We have all seen them before. There is always that one guy who cannot look you in the eye, walk a straight line or speak without slurring his words. Someone is getting too drunk and crying or picking a fight with a complete stranger at the bar. Voices are getting louder and one night of drinking spills over into the week. Someone is calling into work “not feeling well” and someone else is cheating on his or her spouse. The effects of alcohol often exceed our wildest expectations and a fun night of having a beer with a friend can go horribly wrong in no time at all. While it may seem commonplace, it is important to understand the signs and symptoms of alcohol addiction so we will be capable of stopping the destructive pattern of behavior before addiction treatment is required.
Ahead of a dependency to alcohol, there is typically a prolonged period of time when the tippler discovers that he or she is drinking more often, experiencing more adverse effects and is slightly losing control. Alcohol abusers begin exhibiting signs such as drinking and driving, taking part in hazardous activities when under the influence, continuing to drink even when difficulties with friends or family crop up because of alcohol consumption and getting into physical struggles. Consuming alcohol starts to interfere with not only social relations, but also responsibilities at work and school, and in some cases, drinking may even land an person in legal trouble. These are early warning indications that alcohol use is crossing over into alcoholic abuse.
Roughly, 5-10% of acute alcohol withdrawal symptoms result in delirium tremens (DTs), a potentially fatal episode of feverishness, hallucinations, high blood pressure, rapid breathing and tremors. The alcohol addiction sufferer has a 35% chance of dying from the DTs if not treated by a professional and a 5% chance of death even if treated. It’s believed that the DTs are caused by drinking excessively over a long period of time (for instance 6-7 pints per day for a month or longer), or may also be caused by binge drinking without eating all day. A drug like Valium or an anti-seizure medication may be required, in addition to carefully monitoring hydration and the administering of vitamins.
Ethanol (alcohol) triggers the depressant neurotransmitter in the brain (GABA) and slows the action of the excitatory neurotransmitter in the brain (glutamate). The brain constantly tries to counterbalance the effects of alcohol. In the case of alcohol addiction, the brain desperately tries to compensate for the increased ethanol levels, leading to what is called “neuroadaptation” (tolerance) and will pave the way for dangerous withdrawal symptoms like delirium tremens. In 35% of untreated cases, the sufferer of chronic alcoholism can actually die, so the sooner help is sought, the better!