Alcoholism is sadly one of the most significant causes of deaths, crime, and other unscrupulous activities in many countries. Over the years its prevalence has taken root in many societies especially those of low income.
Young adults, in many cases, are exposed to alcoholism and binge drinking at an early stage due to peer pressure and the traditional college lifestyle, which most often leads to addiction later in life. A most curious question is, how long does it take to get addicted to alcohol?
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Statistics of Alcohol Addiction
According to a report by the NSDUH in 2018, over 14.4 million individuals aged 18 and above were diagnosed with Alcohol Use Disorder (AUD)
In 2018, approximately 401,000 adolescents within the age range of 12 to 17 had AUD and 86.3 percent of individuals aged 18 and older reported drinking alcohol at some point in their lifetime, 70 percent admitted drinking in the past year, while 55.3 percent owned up to drinking in the previous month.
Approximately 88,000 deaths are recorded annually from incidences related to alcohol abuse, this makes alcohol the third most prevalent cause of death in the US.
In 2010 the scourge of alcohol addiction cost the United States at least $249.0 billion
In 2012, a total of 3.3 million global deaths were attributed to Alcoholism
What Happens When You Drink
When a person ingests alcohol, it is metabolized in the liver and kidneys while some alcohol finds its way to the bloodstream, causing the Blood Alcohol Concentration (BAC) to rise depending on the amount of alcohol ingested.
The absorption of alcohol into the blood is 80 percent through the small intestine and about 20 percent through your stomach. Alcohol is broken down through a metabolic process by enzymes in the liver called alcohol dehydrogenase (ADH), into acetaldehyde, which is the toxic form of alcohol. Acetaldehyde is then converted into a safer metabolite called acetic acid, by an enzyme called aldehyde dehydrogenase.
When you drink alcohol, it activates the production of excitatory neurotransmitters in the brain which inhibits the communications of neurons in the brain such as those responsible for feeling pain. When the alcohol leaves the body, the neurotransmitters remain in the brain disrupting brain functions and causing withdrawal symptoms. This is particular for heavy drinkers who have developed tolerance and dependency on alcohol, and if the individual continues to drink the brain fully adapts to the presence of these neurotransmitters causing a severe addiction. Such a person would experience potentially dangerous and excruciatingly painful withdrawal symptoms.
The younger adults are most at risk of addiction as these neurotransmitters are particularly overactive at this stage in life.
How Long Does it Take to Get Addicted to Alcohol?
The controversy behind alcohol addiction is that people believe that there is some kind of threshold that a person has to reach before drinking becomes an addiction. This way of thinking emanates from the knowledge that one cannot get addicted to nicotine or caffeine by indulging in cigarettes or coffee just once.
This may seem true but every substance works differently while every human reacts differently to substances. Binge drinking is a one-way ticket to addiction; that much is general. However, there is no medically defined timeline of alcohol use that leads to addiction, as it differs from one person to the other.
The National Institute of Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAA) recommends that men drink no more than four drinks per day while women are to stick to a maximum of 3 drinks per day. The amount of alcohol ingested daily and the frequency are major indicators of how quickly a person could form an addiction to alcohol. What does a drink mean? One drink can be equated to the following:
- 5 ounce shot of liquor
- 12 ounces of beer
- 8 to 9 ounces of malt liquor
- 5 ounces of wine
Addiction to alcohol, just like intoxication, may be very fast for some individuals, while for others, it may take a longer period of time. There are determinants that largely contribute to addiction to drinking.
Factors that Contribute to Alcohol Addiction
The Factors that often determine how long it may take for a person to get addicted to drinking include:
- Family/genetic history of alcohol use
- The history of alcohol
- Underlying anxiety or depression
- The amount of alcohol consumed at each indulgence (binge drinking)
- The frequency of alcohol consumption
- The loss of a loved one or any traumatic event experienced
- Level of tolerance built for alcohol
What Are The Major Signs of Alcohol Addiction?
Like every other form of addiction, there are often signs and warnings that may suggest that one is developing an addiction to drinking. There are mild to severe signs and symptoms, depending on the habits and lifestyle of the user. Some signs that are typical for alcohol addicts are:
- Needing more alcohol than usual at every use in order to feel the same level of high
- Experiencing a highly compelling need to drink in just a few hours after the last drink
- Always looking for a reason to indulge in drinking either through parties or any event
- Completely losing control while drinking and taking more than intended
- Their drinking begins to affect their relationships with friends, family, colleagues, education, or career
- Becoming distant and antisocial except when there’s the promise of a drinking bout
- Spending a significant amount of time and money on drinking
If you or your loved one is experiencing one or more of these signs there is a good chance it may be an addiction to alcohol. Alcoholism comes in stages and every stage is unique. With keen interest, one may be able to easily observe these features in an addict.
Stages of Alcoholism
There are four known stages of alcoholism:
This is the pre-alcoholic stage where there is hardly any evidence of a drinking problem. At this stage, drinking is casual but progresses to a more frequent indulgence in order to deal with stress. The individual develops a tolerance to larger amounts of alcohol. Drinking at this phase is typically to feel better, overcome anxiety, or even numb physical pain.
The early alcoholism stage starts with experiencing your first blackout after drinking. At this stage, one may find themselves with an urge to drink all the time. One may begin to lie about the frequency of their drinking as well as hiding alcoholic drinks from friends and loved ones; typically spiking coffee, and soft drinks with alcohol.
The middle alcoholic stage is more obvious and becomes a cause for concern. The individual begins to miss social obligations while spending time drinking. Drinking at inappropriate times with visible effects of drunkenness or hangover such as sluggishness, facial redness, behavioral changes, weight changes, and irritability is typical.
Health problems are apparent at this phase as well as more frequent drinking in order to avoid withdrawal symptoms. This stage of drinking is critical and dangerous to health as it may present with a wide range of issues inclusive of dementia, paranoia, kidney and liver problems, tremors, hallucinations, and others. It is important to seek urgent professional help at this stage.
Getting Help for Alcohol Addiction
The long term effects of drinking are problematic to health. The time taken to get to the late alcohol phase varies with different individuals; hence, it is best to seek medical help early in order to avoid life-threatening occurrences. The first line of therapy is detoxification and rehabilitation, in many cases, at a trusted medical facility. Stopping alcoholism cold turkey is highly dangerous; the best way to quit drinking is to see a specialist for the most appropriate technique that suits your drinking habit.