Atlanta
By – The Recovery Village Atlanta
The Recovery Village Atlanta builds tailored treatment plans with an understanding that addiction is a mental health disorder and a chronic disease. Read more
Jonathan-Strum
Editor – Jonathan Strum
Jonathan Strum graduated from the University of Nebraska Omaha with a Bachelor's in Communication in 2017 and has been writing professionally ever since. Read more
Jenni-Jacobsen
Medically Reviewed By – Jenni Jacobsen, LSW
Jenni Jacobsen is a licensed social worker through the Ohio Counselor, Social Worker and Marriage and Family Therapist Board. She has seven years of experience working in the social work field, working with clients with addiction-related and mental health diagnoses. Read more
Sources

Medical Disclaimer

The Recovery Village Atlanta aims to improve the quality of life for people struggling with substance use or mental health disorder with fact-based content about the nature of behavioral health conditions, treatment options and their related outcomes. We publish material that is researched, cited, edited and reviewed by licensed medical professionals. The information we provide is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. It should not be used in place of the advice of your physician or other qualified healthcare providers.