The social acceptability and expectations surrounding alcohol use can make it difficult to recognize when one’s drinking has become a problem. Alcohol use disorders are typically defined as drinking that has gotten out of control, causing harm to one’s health, financial trouble, legal issues or social problems. A person can have a mild, moderate or acute case of an alcohol use disorder. The severity of the illness is determined based on factors such as frequency and heaviness of one’s alcohol consumption, impact on one’s life, and difficulty ceasing use.

What Are the Signs and Symptoms of an Alcohol Use Disorder?

Despite societal norms surrounding alcohol use and drinking, misuse and abuse of alcohol can be detrimental to one’s health and well-being. While it may not always be easy to identify an alcohol use disorder, knowing the signs can help. Potential symptoms of disordered drinking include:

  • Engaging in risky behaviors while under the influence of alcohol
  • Increased tolerance, requiring more alcohol to feel desired effects
  • Experiencing frequent alcohol withdrawal symptoms (hangovers)
  • Changes in normal routines and activities to spend more time drinking
  • Drinking for a longer timeframe than intended
  • Hiding or becoming defensive about the frequency of alcohol use
  • Using alcohol to cope with difficult emotions like stress, sadness, or anxiety
  • Needing alcohol for social interactions
  • Continuing to drink despite despite negative social, economic, or legal repercussions

Two or more of these symptoms may signify a problematic drinking habit, which should not be ignored. Alcohol abuse and addiction is a serious mental and physical health disorder that may have dire consequences if left unchecked.

What Are the Dangers of Long-Term Alcohol Abuse?

Prolonged excessive drinking can cause serious, potentially life threatening health conditions, such as:

Cirrhosis

Cirrhosis is a serious liver condition caused by long-term alcohol abuse or other health conditions such as Hepatitis. It is a form of late stage scarring of the liver, causing poor organ function and potential liver failure. Often seen in the terminal stages of chronic liver disease, cirrhosis of the liver is non-reversible. However, a healthy lifestyle and early intervention can mitigate the health impact of the disease.

Cirrhosis of the liver typically develops slowly over the span of several months or years. Symptoms often include:

  • Yellowing of the skin
  • Fatigue
  • Muscular weakness
  • Loss of appetite
  • Easy or more frequent bruising
  • Swelling in the abdomen or lower extremities
  • Confusion
  • Difficulty speaking

Delirium Tremens

Delirium tremens is the most serious form of alcohol withdrawal. It presents with confusion, autonomic hyperactivity and the potential for cardiovascular collapse. People experiencing delirium tremens may develop symptoms such as:

  • Hallucinations
  • Fever
  • Hypertension
  • Disorientation
  •  Diaphoresis
  •  Agitation
  •  Seizures
  • Tachycardia

As a potentially fatal form of withdrawal, risk of delirium tremens is why ‘quitting cold turkey’ is ill-advised for people living with alcohol abuse disorders. Immediate medical attention is necessary for anyone experiencing delirium tremens to prevent tragedy.

Organ Damage

The organs that may be affected by long-term alcohol abuse include the:

Pancreas

Pancreatitis is a potential health effect caused by long-term alcohol abuse. Damage to the pancreas can have lasting health effects, as it regulates many of the hormones responsible for normal body functioning. One may develop secondary health conditions such as diabetes.

Heart

Heart problems can result from heavy drinking. Long-term alcoholism is a leading cause of heart disease and can lead to high blood pressure, arrhythmias, cardiomyopathy and stroke.

Kidneys

With long-term alcohol abuse, the kidneys can suffer significantly due to inflammation and toxicity. The kidneys can be overworked and be damaged due to high blood pressure, leading to kidney disease.

Brain

Alcohol affects the brain negatively. It can cause irreversible brain damage as well as contributing to depression, bipolar disorder, antisocial personality disorder and anxiety. The brain damage caused may or may not be reversible, depending on the amount of alcohol used and extent of the damage.

Liver

Fatty liver, alcoholic hepatitis, cirrhosis and fibrosis can all occur when the liver is overworked by excessive alcohol ingestion.

Stomach

Acid reflux, gastritis, internal bleeding, diarrhea, ulcers and other digestive issues can be a result of long-term alcohol abuse.

Long-Term Alcohol Rehab: Medically Assisted Detox

Despite social perceptions regarding safety and acceptability, alcohol is one of the most dangerous, legally obtainable controlled substances in the United States. Due to its potential for detrimental health effects, attempting to withdraw from alcohol use without medical supervisions is not advised. Medically assisted detox as part of a long-term alcohol rehab plan can help one safely and effectively overcome alcohol abuse for lasting success in sobriety.

Medically assisted detox begins with a comprehensive assessment to determine one’s specific needs. This includes a physical exam to identify underlying health conditions which may require medical attention throughout the course of care. Following the exam, a mental health assessment may also be required to address the psychological aspects of alcohol abuse and recovery.

Typically, medically assisted detox programs last between seven and ten days with 24 hour monitoring and supervision to ensure one’s comfort and safety. During this time, medications prescribed to treat the symptoms of withdrawal are administered under the direct supervision of a medical professional. One may also begin addressing the underlying causes of substance abuse through group dynamic therapy and developing plans for long-term alcohol rehab.

At Discovery Point Retreat, our full continuum of care makes transitioning from detox to the next level of care simple. By keeping our client population low, we are able to provide the direct, personalized level of care necessary for effective addiction treatment.

Treatment Beyond Detox: Long-Term Alcohol Rehab Options

Medically assisted detox is only the first step in one’s recovery journey. As a disorder affecting both the mind and body, alcohol abuse often stems from deeper rooted traumas or untreated mental health conditions. Without addressing the psychological aspects of addiction, one is left vulnerable to relapse, which presents its own dangers.

Seeking additional treatment for alcohol abuse greatly increases one’s chances of maintaining a commitment to sober living. Long-term alcohol rehab provides the guidance and support necessary for navigating the root causes of addiction. By working with a team of dedicated addiction specialists, one is able to develop the life skills and tools necessary for success in sobriety. This includes relapse prevention, healthy coping mechanisms, and effective communication skills. 

Long-term alcohol rehab is not one-size-fits-all and requires an individualized approach to recovery. While progressing through the full continuum of care provides the best chances for lasting success, this may not be feasible for all clients. Treatment options available for those seeking help with alcohol abuse include:

  • Inpatient residential treatment
  • Partial Hospitalization
  • Intensive Outpatient
  • Outpatient

Inpatient Treatment

The most commonly recognized form of alcohol addiction treatment is inpatient rehab. Through this program, clients reside in a secure treatment or housing facility to eliminate external temptations and distractions from the recovery process. As a residential form of addiction treatment, inpatient care promotes focus on one’s self and personal journey of recovery. Group settings and communal living also encourages peer support and connection with others on a similar path.

During this time, group dynamic therapy and individual sessions are used to help one build a foundation for a sober and healthy future. Case management support and other supplemental programs may also be available to ensure the first steps into sobriety are steady and secure.

Partial Hospitalization

Partial hospitalization programs (PHP) offer a similar level of dedicated, direct care as inpatient treatment without requiring one to reside at a treatment facility or in housing. Clients participate in therapy sessions for about eight hours per day before returning home or to a sober living community. While this level of care is often used as a transitional step between inpatient and outpatient levels of care, it may be a suitable initial stage of treatment for some clients.

PHPs require a certain level of personal accountability and external support to be successful. Because one is returning to a separate location each night, this home environment must be conducive to maintaining sobriety. Others within the home must be willing and able to act as a system of support for those in treatment, up to and including intervention for potential relapse. For some, finding housing in a sober living facility is the best alternative.

Clients in partial hospitalization programs may be subject to regular and randomized drug screenings to ensure their continued commitment to sobriety. 

Intensive Outpatient Programs

Intensive outpatient programs (IOP) extends the support and guidance of inpatient levels of care while allowing for greater freedom to explore life in recovery. While clients continue to attend group and individual therapy sessions multiple times per week, flexible scheduling options are available. This allows one to attend to life obligations such as work, school, or home responsibilities while still maintaining a focus on recovery.

Similarly to partial hospitalization, intensive outpatient programs require an increased level of personal accountability and external support. While support groups can help in discussing common challenges in early recovery, having a personal support network in place is integral to relapse prevention. Finding means of staying busy is also important, so clients are encouraged to seek employment, higher education, or pursue other interests.

Outpatient Programs

Outpatient treatment provides the most independence while still maintaining regular check-ins for one’s mental health and continued success in sobriety. For long-term alcohol rehab, outpatient programs are intended to allow clients to regroup and re-center themselves as needed. While some elect to continue attending regular weekly or monthly group sessions, others may only participate when feeling in need of extra support. Outpatient programs are not typically recommended for those who are new to recovery, as a greater level of dedicated care is necessary for establishing the foundation of one’s sober life.

If you’re ready to begin your journey of recovery, call us today. Discovery Point Retreat’s long-term alcohol rehab is here to help you succeed!