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What Is Chronic Alcohol Abuse?

Chronic alcohol abuse, also known as heavy drinking, is a pattern of repeated alcohol consumption. It goes beyond occasional or moderate drinking and can lead to numerous negative health and social consequences.

To understand how such a problem develops, you have to understand the definition of binge drinking.

According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism:

Binge drinking is when someone consumes a lot of alcohol quickly in order to get a

BAC of at least 0.08%. BAC refers to blood alcohol level – the percentage of alcohol in a person’s bloodstream.

Chronic drinking is five or more instances of binge drinking in a month. This is usually

15 or more drinks per week for men; 8 or more weekly for women.

Drinking all the time can lead to a person developing a dependence on alcohol to function. This dependence is what marks the difference between chronic alcohol abuse on the one hand, and alcohol use disorder, also known as alcoholism, on the other.

What Are the Signs and Symptoms of Chronic Alcohol Abuse?

The signs and symptoms of someone abusing alcohol can vary from person to person.

Some common signs and symptoms of chronic drinking include:

  • Being unable to limit your alcohol consumption
  • Wanting to reduce your drinking or making futile attempts to do so
  • Spending a significant amount of time drinking, obtaining alcohol, or recuperating from alcohol use
  • Feeling a strong desire to consume alcohol
  • Failure to meet key duties at work, school, or home owing to excessive alcohol consumption
  • Continuing to use alcohol despite knowing that it is producing physical, social, job, or romantic problems
  • Giving up or decreasing social, work, and recreational activities in order to consume alcohol
  • Using alcohol in unsafe conditions, such as while driving or swimming

If you or a loved one are engaging in chronic alcohol abuse, consider professional treatment.

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What Are the Signs and Symptoms of Chronic Alcohol Abuse?

The signs and symptoms of heavy drinking can vary from person to person.

Some common signs and symptoms of chronic alcohol abuse include:

  • Being unable to limit your alcohol consumption
  • Wanting to reduce your drinking or making futile attempts to do so
  • Spending a significant amount of time drinking, obtaining alcohol, or recuperating from alcohol use
  • Feeling a strong desire to consume alcohol
  • Failure to meet key duties at work, school, or home owing to excessive alcohol consumption
  • Continuing to use alcohol despite knowing that it is producing physical, social, job, or romantic problems
  • Giving up or decreasing social, work, and recreational activities in order to consume alcohol
  • Using alcohol in unsafe conditions, such as while driving or swimming

If you or a loved one are engaging in heavy drinking, consider professional treatment.

What Are the Dangers of Chronic Alcohol Abuse?

Chronic alcohol abuse can have profound and potentially fatal effects on both physical and mental health.

Physical Dangers of Abusing Alcohol

  • Liver Damage — This is one of the most well-known consequences of chronic alcohol abuse. It can lead to fatty liver, alcoholic hepatitis, fibrosis, and cirrhosis. In its most severe form, it can lead to liver failure, which can be fatal.
  • Digestive Problems — Alcohol can damage the tissues in the digestive tract, leading to gastritis, ulcers, and pancreatitis.
  • Cardiovascular Problems — Drinking heavily over the long term can lead to high blood pressure, cardiomyopathy (a condition where the heart muscle weakens and can’t pump blood efficiently), irregular heartbeat, and stroke.
  • Immune System Dysfunction — Abusing alcohol can weaken the immune system, making the body more susceptible to infections.
  • Cancer — Regular alcohol use increases the risk of several cancers, including mouth, esophagus, throat, liver, breast, and colorectal cancer.
  • Respiratory Infections — Alcohol depresses the gag reflex, which increases the risk of choking on vomit, leading to a potentially fatal condition known as aspiration pneumonia.
  • Osteoporosis — Daily alcohol consumption can interfere with the body’s ability to produce new bone, leading to an increased risk of fractures.
  • Endocrine Disruption — Alcohol can lead to diabetes, thyroid problems, and other hormone imbalances.
  • Sexual and Reproductive Health Issues — In men, drinking can lead to impotence, while in women, it can lead to menstrual irregularities and infertility. There’s also an increased risk of miscarriage, stillbirth, and fetal alcohol syndrome in pregnant women who consume alcohol.

 

Mental Dangers of Alcoholism

  • Depression and Anxiety — Alcohol can disrupt the balance of neurotransmitters in the brain, leading to mood disorders such as depression and anxiety.
  • Cognitive Impairment — Drinking regularly can lead to problems with memory, learning, and other cognitive functions. This can manifest as a condition known as “alcoholic dementia.”
  • Neuropsychiatric Complications —  Alcoholism can lead to conditions such as Wernicke-Korsakoff syndrome, a severe brain disorder resulting from a deficiency of thiamine (vitamin B1).
  • Increased Risk of Suicide — Alcoholism is linked to an increased risk of suicide, as it can exacerbate feelings of hopelessness and depression.
  • Addiction and Withdrawal — Over time, chronic alcohol consumption can lead to physical and psychological dependence. Withdrawal symptoms can range from mild (anxiety, shakiness, sweating) to severe and life-threatening (seizures, delirium tremens).
  • Relationship and Social Problems — Alcoholism can lead to strained relationships with family and friends, job loss, and other social problems.
  • Poor Judgment and Risky Behaviors — Intoxication can result in poor decision-making, leading to risky behaviors such as unprotected sex, driving under the influence, and involvement in violent incidents.

It’s essential to understand that the severity and type of risks associated with regular drinking can vary from person to person.

Factors like genetics, overall health, concurrent medical conditions, and the presence of other substance abuse can all play a role in determining the effects chronic alcohol abuse can have on a person.

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Is Alcoholism a Mental Health Disorder?

In earlier times, alcoholism was often seen as a moral failing or a sign of weak character. The afflicted individual was frequently blamed for their condition and stigmatized.

This began to change in the early-to-mid 20th century. In 1956, the American Medical Association classified alcoholism as a disease. This was further advanced by groups like Alcoholics Anonymous, which promoted the idea that alcoholism is a disease from which recovery is possible with the right support.

In the latter half of the 20th century and into the 21st, with advancements in neuroscience and psychology, the understanding of alcoholism became more nuanced.

It was first listed as a mental health disorder in the third edition of the Diagnostic Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-3), published in 1980. At that time, it was identified as a subset of a mental illness. The current edition, DSM-5, classifies alcoholism as a mental disorder unto itself, with both physical and mental symptoms.

The reason for this is chronic alcohol abuse can alter the brain’s structure and function. Over time, this can result in changes to neurotransmitter systems, which can lead to alterations in mood, cognition, and behavior. These changes can become long-lasting, robbing a person’s willpower to improve as they continue to experience negative consequences from drinking.

Many people with AUD also have other mental health disorders, such as depression, anxiety, or bipolar disorder. Sometimes, individuals use alcohol to self-medicate the symptoms of these disorders, creating a complex interplay between the conditions.

Alcohol Addiction Treatment at South Coast Behavioral Health

If you or a loved one are seeking help for chronic alcohol abuse, South Coast Behavioral Health is here to help. The first step in treating an alcohol addiction is a medical detox. This means using drugs to manage withdrawal symptoms.

Our medical detox program in California is staffed by caring and compassionate professionals who can provide you with medications to manage your withdrawal symptoms.

At South Coast, we take pride in offering care that is closely tailored to specific issues. To that end, we offer gender-specific detox programs, with medical detox for men in Irvine, CA, and medical detox for women in Huntington Beach, CA.

After detoxing, proper treatment can begin.

Treatment for substance abuse takes place along an entire spectrum of care. Along that entire spectrum are various behavioral therapies, support groups, and the use of medically-assisted treatment (MAT).

These levels of treatment are, in order, as follows:

Residential Treatment in California

After successfully completing medical detox, you’ll move receive inpatient treatment in Orange County California. There, you’ll receive medically-assisted treatment and dual diagnosis treatment to deal with any cravings or co-occurring mental health issues you may be battling.

We also offer residential treatment facilities in Costa Mesa, Irvine, and Huntington Beach for those who desire gender-specific treatment. There, patients get round-the-clock medical attention and monitoring while living at the institution full-time.

In addition to individual and group counseling and medication management, you’ll also have access to leisure activities and family support services.

Partial Hospitalization in California

Most clients start substance abuse treatment with South Coast in our residential treatment program. After completing that, many desire something that still provides structure and support, but with extra space and time to oneself. For that, we offer Partial Hospitalization in Newport Beach.

A step down from inpatient care but with more structure than conventional outpatient programs, partial hospitalization offers a good balance for those looking to ease back into normal life. Clients can receive care five to seven days a week for a number of hours each day, returning back to their homes in the evening.

This way, they can recover without putting their daily lives completely on hold, receiving intense therapeutic interventions like group and individual therapy, skill development, and medication management as necessary.

Intensive Outpatient Treatment in California

For those leaving inpatient residential treatment or partial hospitalization, intensive outpatient programs (IOP) are yet another gradual step forward on the road to recovery.

With a focus on group therapy, individual counseling, and education, clients undergoing Intensive Outpatient Treatment in Newport Beach can meet three to five days a week. Each session lasts three hours.

This level of care requires the least amount of attendance at a facility.

Start Today

If you or a loved one are struggling with chronic alcohol abuse but wonder how long treatment takes or have other questions, call us at 866-881-1184 or contact us here. Our highly qualified staff will be happy to help give you an idea on what to expect from your addiction recovery timeline, help verify your insurance, and assist with any other questions you may have. 

Pierce Willans
Kelly McIntyre
Medically Reviewed by Kelly McIntyre, MS, LMFT