Alcohol dependence occurs when he or she needs to drink... to be able to carry out his or her normal daily functions. While drinking large amounts of alcohol can be dangerous, being able to drink large quantities of alcohol with fewer ill effects than average drinkers is not necessarily a sign of or a precursor to alcohol dependence. Alcohol dependence occurs not when a drinker simply can handle large amounts of alcohol, but rather when he or she needs to drink any quantity of alcohol in order to avoid withdrawal symptoms or to be able to carry out his or her normal daily functions and responsibilities.
Building Up Tolerance and Alcohol Dependency
Indeed, alcoholics build up alcohol tolerance as they drink more and more in order to satisfy their physical cravings and psychological addictions to alcohol. However, healthy social drinkers, who are in no danger of becoming alcoholics, also increase their alcohol tolerance over years of responsible consumption. First of all, alcohol tolerance increases with body weight. A healthy 250-pound weightlifting enthusiast may occasionally consume ten or twelve drinks at a party or similar event, and seem to have no ill effects from the alcohol. However, such a person is not only under no danger of developing alcohol dependence, but once weight is taken into account, this individual is only exhibiting slightly above average alcohol tolerance. Another example of healthy drinkers who develop a high degree of alcohol tolerance is illustrated by people of Mediterranean heritage who consume wine at every meal. The wine does not have any harmful effects at all on their immediate or long-term mental or physical well-being. In fact, research has shown that their regular consumption of wine actually helps to preserve their overall health.
Alcoholism and Chemical Dependency Treatment
Alcoholism and chemical dependency treatment can help someone who has a problem with both drugs and alcohol get his or her life back on track. Combining drugs and alcohol can be more dangerous than taking just one substance, so getting prompt treatment is essential.
On the other hand, if a person builds up tolerance gradually because he or she needs to ingest more and more alcohol in order to feel its mind-altering effects and achieve a feeling of escape from reality, alcohol dependency treatment is in order. This is the first step of alcohol dependence, and if treatment is initiated at this stage, it can prevent a downward spiral in which the alcoholic becomes more and more dependent upon higher and higher amounts of alcohol. Since large amounts of alcohol cause damage to the liver, brain and other vital organs, an alcoholic who has developed high tolerance to the immediate, intoxicating effects of alcohol is at risk for permanent, disabling and even fatal complications of alcohol abuse.
If you or a loved one is struggling with the need to consume more and more alcohol just to get through the day, please call our 24-hour alcohol information line to find out more about treatment programs for alcohol dependence.
What Are the Symptoms of an Alcoholic?
There is absolutely no danger involved when a person who does not consume alcohol in order to escape or in order to relieve cravings realizes that his or her alcohol tolerance has increased. Even eating a heavy meal together with alcohol can increase tolerance, so tolerance in itself is not dangerous. The real signs of alcohol dependence do include alcohol tolerance, but only when that tolerance is manifested on a regular and dangerous basis. A whisky connoisseur who enjoys going to a club to sample new malts every month or so, and who consumes a few extra shots of a favorite single malt at each tasting event without any immediate effects, is not in any way at risk of much other than a possible hangover.
Alcohol dependency treatment aims to break alcohol dependence with both physical and psychological therapy. However, a professional who consistently leaves the office to "grab a few drinks," or does not even admit that the reason he or she is often absent from the office more than once during the day is related to a consumption of alcohol, is clearly showing signs of dependency. The successful attorney who became accustomed to taking a shot or two of bourbon before an important case, but who has now progressed to drinking a pint of inexpensive vodka or gin before even the most routine hearing, is clearly in need of alcohol dependency treatment.
Alcohol dependency treatment aims to break alcohol dependence with both physical detoxification and psychological therapy. Detoxification, in which the physical symptoms of abrupt alcohol withdrawal are treated, is usually the first step of a successful course of alcohol treatment. Detoxification requires the use of potent medications that affect the central nervous system, so it is usually carried out in an inpatient setting. After detoxification, cognitive and behavioral therapy are usually initiated to help alcohol dependence rehabilitation patients find other ways of relieving stress or other pressures that may have led them to consume alcohol in a harmful manner. A medication called naltrexone may also be prescribed for alcohol dependence, especially during the early stages of alcohol dependency treatment, as it has been proven to reduce cravings for alcohol in patients who have developed a high degree of alcohol tolerance.
A combination of initial residential alcohol dependency treatment and follow-up outpatient and support care is usually the best way to treat alcohol dependence.
If you or your loved one cannot stop drinking excessive amounts of alcohol on a regular basis, please call our 24-hour alcohol information hotline. We will help you find the right treatment program that breaks the grip of alcohol dependence.