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Substance Abuse and Addiction - Topic Overview

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What are some signs of alcohol abuse or dependence?

Certain behaviors may mean that you're having trouble with alcohol. These include:

  • Drinking in the morning, often being drunk for long periods of time, or drinking alone.
  • Changing what you drink, such as switching from beer to wine because you think it will help you drink less or keep you from getting drunk.
  • Feeling guilty after drinking.
  • Making excuses for your drinking or doing things to hide your drinking, such as buying alcohol at different stores.
  • Not remembering what you did while you were drinking (blackouts).
  • Worrying that you won't get enough alcohol for an evening or weekend.

How are alcohol problems diagnosed?

Alcohol problems may be diagnosed at a routine doctor visit or when you see your doctor for another problem. If a partner or friend thinks you have an alcohol problem, he or she may urge you to see your doctor.

Your doctor will ask questions about your symptoms and past health, and he or she will do a physical exam and sometimes a mental health assessment. The mental health assessment checks to see whether you may have a mental health problem, such as depression.

Your doctor also may ask questions or do tests to look for health problems linked to alcohol, such as cirrhosis.

How are they treated?

Treatment depends on how bad your alcohol problem is. Some people are able to cut back to a moderate level of drinking with help from a counselor. People who are addicted to alcohol may need medical treatment and may need to stay in a hospital or treatment center.

Your doctor may decide you need detoxification, or detox, before you start treatment. You need detox when you are physically addicted to alcohol. When you go through detox, you may need medicine to help with withdrawal symptoms.

After detox, you focus on staying alcohol-free, or sober. Most people receive some type of therapy, such as group counseling. You also may need medicine to help you stay sober.

When you are sober, you've taken the first step toward recovery. To gain full recovery, you need to take steps to improve other areas of your life, such as learning to deal with work and family. This makes it easier to stay sober.

You will likely need support to stay sober and in recovery. This can include counseling and support groups like Alcoholics Anonymous. Recovery is a long-term process, not something you can achieve in a few weeks.

Treatment doesn't focus on alcohol use alone. It addresses other parts of your life, like your relationships, work, medical problems, and living situation. Treatment and recovery support you in making positive changes so you can live without alcohol.

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