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How can you tell if you have a drinking problem? How do you talk to a loved one about their drinking? What are the treatment options for alcoholism? You will find answers to these questions and many more on this page about heavy drinking and alcoholism

What is Alcoholism?

Alcoholism, also known as alcohol addiction or alcohol use disorder (AUD), is a chronic medical condition defined by a compromised ability to limit or stop drinking alcohol – even in the face of negative physical, social or legal consequences. 

Drinking alcohol is legal in the U.S. and most parts of the world. This means that alcohol is both readily available and socially acceptable for most people. It also means that alcoholism is the most common substance use disorder in the world. 

Light to moderate drinking does not usually lead to physical or mental health problems for most people. However, people who are predisposed to addiction often find that their drinking eventually becomes difficult to control. 

People who are addicted to alcohol feel compelled to drink, even in the face of serious consequences to their health, relationships, careers, or finances.  For a person with alcoholism, drinking becomes an almost irresistible compulsion. This is the key difference between being addicted to alcohol and simply “enjoying drinking”. 

Treating alcoholism early is key to successful recovery since it can cause great psychological and physical harm.

Alcoholism is:

  • Characterized by a compulsion to consume alcohol despite negative consequences.
  • A chronic medical condition that can be managed with the right help.  
  • The most common substance use disorder in the world.
  • Not the fault of the person suffering from it.

What Are the Signs of Alcoholism?

There are a few ways to tell if you or a loved one may have an alcohol use disorder (AUD). First, remember that alcoholism is about your relationship with alcohol. Someone can drink more than they should, but not necessarily be addicted to alcohol. It isn’t the amount of alcohol consumed that decides whether or not a person is alcoholic. Rather it is their behavior. Especially when faced with consequences due to drinking too much.

A person who successfully reduces or stops drinking altogether after they notice it is impacting their work, for example, likely does not have alcoholism. Someone who is addicted to alcohol, on the other hand, will often continue to drink even in the face of serious negative effects on their health or well-being. They may attempt to cut back or quit but find it almost impossible to avoid picking up alcohol again.

If drinking takes precedence over anything else in your life or puts your health at risk and you are struggling to cut back or quit, you have a problem.

Signs and symptoms of an alcohol use disorder can include:

  • Frequently feeling a strong urge or craving to drink alcohol
  • Blackout drinking (drinking and then forgetting what happened)
  • Developing a tolerance to alcohol; drinking more and more to feel the same effect
  • Continuing to drink even if it interferes with work and relationships
  • Drinking alcohol in unsafe situations, such as driving
  • Giving up hobbies or social activities due to drinking
  • Hiding alcohol in different places to ensure access
  • Drinking alone or secretly


Alcohol Addiction and Denial

Many people who have a substance use disorder will deny that they have a problem. It is not unusual for someone with a drinking problem to go to great lengths to conceal their addiction. What makes denial especially dangerous is that people in crisis with a substance use disorder don’t only deny this reality to others, they are often in denial about the problem themselves. This denial quickly becomes an obstacle to getting help and can allow alcoholism to progress.

Breaking through denial is difficult. There are no easy answers or magic tricks here, unfortunately. When talking to someone who is in denial about their drinking problem, it’s important not to accuse them of anything you aren’t certain about. Remember to focus on your concerns, rather than shame or blame. In some cases, a family intervention may be necessary to get someone the help they need, so don’t rule that out as a possibility. Remember too that interventions are far more successful when they are well-planned and led by a professional.

How Do I Talk to a Loved One About Their Drinking?

This is a complicated subject, but the short answer is “with kindness and acceptance”. You must temper your anger and disappointment. This is not the time for blame, even if the person has done real harm to themselves or others with their drinking. Remember that your goal is to get them to admit they have a problem that they cannot overcome alone and to accept help.

The time for accountability and amends and so forth comes later. Patience, love and tolerance are the key here. Note, when we talk about acceptance and tolerance, we do not mean accepting that someone is going to continue in a downward spiral of alcoholism and that you should simply tolerate it.

What we’re really saying is: Try to appreciate how hard this is for them and remember that they are sick. As far as the acceptance goes, you must accept the fact that your first appeal to them may fall on deaf ears. The main thing is for them to know that you know they are struggling. That you love them and you are there to support them

When talking to someone about their drinking:

  • Temper your anger, frustration, or disappointment.
  • Remember your goal is for them to accept help
  • Be kind and understanding.
  • Don’t just talk, Listen.
  • Make yourself available.

If you would like to talk about ways you can help your loved one who is struggling with alcohol, please give us a call. Most of us have personal experience with alcoholism and addiction. We understand how challenging it can be to watch someone you love on a path to destruction. More importantly, we know how to help so you can avert disaster.

Let’s talk about it. (877) 790-5873

Women and Alcoholism

Approximately 17% of women aged 18-25 have an alcohol use disorder per a 2020 study. The reality is that women suffering with alcoholism are often less visible than men. There are several reasons for this. Women often play the caretaker role in a family; this can mean that when a woman has a problem, she feels like she must handle it herself. After all, if mom is the one everyone turns to when they’re in trouble, mom can’t be the one in trouble herself, can she?

Another reason why women with alcohol use disorder may be less visible include behavior. Women tend to be less violent, and less likely to get DUIs or face legal consequences due to their drinking. Furthermore, if a woman is in a relationship with a man who also has an alcohol use disorder, her battle may be overlooked.

At North Jersey Recovery Center, we are dedicated to raising awareness about women with alcohol use disorders. We offer gender-specific approaches to alcoholism treatment as well as individual, group, and family therapy.

How Does Alcohol Affect Physical and Mental Health?

Alcohol affects the health of both the body and the brain. As a central nervous system (CNS) depressant, alcohol slows down brain activity. Although alcohol can have stimulant properties at first, these effects will gradually decrease as you continue to drink. 

When you first drink alcohol, it binds to receptors in the brain for the neurotransmitter gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA), which produces feelings of sedation and well-being. It also releases the neurotransmitter dopamine, associated with feelings of reward and pleasure.

At the same time, alcohol limits glutamate, which sends important signals to other cells. As a result, judgment becomes impaired and reaction time slows down. Alcohol also dulls the senses and is responsible for the suppression of heart rate and breathing.

Over a period of years, moderate to heavy alcohol consumption takes a toll on the body and can lead to conditions ranging from cirrhosis of the liver to brain damage and various cancers. Alcohol is very hard on the body and mind; don’t underestimate just how much damage it can do. 

Alcoholism is associated with many physical health problems including:

  • Heart failure
  • Brain damage
  • Memory loss
  • Liver disease
  • High blood pressure
  • Pancreatitis
  • Diabetes
  • Gastritis

The Dangers of Alcohol Withdrawal

Alcohol is one of the only drug types that have deadly withdrawal symptoms. The other two are benzodiazepines and barbiturates. Any person who drinks regularly enough to experience withdrawal symptoms when they stop drinking should NOT stop drinking abruptly

The safest choice is always to go to an alcoholism treatment center and complete a medically monitored withdrawal management program. Unsupervised alcohol withdrawal is more than just unpleasant – it can kill you. While fatal seizures in alcohol withdrawal aren’t common, they remain a serious risk, especially when a person attempts to quit drinking by the ‘cold turkey’ method. 

Alcohol withdrawal symptoms include:

  • Anxiety/restlessness
  • Cold, clammy skin
  • Sleeplessness
  • Sweating and shaking
  • Irritability or agitation
  • Disorientation 
  • Seizures

Alcohol Tolerance vs. Dependence: What’s the Difference?

As people drink more and more, they build up a tolerance to alcohol, meaning that they need higher amounts of it to achieve the same effect. This can happen even with healthy social drinkers who consume responsibly, and people who weigh more than others can generally “handle” more alcohol.

However, alcohol dependence is a more serious issue than alcohol tolerance. A person with a high alcohol tolerance can simply handle a larger amount of alcohol without losing their faculties. This also means they need to drink more to get drunk, of course.

A person with alcohol dependence on the other hand, must drink daily or almost every day simply to function. An alcohol-dependent individual who goes without alcohol (or a sedative like a benzodiazepine) for an extended period will begin to go into alcohol withdrawal. How long someone can go without a drink is generally dependent on how advanced their alcoholism is. Anyone dependent on alcohol will also have a relatively high tolerance.

Like any substance use disorder, alcoholism lies on a spectrum. Some people with serious alcohol use disorder might be homeless and destitute due to their drinking. Others are considered “functioning alcoholics”—meaning they drink regularly and to excess, but they are still managing to hold down a job, keep a roof over their heads, and “function” more or less.

The one constant with alcoholism though is that it is a progressive illness. Over any given period of time, it becomes progressively worse, not better – unless the person receives treatment for their alcoholism and embraces a lifestyle of recovery.

Alcohol tolerance vs. alcohol dependence:

  • Someone with a high tolerance to alcohol can drink more than most.
  • A person who is dependent on alcohol must drink in order to function.
  • Someone with a high tolerance will need to drink more to get drunk.
  • A person who is dependent on alcohol will experience withdrawal if they don’t drink.

How Much Alcohol is Too Much?

Most people overestimate how much alcohol is considered “moderate”. According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, moderate drinking is defined as no more than 1 drink per day for women or 2 drinks or less per day for men. A standard drink is considered 12 ounces of regular beer, 8 to 9 ounces of malt liquor, 5 ounces of wine, or 1.5 ounces of 80-proof hard liquor (a shot).

Heavy drinking is defined as 8 drinks or more per week for a woman and 15 drinks or more per week for a man. A good rule is that if your drinking is causing any sort of negative consequences to your health, social life, career or schooling – then it’s too much. If you can cut back on your own, more power to you. If you find it difficult or impossible to curtail your drinking despite the consequences, then it’s time to ask for help. We’re only a phone call away at (877) 790-5873.

What is Binge Drinking?

Simply put, binge drinking is drinking with the intent of getting drunk. A glass of wine or two with dinner or casual social drinking after work doesn’t qualify, even if you catch a little buzz. But when you drink to the degree that you’re having balance problems slurring your speech or acting out of character, that’s a good sign it’s binge drinking.

Officially, the Centers for Disease Control defines binge drinking as 5 or more drinks for men and 4 or more drinks for women in 2 hours. Binge drinking is generally associated with younger people. It is most common among people ages 18 to 34, but more than half of the people who binge drink are ages 35 and older, so it’s not the sole domain of frat parties and college hijinx.

About 1 in 6 adults binge drink about 4 times a month, drinking about 7-8 beverages per binge episode, studies show. Surprisingly, the majority of binge drinkers do not have a dependency on alcohol. Generally, these are people who drink to excess on weekends but do not need to drink during the week to function or avoid withdrawal symptoms.

Most people simply outgrow binge drinking behavior. They grow older and have children, family or other responsibilities, which naturally curbs their drinking. However, people who are more predisposed to alcohol use disorder and who begin binge drinking in high school or college often find alcohol challenging to put down and become daily drinkers. It is said that alcoholism is “cunning, baffling, and powerful.” We think that’s an apt description. If alcoholism has managed to sneak up on you or someone you love, North Jersey Recovery Center can help.

The CDC guidelines on levels of alcohol consumption:

  • Moderate drinking: 1 drink per day for women or 2 drinks per day for men.
  • Heavy drinking: 8+ drinks a week for women or 15+ drinks a week for men.
  • Binge drinking: 5+ drinks for men or 4+ drinks for women over a 2-hour period.
Binge Drinking in College Students

Binge drinking has been a problem on college campuses all over the country for decades.

While it’s quite common, it can have serious consequences on physical and mental health. You could unintentionally injure yourself, engage in risky sexual behavior, or put people around you in danger. Increasing awareness about binge drinking in college and stricter rules on fraternity houses have helped mitigate the problem somewhat, but it remains a serious concern for parents and faculty alike.

What Causes Alcoholism?

The brain is still the most mysterious organ in the human body. We are only beginning to understand its inner workings. There is still a lot we do not know about addiction. But research into the causes of alcoholism is ongoing and we have learned a great deal in just the past few decades. 

The demand for effective alcoholism treatment in New Jersey and the rest of the country is helping to drive this research. Evidence-based addiction treatment centers like North Jersey Recovery Center rely upon the outcomes of this research to build more effective alcoholism treatment programs. 

From what we know so far, alcoholism may be caused by a combination of genes, behavior, and pre-existing conditions like depression and anxiety. Just because a person is predisposed to become addicted to alcohol, that doesn’t necessarily mean they will. However, managing risk is an important factor in avoiding addiction and maintaining sobriety in recovery.

What Factors Increase Your Risk of Alcoholism?

Becoming aware of the key factors that raise the risk of developing an alcohol use disorder (AUD) is a good way to avoid the pitfalls of addiction. If you have experienced addiction already, knowledge of these factors can help you safeguard your recovery. The better your understanding of AUD, the more likely you are to be able to help yourself or your loved one.

Factors that may increase your risk of becoming addicted to alcohol:

  • Drinking at an early age.
  • Family history of alcoholism/addiction (genetics).
  • Mental health conditions like depression, PTSD or anxiety.
  • A history of Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) or other trauma.

Is Alcoholism Genetic?

Scientists believe there is a genetic component to alcoholism for many sufferers. Current research indicates that genetics are responsible for roughly half the risk of developing alcoholism. This is one of the reasons why doctors and therapists often ask about a family history of alcoholism. If you have a family history of alcoholism, you may want to consider abstaining from alcohol and be especially cautious when it comes to using any mind or mood-altering substances.

The Connection Between Alcoholism and Trauma

Early childhood trauma is closely associated with alcohol addiction. Research has shown that trauma early in life can cause permanent changes to the brain. Alcohol use disorder may develop in people with mental health disorders when they turn to alcohol for relief from their symptoms, sometimes referred to as ‘self-medicating’. If a person learns to turn to a substance for relief before their brain is fully developed, this can make an addiction to alcohol or another substance especially challenging to overcome.

Getting Help for Alcoholism in New Jersey

If you or someone you love has an alcohol use disorder, you’re in the right place. Watching someone you love battle alcoholism can be incredibly painful and leave you feeling powerless and hopeless. Wrestling with alcohol dependence yourself can be a nightmarish struggle. The good news is that in either case, you are only alone if you choose to be.

Preparing for Alcohol Treatment: Alcohol Detox

The first step in treatment for alcoholism is usually what’s called a medical detox. This is often done on an inpatient basis. A patient will be admitted to an alcohol detox in New Jersey, or their state of residence. In alcohol detox, patients are carefully monitored and medications are administered for comfort and safety. Without a medical detox, alcohol withdrawal can have very unpleasant side effects and even be potentially dangerous. An inpatient alcohol detox generally takes between 4-7 days depending on several factors.

Factors that determine the length of an alcohol detox can include:

  • The patient’s age and relative physical health.
  • How much alcohol the patient is drinking and whether or not other drugs are involved.
  • The number of years the patient has been drinking.
  • Other medical issues the patient may have.
  • Any history of seizures in withdrawal.
Partial Hospitalization Program for Alcohol Use Disorder

Once the patient has completed a medical detox, they can begin their regular treatment at North Jersey Recovery Center. The next phase at NJRC is usually our partial care (PHP) program which consists of a full day of treatment, 5 days a week. During this phase of care, patients receive intensive individual and group therapy.

The evidence-based alcohol treatment program at NJRC is designed to both get to the root causes of alcoholism and help you develop tools for personal growth. Recovery is a lifelong process – our focus here is not only on getting you well, but bringing you to a place where you are both resilient against relapse and empowered to continue to grow.

Intensive Outpatient Program for Alcohol Use Disorder

When patients complete their alcohol detox and partial hospitalization program, they are eligible to enter NJRC’s intensive outpatient program (IOP) for alcoholism. Some patients may begin their treatment at this level of care under certain circumstances, for example, someone who has already completed treatment before and has a “slip” or just needs more support than standard outpatient counseling can offer.

During IOP treatment, clients live at home or in a supportive living housing arrangement and attend treatment 2-3 days a week for a few hours at a time. This makes IOP very flexible and easier to fit into a busy schedule that may include work or school. NJRC also offers evening IOP sessions to make that even easier.

Therapy in Rehab for Alcohol Addiction

Therapy for alcohol addiction at NJRC is very thorough and includes individual, group, and family therapy sessions. We utilize proven, evidence-based methods of care here including Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) and Dialectical behavior therapy (DBT), among others. The goal in therapy is to help you gain a greater understanding of your condition, but also instill in you the skills and coping mechanisms that will help you succeed in recovery long after your treatment with us is complete.

Alcohol Rehab at North Jersey Recovery Center

Alcoholism is a very challenging condition. However, the state of addiction treatment is more advanced than ever before and there is good reason to have hope! As one of the leading alcohol rehab facilities in the Northeastern U.S., North Jersey Recovery Center stays at the forefront of developments in evidence-based addiction care. To put it simply–we use the best of what works. Our clinically proven therapy methods and approaches to care are designed to help you or the one you love to build lasting recovery. 

There’s just one catch. We can only help if you call. If you are ready to avail yourself of everything the best alcohol treatment program in New Jersey has to offer, or you just have questions, give us a call. You can reach us anytime, 24 hours a day at  (877) 790-5873.

Clinically reviewed by Dr. Suzanne Salamanca, PhD., APN, PMHNP-BC