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Alcohol Addiction in Massachusetts

What Is Alcohol Addiction?

Alcohol addiction is a physical need for alcohol that manifests itself in the form of strong cravings and unpleasant physical symptoms if the addicted individual goes too long without it. Usually an alcohol addict will need a drink at least once every eight hours or so, or they will begin to feel these cravings and symptoms.

Alcohol addiction has come to largely be accepted by the medical community as a disease. It is not something that one can quit “cold turkey” or simply will their way out of. A period of supervised medical detox is one of the initial steps of recovery. This is usually followed by a longer period of medical supervision and peer support meetings to manage lingering cravings and triggers that might draw one back into alcohol use.

How Does Alcohol Addiction Develop?

Addiction eventually develops with enough regular exposure to alcohol. The common pattern of alcohol abuse, where the user develops a tolerance and has to increase their dosage each time they use it to get the same effect, greatly accelerates this process.

As with other addictive substances, the use of alcohol gradually “re-wires” the brain in a sense. It disrupts the production of dopamine, the chemical that naturally induces pleasant and relaxing feelings in the brain. Alcohol gradually becomes necessary for dopamine to be produced, and the body starts viewing it as a core necessity for survival — just as important as food and water.

Alcohol Addiction Statistics in Massachusetts

 

Alcohol abuse is second only to the use of heroin in frequency in Massachusetts. According to statistics collected by the National Substance Abuse Index, about 14,000 of the roughly 75,000 people that seek substance abuse treatment each year in the state do so for alcohol abuse. An additional 12,000 seek treatment for alcohol abuse concurrent with abuse of another substance. The majority group is white men between the ages of 31 and 50.

A 2015 study by the CDC also found that Massachusetts had a rate of alcohol poisoning that was in the top 25% of all the states. In keeping with the above statistics, middle-aged white men were found to be the group that was disproportionately affected.

Though the problem is heaviest among middle-aged men, the roots of it may start early in life. 15% of high school students surveyed by the state Office of Adolescent Health reported that they started drinking before the age of 13, and a whopping 40% of them reported having at least one drink in the 30 days before they took the survey. The genders were both represented relatively evenly in these results, suggesting that the drinking problem in Massachusetts may actually be set to expand even more over time.

Alcohol Content

It’s important to understand how different beverages vary in their alcohol content. Not all drinks contain equal amounts of the substance. Drinks are labeled in terms of “alcohol by volume” (ABV), or the volume percent of alcohol that is present in the drink.

Beer is usually the most lightweight of the beverages, with an ABV ranging from about 2.5% for some light beers to over 10% for some bocks, stouts and ales. ABV on the most common and inexpensive brands (such as Budweiser and Coors) tends to hover around 5%, however.

Wine is the next step up in alcohol content. Wine is generally a bit more powerful than the most potent beers, coming in at about 12 to 17% ABV.

Drinks above the ABV of wine are generally classified as “hard liquor” or “spirits” and often have unique restrictions on their sale. The general range for these is about 20% for fortified wine on one end and about 50% for a strong whiskey on the other, with most spirits falling somewhere in the middle. Certain specialty drinks like absinthe can go as high as 70% ABV, however.

Though beer is the lightest, it still does not take a large amount to get a person drunk. A beer drinker will also build tolerance and have to take in greater quantities or start consuming harder drinks over time.

Alcohol Exposure and Health Dangers

Short Term Risks

Even in small amounts, alcohol slows reaction time and dulls reflexes. When indulging in more alcohol, some common symptoms are drowsiness, blurred vision and a lower core body temperature. “Binge drinking” or drinking very large amounts due to a tolerance frequently causes nausea, vomiting, an inability to hold in urine, and breathing problems.

Other dangers include blacking out, or even possibly going into a coma. Extreme cases of binge drinking has been known to be fatal, whether this is due to symptoms of withdrawal, alcohol poisoning, or accidents associated with heavy substance abuse.

Long Term Risks

Long-term exposure to alcohol frequently causes liver damage, often leading to cirrhosis of the liver. Large doses of alcohol also usually do a number on the lining of the stomach, causing ulcers and potentially leading to damage of other organs.

Alcohol also presents a risk to the fetus in pregnant women. Alcohol consumption can cause fetal alcohol syndrome, which can cause both physical and mental birth defects including mental retardation.

Alcohol Abuse and the Brain

Alcohol abuse also commonly kills brain cells. In time, this can lead to brain damage. The center of the brain that processes emotions is usually disproportionately affected by alcohol abuse. Alcohol abuse will also restrict brain development in younger users.

Treatment Options in Massachusetts

Alcohol addiction treatment begins with a period of detox. This can be done at a medical facility or a specialized treatment center. The patient checks in to a residential facility for up to a week and stays there under supervision of medical staff, receiving medication and medical intervention as necessary.

The period of detox is mostly meant to get the alcohol addict through the worst of their withdrawal symptoms and cravings. They will likely still experience some cravings after this, and possibly some withdrawal symptoms, but they will be considerably less strong.

Outpatient treatment may be appropriate at this point, but the greatest success is seen with a continued period of inpatient treatment at a certified treatment facility. These facilities provide the recovering addict with the support they need and an appropriate atmosphere for focusing on their recovery.

Alcohol addiction cannot be fought alone. Proper professional treatment shows by far the greatest rates of success in achieving and maintaining long-term sobriety. The decision to seek treatment is often the first step in turning an addict’s life around.