Long Term Rehab for Alcoholism
Currently, nearly 14 million Americans—1 in every 13 adults—abuse alcohol or are alcoholic.
—From the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism
Alcoholism is a chronic disease, and it lasts a person’s lifetime. While there is no cure, there is alcoholism treatment for the prevention against alcohol relapse. Like all drug addictions, alcoholism treatment is a complex process, and there is no single solution that fits every person’s needs. Our highly-structured environment, peer-support groups, and caring, professional staff provide the framework and support needed by alcohol-dependent patients. The Burning Tree long term drug rehab staff will equip every patient with an individualized plan for recovery and the aftercare needed to maintain success.
The consequences of alcohol misuse are serious—in many cases, life threatening. Heavy drinking can increase the risk for certain cancers, especially those of the liver, esophagus, throat, and larynx (voice box). Heavy drinking can also cause liver cirrhosis, immune system problems, brain damage, and harm to the fetus during pregnancy. In addition, drinking increases the risk of death from automobile crashes as well as recreational and on-the-job injuries. Furthermore, both homicides and suicides are more likely to be committed by persons who have been drinking. In purely economic terms, alcohol-related problems cost society approximately $185 billion per year. In human terms, the costs cannot be calculated.
What is Alcoholism?
Alcoholism, also known as “alcohol dependence,” is a disease that includes four symptoms:
Craving: A strong need, or compulsion, to drink.
Loss of control: The inability to limit one’s drinking on any given occasion.
Physical dependence: Withdrawal symptoms, such as nausea, sweating, shakiness, and anxiety, occur when alcohol use is stopped after a period of heavy drinking.
Tolerance: The need to drink greater amounts of alcohol in order to “get high.”
People who are not alcoholic sometimes do not understand why an alcoholic can’t just “use a little willpower” to stop drinking. However, alcoholism has little to do with willpower. Alcoholics are in the grip of a powerful “craving,” or uncontrollable need, for alcohol that overrides their ability to stop drinking. This need can be as strong as the need for food or water.
Long Term Treatment for Alcohol Abuse
Although some people are able to recover from alcoholism without help, the majority of alcoholics need assistance. With long term treatment and support, many individuals are able to stop drinking and rebuild their lives.
Many people wonder why some individuals can use alcohol without problems but others cannot. One important reason has to do with genetics. Scientists have found that having an alcoholic family member makes it more likely that if you choose to drink you too may develop alcoholism. Genes, however, are not the whole story. In fact, scientists now believe that certain factors in a person’s environment influence whether a person with a genetic risk for alcoholism ever develops the disease. A person’s risk for developing alcoholism can increase based on the person’s environment, including where and how he or she lives; family, friends, and culture; peer pressure; and even how easy it is to get alcohol.
An Overview of the General Pattern of Liver Damage
Liver damage resulting from drinking and alcoholism is associated with three main stages or conditions in which liver degeneration is seen to occur: Fatty Liver Disease, Alcoholic Hepatitis, and Cirrhosis of the Liver. These three conditions or stages do not necessarily occur in order, nor is one symptom a requisite for another to develop. For example, cases have been reported in which individuals consistently drinking heavy (e.g., five to six drinks per day over a twenty year period) develop Cirrhosis of the Liver without any other intervening conditions. By the same token, other cases have been reported in which patients succumbed to Alcoholic Hepatitis in the absence of Cirrhosis. The symptoms of liver damage are extensive and will vary among individuals. Not all conditions of liver disease occur as a direct result of drinking and alcoholism. Cirrhosis of the liver, however, is most closely associated with the problem of drinking and alcoholism.
Three Conditions of Liver Damage: Fatty Liver Disease, Alcoholic Hepatitis, and Cirrhosis of the Liver
Fatty Liver Disease is a condition in which fat is deposited into the liver with the consumption of alcohol. Fat is deposited into the liver regardless of whether the individual consuming the drink is dependent upon alcohol or not. Symptoms of Fatty Liver Disease include yellowing of the skin and eyes (e.g., jaundice condition), abnormal swelling in the abdomen due to fluid retention, coma, and death.
Alcoholic Hepatitis develops as healthy liver tissue becomes inflamed and is replaced by scar tissue. As alcohol is consumed, liver tissue can be severely burned, scarred, and is often perforated with holes. The presence of scar tissue does not allow the blood to circulate normally through the liver, thus diminishing the blood supply needed by the liver to clean the blood of toxins and produce valuable nutrients and hormones required for optimal health. Symptoms of Alcoholic Hepatitis include intense abdominal pain, yellowing of skin and eyes, and fever.
Cirrhosis of the Liver is the most advanced stage of damage to the liver and it is also the condition most commonly associated with prolonged alcohol abuse. Symptoms may remain undetected until after it is no longer possible to successfully treat the disease. Individuals with Cirrhosis of the Liver are frequently underweight, experience loss of appetite, vomiting, abdominal pain and swelling, and have poor circulation due to the hardening of blood vessels.
Delirium Tremens and Alcohol Withdrawal
Delirium tremens is known by a variety of nicknames such as the shakes, trembling madness, jitterbugs, the horrors, and the jimjams. Delirium tremens is a severe form of withdrawal brought on by depleted ethyl-alcohol blood concentrations in the body. Withdrawal symptoms from alcohol may be triggered by insufficient food intake, infection, illness, or injury among those that chronically abuse alcohol. Individuals that drink in excess of 4-5 pints of wine or 7-8 pints of beer on a daily basis for several months at a time are in a high risk category for experiencing the symptoms of delirium tremens. The sudden onset of neurological and mental reactions associated with alcohol withdrawal may be severe and life endangering.
Symptoms of Delirium Tremens
Most symptoms of depleted alcohol blood concentrations in the body occur within seventy-two hours after the last ingestion of alcohol, but cases have been reported in which individuals experienced withdrawal symptoms seven to ten days after consuming their last alcoholic beverage. Individuals will react to alcohol withdrawal uniquely and in accordance with distinct physiological and behavioral characteristics that are intrinsic to each person.
Most noticeably, the early stages of DT’s include elevated temperature, body tremors, and rapid heart beat or tachycardia. Other symptoms such as nausea and restlessness can be experienced, but in general these are rather mild symptoms when compared to the toxic injuries sustained by neurons in the brain most closely connected to alcohol withdrawal.
Extreme mental and neurological states can become pronounced as confusion, agitation, and even psychotic behavior may ensue. It is not uncommon for people who have DT’s to experience visual, auditory, and olfactory hallucinations. Sights, sounds, and smells in an environmental space may be heightened, leaving the individual at the mercy of a terrifying experience that only sedation can effectively manage. The mental and neurological distress of alcohol withdrawal can be so profound that individuals do not recognize family members or even close friends. Seizures, ranging from mild to severe, may potentially lead to cardiac arrest if not treated immediately through emergency care.
In general, DT’s require emergency hospitalization in an intensive care unit for the purpose of monitoring and restoring balance to fluid and salt levels, nutrition, and other bodily needs. Persons afflicted with DT’s may also require heart monitoring for possible palpitations, other cardiac irregularities, as well as any signs of possible infection.
Detoxification from Alcohol is Dangerous
Detoxification from alcohol is not a one-size-fits-all criterion. For those who only occasionally abuse alcohol, abstinence may be an uncomfortable experience without posing any life threatening health risks aside from a headache, sweats, nausea, hypertension, and rapid heart rate. The entire discussion changes, however, for those who are diagnosed as alcohol dependent or have a history of chronic alcohol abuse. For this group, detoxification from alcohol needs to be carefully supervised by a health care professional that knows how to treat withdrawal symptoms that may range from severe to life threatening.
Reactions to alcohol withdrawal are unique for each person. In addition to physiological influences such as age, body weight, and general health condition, it is also important to know the actual amount of alcohol consumed every day and how long alcohol abuse has occurred over time. Without the supervision of a health care professional, detoxification from alcohol can in fact be fatal. Symptoms of alcohol detoxification include sudden mental and neurological changes, nausea, heart attack, palpitations, body tremors, incoherency, inability to talk, multiple types of hallucinations (e.g., visual, auditory, olfactory), seizures, stroke, coma, and death.
Major Symptoms of Alcohol Detoxification
Mental and Neurological Reactions
Within six to forty-eight hours of the last drink, mental and neurological changes may suddenly develop in individuals undergoing alcohol detoxification. Symptoms such as visual, auditory, or olfactory hallucinations may occur in which the heightened effect of images, sounds, or even smells in any type of environmental situation may induce extreme flight or fight responses. Seizures are often brought on by delirium tremens, and may range in severity from mild to grand mal. The profound impact of alcohol withdrawal on the brain is so intense that even a mild seizure can lead to respiratory distress and heart failure if untreated. Other mental reactions to alcohol withdrawal include confusion, disorientation, difficulty talking, and temporary loss of short-term memory.
Heart Attack, Stroke, and Death
Chronic alcohol abusers are at the greatest risk for experiencing the most dangerous withdrawal symptoms from alcohol. As mentioned previously, seizures are commonly associated with delirium tremens and manifest the primary neurological impact of alcohol withdrawal on the brain. Seizures and DT’s often create irregular cardiac activity such as palpitations, arrhythmias, tachycardia, and abnormal spikes in blood pressure that increase the potential risk of succumbing to cardiovascular injury or death.
*Portions of an article reprinted with permission from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism.