alcohol drinking problem

Recently, a family friend went to seek help for his alcohol addiction.

He initially went to a rehabilitation facility, but they told him that he needed to be admitted to a hospital for doctor-monitored detoxification. He was then taken to a major hospital where he was admitted into the intensive care unit so they could help him and monitor him very closely.

When talking to people about this, many people were confused by the differences between alcoholism and alcohol poisoning, and what happens in a medical detoxification. For starters, alcoholism, which is now known as “alcohol use disorder” is when a person has a desire or a physical need to consume alcohol, even though it has a negative impact on their lives.

Alcohol poisoning, on the other hand, is when a person has consumed a toxic amount of alcohol over a short period of time. Alcohol use disorder can take months to years to decades, while alcohol abuse can happen within an hour or less.

When one has an alcohol use disorder, the body can severely pay the price for it. Alcohol is considered a toxic substance and can wreak havoc on about everything. For a few examples, it can cause pancreatitis, chronic liver inflammation and liver disease, hyper- or hypoglycemia or diabetes, frontal lobe damage —which is the area responsible for emotional control, short-term memory and judgment — malnutrition, digestive disorders, ulcers, hemorrhoids, all kinds of cancer, heart disease, sexual dysfunctions, higher risk of miscarriage, muscle atrophy and pneumonia, to name a few.

Alcohol poisoning is a life-threatening condition which symptoms include confusion, abnormal breathing to very slow breathing, vomiting, hypothermia, pale skin and being conscious but unresponsive which can lead into passing out. In severe cases, the person may be unresponsive and not breathing. They need immediate medical attention or they may die. Once in the hospital, they will treat the patient for the poisoning, usually without lasting effects.

For those with alcohol use disorder, medical detoxification is necessary when one is seeking treatment. The safest place is in a hospital under managed care. When one is coming off of using alcohol after prolonged usage, your body goes into withdrawals. Withdrawal symptoms may include, anxiety, sweating, nausea, insomnia, headaches, pain, tremors, seizures, extreme hallucinations, disorientation and in rare cases, delirium tremens.

For those with AUD, their brains and bodies have developed a cellular need for the drug and when it is removed from the system, it takes time for their systems to adapt. In medical detox, their heart rates and blood pressures are monitored to make sure that their condition doesn’t worsen. There is a possibility of death in some cases, which is why being in managed care is so important.

If you are struggling with an alcohol addiction, there are places to go for help. If you or a loved one has alcohol use disorder, please seek medical treatment for help with detoxification.

Along with this, there are many AA groups that meet along the Wasatch Front. A quick Google search can show you where and when. If you are the family member of an alcoholic, consider joining an AL-ANON or Alateen group. AL-ANON’s mission is to help the friends and family members of alcoholics find solutions to common problems within this issue. All in all, there are services out there to help. Please seek them out if you are in need of them.

Dr. Merilee Larsen is an assistant professor at Utah Valley University.

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