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When is it Time for Alcohol Rehab?

Page Overview

People struggle with the question ‘when should I get help for my alcohol addiction?’ all the time. A big reason is because alcoholism gradually sneaks up on people. So when is it time for alcohol rehab? Residential rehab is essential when a person has lost control over their drinking, has tried to stop and failed, or is experiencing dangerous or detrimental effects on their everyday life because of their drinking. But why wait until the alcohol use is so out of control or damaging? More people should get help for their alcohol abuse before those glaring red flags. Alcohol abuse itself is dangerous – drunk driving, accidents and injuries, seizures from acute alcohol poisoning, and the consequences of poor decision making (affairs, fights, misdemeanors, work and academic mistakes) while under the influence make the habit of abusing alcohol one that should be addressed.

Plus, early intervention when it comes to alcohol abuse is the best way to prevent alcoholism from developing. There is often a fine line that blurs very quickly between alcohol use, alcohol abuse, and alcoholism. If you or a loved one is struggling with drinking at any of these levels, consider getting help.

When Does Casual Alcohol Use Escalate to Abuse and Alcoholism?

Alcoholism does not come out of the blue – there are always behaviors and issues that build up to alcoholism. Casual alcohol use is fine for most if the person drinking is responsible and in control. When the person drinks too much (drinking usually 5 or more drinks on a single occasion for men or 4 or more drinks on a single occasion for women, generally within about 2-4 hours), drinks too often, or loses control when they drink, they are on the very dangerous path of alcohol abuse. The main clue is when the person drinks to meet a need (feel good about themselves, fit in with friends, numb pain, escape, deal with stress) they have dangerously crossed the line to alcohol abuse.

Alcohol abuse, in turn, can lead to alcoholism, where the person is physically dependent on alcohol (has withdrawal symptoms when not drinking or needs more to get the same effect) and will not or cannot quit despite negative consequences. The types of behavior that lead up to alcoholism vary for each individual, so some people can drink regularly and not develop a dependence on the substance, while others quickly become addicted.

Alcohol Use Disorder Quiz

According to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders Fifth Edition (DSM), manifestations of alcohol use disorder include the following criteria. Dependence is evidenced by a person displaying 0-1 of the following criteria (no dependence), 2-3 (mild - abuse), 4-5 (moderate - dependence), 6+(severe - severe dependence). Take the quiz below to find out more about your situation. This quiz was reviewed by Dr. Karl Benzio.

Note: People overuse and abuse alcohol all the time without fitting the criteria for an alcoholic. These people binge drink once in a while and they may use alcohol as a means to relax and relieve stress. As time goes on, however, if the person continues to drink more and more, soon they find themselves binge drinking regularly, drinking and driving, and even craving alcohol. This is the beginning of dependence and alcoholism. Without something to stop this dangerous downward trend, the regular alcohol abuser will quickly turn into an alcoholic.

Physical Signs of Alcoholism

Warning signs can alert family and close friends to the need for alcoholism treatment. The following symptoms are associated with ongoing alcoholism, and should serve as a warning that the person might need help:

  • Tolerance to alcohol, meaning they need more to get the same high
  • Temporary blackouts or memory loss
  • Headache, anxiety, insomnia, nausea when drinking is stopped
  • Flushed skin
  • Broken capillaries especially in face
  • Swelling or redness of the hands
  • Repeated skin infections or abscesses
  • Tingling in the hands and feet
  • Shakiness
  • Stomach cramps
  • Stomach ulcers
  • Bloody or black stools
  • Chronic diarrhea
  • Liver problems
  • Strong cravings to drink
  • Deterioration of hygiene and physical appearance

Psychological Signs of Alcoholism

Alcoholism impacts every area of a person’s life. The following are psychological signs of alcoholism:

  • Tolerance to alcohol, meaning they need more to get the same high
  • Deterioration of relationships with family and friends
  • Irritability and mood swings
  • Depression
  • Continuing to use alcohol to relax, or feel normal
  • Drinking alone
  • Drinking more than the person should or wants to
  • Neglecting things that used to be important to the person because of drinking
  • Increased risk taking
  • Increased secrecy
  • Insecurity
  • Guilt
  • Low self-esteem
  • Hopelessness and Helplessness
  • Cognitive difficulties with concentration, attention, organization, or memory
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Social Consequences

There are numerous consequences surrounding alcohol abuse and alcoholism. The alcoholic will find it difficult to hold down a job, be a positive part of their family, maintain their responsibilities, and be financially secure. An alcoholic will find that their drinking makes others uncomfortable, which is why many alcoholics end up drinking alone. Their main relationship is with alcohol and alcohol has pushed all other deeper relationships out of the person’s life. Learn more about the impacts of alcoholism on relationships here.

Alcoholism takes a huge toll on the family of the alcoholic, as they deal every day with the consequences of this disease. Spouses, siblings, parents, and even children end up taking care of the alcoholic, making excuses for them, and assuming their responsibilities. Children of alcoholics often suffer the most, with family life that is chaotic, unstructured, abusive, and neglectful. Families of alcoholics struggle with work, school, and relationships. They experience a range of emotions, from anger and disappointment to depression and fear, often walking on eggshells and living in a state of uncertainty.

Getting Rehab

Most people make the mistake of waiting too long to get help for alcohol addiction. Getting to rehab earlier makes the entire process simpler as it is easier to reverse the effects of the disease if it hasn’t completely taken over the person’s life. But successful alcohol rehab can happen at any time, and it is better to get help no matter how advanced the alcoholism is, as opposed to letting the alcoholism kill while seriously damaging close loved ones.

If you or a loved one is caught up with alcohol abuse or alcohol dependence, don’t wait for things to get worse. Find a rehab program that can help you take back control. Visit our other pages to learn about finding a good alcohol rehab.