Understanding Addiction with Reflections Recovery Center

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Is Alcoholism a Disease?

Is Alcoholism a Disease and can it be a Genetic Predisposition?

Language is, of course, one of the most important ways that humans communicate. The words we use are meaningful, especially so when it comes to serious issues like addiction. Over time, language shifts to fit our needs and our understanding of the world around us. With regard to addiction, much of the language has changed from someone being an addict to someone dealing with or suffering from addiction. This is not without reason. The more we understand, it’s apparent that addiction is about more than just personal choices or character defects. Many people wonder, “Is alcoholism a disease?” In modern times, there is the disease theory of alcoholism which theorizes that alcoholism, and other addictions, are a disease of the brain. Some experts disagree with this, though they concede it may still of course have something to do with genetics.

From the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), a government resource, they state, “Relapse rates for addiction resemble those of other chronic diseases such as diabetes, hypertension, and asthma.”* Other diseases require constant, life-long treatment and someone might see relapse after some time without symptoms. Unfortunately, many people often take addiction relapse as a sign that they themselves or treatment has failed. However, as NIDA states, “This is not the case: Successful treatment for addiction typically requires continual evaluation and modification as appropriate, similar to the approach taken for other chronic diseases.”* Obviously people have different genetics, and how their genes affect their susceptibility to addiction will differ. Mental health is also a big part of genes and can play a part of alcoholism for many people. At Reflections, we take this into account when forming a treatment plan as well as a relapse prevention plan. With the prevalence that alcohol has in society, it is not an easy thing to avoid.

Genetically Predisposed

For various illnesses, diseases, and even character traits, you’ll often hear someone say, “It runs in the family.” There are numerous causes; genetic factors are part of it, as well as societal and historical factors. Trauma, a common element in addiction, is something that can impact multiple generations. Each generation might not go through the same exact trauma. However, it can still affect the next generation and play a part in their issues. Per the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA), “Research shows that genes are responsible for about half of the risk of AUD [Alcohol use disorder].”* Genetic predisposition is a factor in many people’s struggle with alcohol, but clearly it is not the only factor. 

At Reflections, we take a look into people’s life up until they have come to us for treatment. We do so through laboratory testing, to understand their genetic history, as well as understanding their family history. This gives us an idea of the social factors that also play a part in contributing to their addiction. If we understand as many factors as possible, we can provide a more thorough and effective treatment. Dr. Lisa Parsons, our Medical Director, is interested in understanding biochemical imbalances. She works to identify any vulnerabilities in someone’s DNA that make them prone to addiction. This allows her to develop the best treatment for each client.

Alcohol and Mental Health

According to NIAAA, It is possible for an AUD to coincide with, add to, cause, or be caused in part by, mental health disorders.* Mental illness does not mean someone will inevitably have an AUD, but it is possible to be a factor behind AUD. It is possible for mental health disorders to be passed through genetic and environmental circumstances. It’s important that treatment providers distinguish the various types of mental health disorders, how they are caused, and what is possibly making them worse. NIAAA notes that mental health is affected differently based on whether someone is currently drinking, intoxicated, going through withdrawal, or sober.* Depending on severity and length of use, it may take longer for someone to recover physically and mentally. Co-occurring disorders develop frequently with addiction. When this happens, it’s essential to treat each disorder fully to give patients the best chance at recovery.

According to NIAAA, it’s also possible for someone to have depression, anxiety, or another mental health issue without it being severe enough to be classified as a “disorder”. If this is the case for anyone, they should not feel that their mental health issues are not as bad and therefore do not deserve the same care. We will work with each patient to treat any issues and to improve their mental health, regardless of classification. It’s necessary to remember that mental health is not a final achievement to reach. It’s something to work on continually. That shouldn’t discourage anyone; even people with seemingly few mental health problems need to put in effort and take care of themselves.

Recovery

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), “Worldwide, 3 million deaths every year result from harmful use of alcohol…” This includes health problems from drinking as well as accidents. It’s possible victims of harmful use may not have consumed any alcohol. The best time to seek help is now. Everyone should want to prevent all deaths and any harmful actions that happen as a result of alcohol use. Alcohol use does not have to result in death to destroy lives. It’s not easy to acknowledge that you, or even a loved one, has a problem with alcohol. Once again though, now is the best time to do that. Don’t let alcohol steal anything else from you or your loved one. Call us today.

*Resources:
Principles of Drug Addiction Treatment – NIDA
Genetics of Alcohol Use Disorder – NIAAA
Alcoholism and Psychiatric Disorders – NIAAA

Movies about Addiction

Movies about Addiction and Alcoholism

Some good news is that alcohol consumption is down in the United States, a trend for the past few years.* However, while it is going down, there are still many people who struggle with abuse and addiction. Because alcohol is a widely accepted substance, it’s difficult to know it’s a problem. Further, it is also legal and for many it could never be something as bad as illegal substances. Movies about addiction are not incredibly common, nor are they seen as frequently as other movies.

Media plays a big part in our culture; the way alcohol is presented in media is incredibly important. Our consumption of media has significant influence on how we live and what we perceive to be okay. 
Portrayals of alcohol in television and film is a common occurrence. Frequently, alcohol in film depicts people having a fun time. Many movies, like The Hangover, are about a wild night fueled by alcohol and other substances. There may be some consequences shown, but generally the films are about the humorous effects of drinking too much. While of course not all consumption of alcohol is going to end in disaster, these films give the impression that the negative aspects of binge-drinking and abuse are outweighed by the good. Movies about alcohol addiction are just as important to show what can happen with alcohol abuse and addiction.

The Spectacular Now (2013)

For many young people, and even their families, the possibility of having a serious problem with alcohol seems far-fetched. After all, they’re young and being irresponsible is a part of growing up. While many underage people are exposed to alcohol and are able to eventually drink responsibly, many people also begin to develop alcohol abuse and addiction at an early age. In The Spectacular Now, Sutter is an 18-year-old who is popular and has a seemingly happy life. He’s constantly drinking, and driving as well, but sees this as a normal part of being a teenager. Others around him are drinking though not as heavily and constantly, but he fails to see any difference.

Sutter always idolized his father, despite him being absent. When they reconnect, it’s quickly apparent that his father is an alcoholic. Sutter realizes his father is mostly to blame for his parent’s divorce and for being absent from his life. Despite this, he doesn’t recognize how alcohol is similarly ruining his own life. Sutter’s abuse of alcohol leads him to fail his senior year of high school, quit his job because he cannot remain sober, and ruin romantic relationships.

He does eventually begin to see that he is using alcohol to mask his fear of failure and of an uncertain future. The Spectacular Now is a great film for anyone, but especially for young people and families to watch. It depicts how teen drinking is often normalized making it difficult to recognize it as a problem, but also how it can ruin a life even if the person is young.

Smashed (2012)

In Smashed, Kate is an elementary school teacher in her 20s. Throughout the film, we see her struggling with how alcohol is affecting her life through work and relationships. In the beginning, she drinks all night and then continues to drink in the morning before she goes to work. She throws up in front of the kids she teaches, which she covers by saying she is pregnant. This is followed by a series of embarrassing situations which prompt her to accept her coworker’s invitation to attend AA. In trying to justify her drinking, she says, “I’ve always drank a lot. Everyone I know drinks a lot. So I never really thought it was a problem.” Her husband is an alcoholic, her mother is, and her father was until he left her mother after getting sober.

When Kate is sober for the first time, she begins to have problems with those around her. Her mother thinks AA is evil and what ruined her marriage. Kate’s husband also begins to resent her for attending AA, saying she is brainwashed because of it. She wants to take responsibility for her actions, including at work which causes her to lose her job. Kate does relapse before celebrating a year of sobriety at the end of the movie. She reflects on sobriety, noting that she lost her job and her marriage fell apart while sober, something she didn’t expect. Smashed presents a real, and touching, look at addiction and how alcohol can ruin one’s life through relationships and work. It shows that sobriety is a constant journey which can be difficult, and that relapse is a part of that.

Why Movies about Addiction are Important

Media influences us. Movies are frequently, though not always, a reflection of our culture, values, and what is important to us. We absorb their messages, whether consciously or unconsciously, and take them with us throughout our lives. It’s not impossible for every person to responsibly consume alcohol, but it is difficult and for some people it may be impossible. A New York Times article cites a study from the University of Dayton, which showed that 20% to 25% of students changed their opinions on political issues after watching films about the government.* The decision to change one’s mind or how we understand issues after a movie might not always be so clear-cut. Movies about alcohol addiction make a difference.

The two movies listed above are important in the way they show how alcohol can negatively affect us. They show how difficult it is to recognize the problem in the first place, and how hard it is to get help especially when those around you make it harder. In Smashed, in particular, many of Kate’s family and friends have the same destructive habits and enable her behavior. Both films do a wonderful job of showing that our entire life, and environment, influence us. They’re well-made films for anyone, but they can also be a great choice for anyone looking for something that reflects their own experiences or their loved one’s experiences. Neither film shames or stigmatizes the characters or their addiction, but rather seeks to understand them and their journey. Something that is incredibly important when it comes to movies about addiction. If you or a loved one needs help with alcohol addiction, please reach out to us today.

*Resources:
Americans are Drinking Less Alcohol – Wall Street Journal
How Movies Can Change Our Minds – The New York Times

Xanax and Alcohol Mixed

Alcohol and Xanax (also known as Alprazolam) are both substances that are legal. They are also both substances that are widely available and commonly abused. This can make it difficult to recognize any issues. In regard to alcohol and Xanax, mixing the two can be incredibly risky even without a severe addiction to either. In moderation, alcohol does not cause severe damage every time it is consumed. Xanax is a controlled substance, that medical professionals issue to often help with anxiety disorders or panic attacks.

However, it is possible for them to both easily become an abused substance. Alcohol and Xanax can both have negative side effects. Mixing them can magnify what each substance does and cause greater harm. Combined alcohol and Xanax use increases risk for overdose, something many people may not realize.* To understand this better, it can help to know how each substance affects people and what happens they are mixed.

What is Xanax and what does Xanax do?

Xanax is the brand name for Alprazolam, which is a short-acting benzodiazepine often used to treat anxiety, panic attacks, or even nausea from chemotherapy. It is the most commonly prescribed psychiatric drug in the United States and often frequently abused. Like other legal drugs, there are counterfeit pills that can be found on the black market. While they may be similar, they are often cut with other substances and can cause significant harm. From McGill University, “GABA is a chemical messenger that is widely distributed in the brain. GABA’s natural function is to reduce the activity of the neurons to which it binds.”* Neurons can become overexcited, which can lead to anxiety. Benzodiazepines, like Xanax, work to enhance the actions of GABA, which depresses the over-excited central nervous system, and provide a sense of calm.

Clearly, when done legally and under medical supervision, Xanax is meant to be helpful and it has helped people. However, like any medication, it can have adverse side effects. Symptoms will vary for different people and will range in severity. Some common side effects can include: memory or concentration problems, depression, fatigue, suicidal ideation, or trouble breathing. Withdrawal from Xanax can be severe, and should be done under the supervision of a medical professional. Xanax is a short-acting drug that processes quickly and leaves the body quickly. This leaves you at a higher risk for withdrawal, since your body has less time to adapt to working without the drug.* Listing these symptoms is not a scare-tactic, but rather a way to convey issues that can arise. Further, it is helpful to understand the side effects to then understand how mixing alcohol will interact with Xanax.

What is alcohol and how does it affect us?

Simply put, alcohol is an organic compound; it is alcohol ethanol found in alcoholic beverages, which occurs by fermenting sugar with yeast. The alcohol humans drink acts as a suppressant to the central nervous system, similar to Xanax. It can boost one’s mood and increase their inclination to be social, while calming any over-excited nerves that usually make a person anxious. Many people drink for just these reasons. The negative aspects for alcohol, which become worse the more one drinks, are numerous, but the severity will affect individuals differently. Short-term effects might include nausea, vomiting, dizziness, anxiety, and fatigue. Alcohol can be addictive, which can lead to dependence and withdrawal. Long-term effects include liver damage, neurological damage, and various forms of cancer. Furthermore, the abuse of and addiction to alcohol can also lead to significant problems in one’s social and professional life.

Despite many of the negative aspects listed above, alcohol is one of the most common recreational substances. It has been around for thousands of years and it’s prevalence makes it widely accepted. In an article from National Geographic, archaeologist Patrick McGovern said, “Alcohol is central to human culture and biology because we were probably drinking fermented beverages from the beginning.” What is more, in modern times alcohol is marketed as a way to more fun and a better life. Even some of the adverse effects of alcohol, primarily concerning behavior during drinking and hangovers, are seen as humorous. This attitude combined with the popularity of alcohol makes it hard to recognize when it becomes a problem. Or that it can even become a problem at all. With that in mind, it is understandable how many people can then miss the dangers of drinking combined with something like Xanax.

Alcohol and Xanax Mixed

Alcohol and Xanax both suppress the central nervous system and mixing the two can intensify the actions of both substances. From an article published by the National Institutes of Health (NIH), alcohol enhances the effects of Xanax which includes drowsiness, sedation, and impaired motor skills.* As both substances are sedatives, they significantly impair breathing when combined. As more alcohol is consumed, the areas of the brain that regulate “basic life-support functions—such as breathing, heart rate, and temperature control—begin to shut down.”* Consumption of alcohol and Xanax at any amount can be dangerous, but the risk of overdose becomes even more dangerous the more alcohol is consumed. Alcohol impairs one’s ability to think clearly, which makes recognizing symptoms of overdose even more difficult.

When taking Xanax, there is a warning not to consume alcohol. However, many people may either disregard this or not realize the severity of mixing the two substances. When dealing with addiction, someone might not be in a place to consider or assess the risks at all. What is more, with addiction, it is likely that someone could turn to using unregulated Xanax. This increases the risks with unknown substances added.

Treatment

It is possible, and often likely, that someone dealing with addiction will be facing issues with more than one substance. With alcohol and Xanax, it is tough to recognize that you or a loved one might have a problem.

At Reflections Recovery Center, we offer a detox center with a 5-day program. Withdrawal from alcohol and Xanax can both be dangerous to do alone. Our highly qualified team of medical professionals will work with clients to ensure a safe detox process. We also offer inpatient and outpatient treatment programs, with many resources available to create a unique and thorough treatment plan. Reflections can also treat co-occurring disorders, providing essential treatment for mental disorders and substance abuse disorders. Our goal is to help each client through every step of the process and to provide tools to maintain sobriety long after treatment. Alcohol and Xanax can be an incredibly dangerous combination. If you or a loved may be struggling with this, contact us today for help.

*Resources:
Understanding the Dangers of Alcohol Overdose – NIH
Side Effects of Benziodiazepines – Mind.org
Were Humans Built to Drink Alcohol? – National Geographic
Alcohol and Medication Interactions – NIH

Nutrition in Recovery

Nutrients found in food are essential to life. They provide calories and energy that is needed so we can go throughout our days. It is possible though to consume food without much nutrition and feel like you’re able to go about your day with no problems. The connection between food and health might not always be so clear to everyone. What may or may not seem obvious, is that food impacts our health and how we deal with daily life. With processed foods, it begins to lose most if not all of the nutrition it may have had. This type of food can leave someone feeling sick, lethargic, and can greatly affect one’s mood. Processed food puts the body into a state of inflammation, which leaves people feeling depressed and anxious.

Naturally, your body adjusts to what you regularly consume. For Psychology Today, Dr. Nicole Avena writes, “Without even realizing it, most food choices are made based on taste, convenience, and familiarity. The gut will not be primed for digestion of fibrous fruits and vegetables, and there exists a strong preference for food that is salty (chips) or sweet and easily digestible (sweetened cereal with milk).” If you eat only junk food, that is what you crave and what triggers the reward center in your brain. With nutrient therapy, we want to show that it is possible to feel better by eating better. Addiction significantly deprives the body of nutrients. For a thorough recovery, it is essential that we work with patients to repair their health through nutrition.

Alcohol and Nutrition

The vagus nerve is a nerve that helps your gut and your mind communicate. The food you consume directly affects this nerve, and naturally so does consumption of alcohol. When something is permeable, it becomes more absorbent or more easily allows substances to pass through. Some permeability in the gut or intestines, for example, is okay, but when it increases it can become a problem. A study done in 2014 found that alcohol-dependent subjects may have higher gut permeability, which can affect behavioral changes and mood.

The authors also wrote, “Alcohol-dependent subjects frequently develop emotional symptoms that contribute to the persistence of alcohol drinking.”* Someone might drink to cope with other issues and then develop issues from drinking, which will then lead to continued heavy drinking. This can clearly create a negative cycle; it will damage the gut and can lead to anxiety and depression, which then may be self-medicated with alcohol.

Furthermore, alcohol impedes a body’s ability to break down nutrients into molecules that the body desperately needs. Excessive consumption of alcohol can deprive the body of vitamins and minerals. A deficiency in Vitamin K, for example, can cause delayed blood clotting and will result in excess bleeding. Furthermore, according to the U.S. National Library of Medicine, “…eighty percent of bipolar sufferers have some vitamin B deficiencies (often accompanied by anemia).”* A vitamin B deficiency is not the sole cause, nor will everyone with a deficiency suffer from bipolar disorder. However, it is an important facet to consider and increasing vitamin B levels can help to alleviate some symptoms.

Other vitamin deficiencies can cause severe neurological damage. Mineral deficiencies can result in a number of health problems including calcium-related bone disease, zinc-related night blindness and skin lesions.* For clients seeking treatment for alcohol addiction, we will identify any malnutrition or micro-nutrient deficiencies. When we know what to address, we can form a plan with food, nutrition and other necessary medicine to restore balance.

Drugs and Nutrient Deprivation

Drugs also clearly deprive the body of essential nutrients and can lead to severe malnutrition. Opiates (including codeine, oxycodone, heroin, and morphine) can cause gastrointestinal problems which can include diarrhea, nausea, and vomiting. This can result in a lack of nutrients and electrolytes, like sodium or potassium.* With stimulants, like meth, crack, or cocaine, appetite is reduced and this leads to weight loss and poor nutrition. Long-term use can result in permanent memory problems.* There are, of course, many other possible issues. Substance abuse is a disease that can drastically destroy the mind and body. However, with proper help and treatment there is hope.

When someone is in recovery, particularly after abusing stimulants, it is possible they might turn to overeating. At Reflections, we want to work with clients on a plan to return their health to a good place and to learn new, healthy habits. This can start with eating at regular times, eating food that is high in nutrition, and even learning to prepare healthy food for oneself. Nutrition is essential to having energy, maintaining body structure, and bodily function.

A better mood and mental state is a good defense against relapse in many ways. It can encourage someone to engage in other healthy behaviors. As good food makes the body and mind feel better, physical activity will be something clients feel they can engage in. Being active can be a significant help in recovery. Overall, we want our clients to develop good nutritional habits that will reach every other area of their lives.

Utilizing Nutrition in Recovery

At Reflections, each client will go through an initial evaluation. This allows us to take a comprehensive look at our client’s health. With laboratory testing, we can identify the vitamins and minerals where there is a deficiency. This helps us identify how their health is affected, physically or mentally, and how we can proceed with treatment. We can begin to introduce food and other healthy methods of restoring balance in the body. Our goal is that each client will feel better physically, which can lead to improved mental health. We also want clients to know that they can take control of their health and what they eat, and thus play a big part in their sobriety.

If we can teach our clients proper nutrition, we can allow them to take control. Learning about nutrition regarding food, drinks, and supplements is something clients can take with them after treatment. When clients are feeling better physically and mentally, they may feel more capable of engaging in physical activity. An active life in turn further benefits their physical and mental health, creating a positive cycle. At Reflections, we all truly want each client to walk away with the skills to continue a positive life and to maintain sobriety.

*Resources:
Psychology Today – Nutrition in Recovery from Addiction
Intestinal Permeability – PNAS
Alcohol and Nutrition – National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism
Substance Use Recovery and Diet – MedlinePlus

High-Functioning Alcoholics: Are You Overlooking an Issue?


What Is a High-Functioning Alcoholic?

A high-functioning alcoholic (HFA) is someone who appears to function normally in their daily life, despite having an addiction to alcohol. When people picture an alcoholic, they envision someone who may stumble when they walk, slur their speech or lose their temper with friends or coworkers.

HFAs actually present a completely different image. The addiction usually is kept a secret, making it look as if they are doing fine and have their lives together.

Types of High-Functioning Alcoholics

HFAs exist in two categories:

  • They either sneak drinks all day long, keeping their blood alcohol level high.
  • Or they stay sober during the day and binge drink at night or on weekends.

Both scenarios are damaging to not only themselves, but to those around them.

Since HFAs are particularly good at hiding their addiction, years can drift by before family and friends notice the signs. Unfortunately, because HFAs have become so savvy at sneaking around and hiding the truth, their instinct is to continue concealing the problem.

There are also cultural stereotypes and myths facing HFAs that can cause them to avoid seeking treatment. Here are some myths about HFAs to think about when looking for help for yourself or a loved one:

Myth 1: High-Functioning Alcoholics Can’t Hold a Job or Be Successful

Many high-functioning alcoholics have great jobs and successful careers backed by warm and loving families. They may seem like they have their lives together with a home, friends and kids. All this success can undermine the grim reality that the person is suffering from alcohol use disorder. The truth is HFAs end up battling emotional problems and are often in denial that there is a problem at all.

About 20 to 32 percent of alcoholics actually fall into the high-functioning alcoholism category. Those in the HFA category are often middle aged and well educated with stable jobs and families.

About one-third of HFAs have a genetic predisposition to alcohol use disorder, and a quarter of them have suffered from a major depressive disorder at some point during their lives. These underlying conditions lead to feelings of low self-esteem and depression, masked by alcohol use.

Myth 2: HFAs Don’t Have a Problem

For people suffering from HFA, denial is often a factor. They often think that because they can function and hold a great job, there is no problem with their drinking. If you are concerned about a loved one, stop and take a look at how much drinking happens in a 24-hour period.

Excessive alcohol use is:

  • More than three drinks a day for women;
  • More than four drinks per day for men;
  • Or a total of more than seven drinks per week for women or 14 or more drinks per week for men.

Anyone who drinks more than this is putting himself or herself at risk. While the effects might not show up immediately, prolonged use will take a toll.

Myth 3: HFAs Don’t Show Signs of Alcoholism

HFAs might present symptoms differently than people with more obvious signs of alcohol dependency, but they still suffer from the same signs of abuse. Signs of functional alcoholism might be more subtle, but they are there.

Anyone showing signs of alcoholism (which we will get to in a moment) may try to hide them or to isolate oneself in order to avoid detection. Just because the person is successful at disguising them to the world does not mean these symptoms do not exist. High-functioning alcoholics’ relationships with friends and family can become strained due to the behaviors they use to avoid facing the truth.

Myth 4: HFAs Don’t Need to Seek Help

Many HFAs can lead normal lives for years. Because they can hold a job and still handle normal daily tasks, they continue down the same path, never stopping to get help for their substance abuse.

Drinking large amounts of alcohol on a regular basis builds tolerance, meaning you need more alcohol to continue feeling the same effects as time goes on. What may have started as an innocent relationship with alcohol can spiral out of control to a place where the alcoholic doesn’t know how to get out. At first, the drinking may seem benign, or like a social obligation, but as the body builds tolerance, HFAs will continue drinking to keep the feeling going.

Seeking help and treatment is the only way to recover. HFAs will usually not seek treatment by themselves. Often, they need friends or family members to encourage them to take the next step.

Myth 5: HFAs Are in Control

The illusion HFAs portray shows them as highly educated with good jobs and a stable life. This sometimes tricks friends and family into believing that the HFA is in control of the drinking.

Any recovering alcoholic will tell you that this is not the case. They only seem like they are in control because they have managed to hide the drinking from those around them. They conceal the problem by consciously masking the signs in order to appear in control at all times.

Just because HFAs are great at concealing the signs of alcoholism does not mean there are no signs. The signs may just be more subtle and harder to see from an outside perspective.

A few of the signs of alcoholism include:

  • Using alcohol to relax and feel more confident
  • Drinking in the morning
  • Drinking too much
  • Blacking out after drinking
  • Needing a drink for every situation, good and bad
  • Joking about an alcohol problem
  • Drinking alone
  • Missing school or work because of drinking
  • Continuing to drink even though it brings feelings of anxiety or depression
  • Becoming angry when confronted about alcohol abuse
  • Having a record of DUI arrests or other alcohol-influenced charges

Help for High-Functioning Alcoholics from Reflections Recovery

If you or a loved one is suffering from any of these symptoms of alcoholism, it is time to get help. HFAs experience a wide variety of long-term health effects, making it more dangerous as time continues.

Contact the compassionate team at Reflections Recovery Center in Prescott, Arizona to talk treatment options. Our men’s rehabilitation facility is the perfect place to begin long-term recovery.

Learn More Alcohol Abuse Facts

Signs of Hidden Alcohol Abuse


Alcohol addiction can disrupt a person’s life greatly, but it’s not always easy to tell when a loved one has a problem. Many people struggling with alcohol addiction tend to keep their activities hidden from their friends and family. Why? They either underestimate the extent of their problem or they don’t want others to interfere.

Unfortunately, even obvious symptoms of alcoholism can go unnoticed, particularly if your loved one is a high-functioning alcoholic. However, you can determine if your loved one has a hidden alcohol problem by learning how to look for signs of alcohol abuse. By staying alert, you can help identify a drinking problem and then support your loved one throughout treatment.

Signs of Hidden Alcohol Abuse

We’ve grouped the various signs of alcoholism into five main categories:

High Alcohol Tolerance

Numerous factors can impact someone’s tolerance for alcohol, including weight, age, sex and genetics.

No matter what other factors are in play, though, the more a person drinks, the higher his or her tolerance will be. Thus, the more drinks it will take to become intoxicated. Repeated drinking episodes can lead to very little functional impairment, even after consuming large amounts of alcohol.

To tell if your loved one has a high tolerance for alcohol, watch their behaviors after drinking. As an example, a 155-pound male will take about three drinks to become “tipsy.” If he don’t show any signs of intoxication at that point, then he may have a high level of alcohol tolerance.

Experiencing Alcohol Withdrawal Symptoms

Repeated drinking does more than build an alcohol tolerance in the body; it also impacts people physically and mentally. The body starts to adjust so that drinking becomes the norm, which means not having a drink can cause withdrawal symptoms.

For alcohol, common withdrawal symptoms include:

  • Anxiety
  • Headaches
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Sweating
  • Shaky hands
  • Insomnia

While symptoms of alcohol dependence don’t always indicate alcoholism, the impact of withdrawal can play a major role in forming alcohol abuse and addiction. If your loved one starts to exhibit physical signs of alcohol abuse in the form of withdrawal after not drinking for some time, then he or she may have a hidden alcohol problem.

Secret Drinking

Hidden Drinking Alcohol Withdrawal Symptoms - Reflections Recovery CenterBecause people struggling with alcoholism have a higher tolerance for alcohol, they often need to drink more to feel intoxicated. This can lead to behaviors where someone may drink alone or while getting ready to go out to a social event with friends; the latter is known as “pregaming.” Secret drinking can also involve drinking after coming home from events.

To facilitate this type of drinking, people with hidden alcoholism will sometimes have hiding places for alcohol:

  • Bathroom shelves, dresser drawers, the garage, and behind other items in kitchen cabinets are common places to covertly store alcohol.
  • Furniture can also be a place to stow empty bottles and cans.

If you have concerns about hidden alcoholism, you can search those places. You may also check the outside trash bins, as your loved one may be taking out empty bottles and cans directly to the main trash when nobody’s looking.

Making Excuses to Drink

To make their drinking behavior seem less like a problem, people struggling with alcohol addiction will often make up reasons to drink:

  • If something bad happens, they will use alcohol to make themselves feel better.
  • If something good happens, then what better way to celebrate than with a drink?

These “reasons” become protection if you or someone else tries to point out your loved one’s drinking behavior.

Additionally, people struggling with alcoholism will make excuses for why they can’t or won’t stop drinking:

  • Some will say that they can stop whenever they feel like it. (They can’t.)
  • Others will argue that their drinking only impacts themselves. (It doesn’t.)
  • There’s also a chance that they will agree to get help, then come up with excuses to keep putting it off.

Unexplained Injuries

Episodes of binge drinking can lead to falling and blackouts – both of which can easily cause injuries. The lack of bodily control after heavy drinking can contribute.

The potential damages can range from minor cuts and bruises to larger traumatic injuries; but, one scenario will often serve as a telltale sign of hidden alcoholism: The person doesn’t want to admit what caused the problem.

Those struggling with alcoholism will often feel too embarrassed to admit what really led to their injuries, so they’ll brush the problem off without answering. Or, if pressed, they may make up a story about what happened.

If your loved one has suspicious or repeated injuries and won’t give you a clear answer as to how these wounds occurred, alcohol may have contributed.

Helping a Loved One with Hidden Alcoholism

Living with someone who has an alcohol addiction can be a challenging experience. Your loved one may experience mood swings and ignore responsibilities in favor of drinking. He or she may look to you to encourage the behavior or actively start to tear down various relationships when drinking.

The key is to remember that you cannot control your loved one’s behavior and that the situation is not your fault. You do not need to enable the addiction or accept poor treatment from them.

However, it’s possible to learn how to help an alcoholic. Once you’ve identified that your loved one may have a hidden alcohol problem, you can plan appropriately. Enlist the support of your friends and family, and possibly an intervention specialist. You should also care for your own personal needs throughout the process, so that you are in the right state of mind to fully help your loved one.

From Alcoholism Intervention to Rehab

Before staging an intervention, you and the intervention team should carefully plan and rehearse what will happen. Prepare possible treatment options, so that your loved one can’t stall the admission process. Once you’ve completed the intervention successfully and your loved one begins receiving treatment, remain supportive and participate where possible. The encouragement of friends and family can make or break a recovery from alcohol addiction.

At Reflections Recovery Center, we provide the highest quality of care for our male clients, every step of the way. Explore our men’s alcohol rehab programs, or get in touch with us to discuss how we can help your son, husband, brother, etc. overcome his drinking behavior.

See More Alcohol Addiction Facts

How Long-Term Alcohol Abuse Affects the Blood: Blood Disorders and Complications from Alcoholism


Alcohol abuse can have several impacts on one’s health, but some of the most harmful can happen at the microbiological level, where we can’t even see it. Studies have shown that long-term alcohol abuse impacts the blood, including red and white blood cells alike, as well as blood cell production in the bone marrow. When these problems continue for an extended period, they can have a severe negative impact on overall health.

Alcohol Affects Bone Marrow and Red Blood Cell Production

One area of the body that long-term alcohol abuse starts to affect is the bone marrow, where red blood cell precursor cells form. Vacuoles start to develop in these precursor cells, which are responsible for stimulating the development of complete red blood cells.

Often, such vacuoles are a key indicator of alcoholism in blood tests, though the complete extent of these vacuoles on red blood cell development is still unknown. However, the impact of alcohol consumption can lead to two major forms of anemia: sideroblastic and megaloblastic.

Sideroblastic Anemia

Sideroblastic anemia occurs when there are complications in the development of red blood cells related to iron and hemoglobin levels in the cell. When iron doesn’t properly incorporate into hemoglobin, the cell becomes a sideroblast, which cannot form into a proper blood cell, reducing the level of red blood cells in the body.

Alcohol abuse can interfere with hemoglobin formation, leading to this type of anemia, while abstinence from alcohol can reverse the effect.

Megaloblastic Anemia

In a similar process, a lack of folic acid and B vitamins can cause complications when precursor cells try to reproduce – and instead produce non-functional megaloblastic cells. With a reduced number of functional precursor cells, the body’s production of red and white blood cells, as well as platelets, is reduce. This leads to symptoms of anemia.

Many who struggle with alcohol abuse also have a hard time maintaining a healthy diet, which can lead to a deficiency in folic acid. Furthermore, alcohol can alter the absorption of folic acid from food, potentially exacerbating an existing deficiency.

Alcohol Leading to Red Blood Cell Disorders

Past the development of blood cells in the bone marrow, alcohol abuse can also cause many other complications in red blood cells. With issues in these cells, the human body can experience complications in providing oxygen where it’s needed.

Macrocytosis

Macrocytosis is a health complication that involves red blood cells enlargement. Unlike other conditions with enlarged red blood cells, those found in macrocytosis are uniformly round. While macrocytosis does not cause harmful effects on its own, it can be an indicator of other serious health complications aside from alcohol abuse.

Hemolytic Anemia

Alcohol abuse can lead to the development of two forms of hemolysis:

  • Stomatocyte hemolysis occurs when there are increased levels of misshapen red blood cells, which the spleen subsequently traps and destroys.
  • Spur-cell hemolysis also involves misshapen blood cells, which the spleen destroys, too. In all cases, the destroyed cells contribute to anemia.

Alcohol’s Impact on White Blood Cells

Alcohol can also impact white blood cells in the body. White blood cells are responsible for fighting off infections and other intruders in the body. Thus, negatively affected white blood cells contribute to the increased likelihood of bacterial and other infections in those struggling with alcohol abuse.

Neutrophils

Neutrophils are one type of white blood cell that helps fight off infections. In someone who does not drink large amounts of alcohol, these cells increase in number during severe bacterial infections.

Alcohol abuse influences the development of neutrophils, leading to reduced numbers in the bloodstream. Alcohol also can impact neutrophils’ ability to arrive at the scene of the infection. This makes the task of fighting off the infection difficult.

Monocytes and Macrophages

Like neutrophils, monocytes and macrophages play a major role in defending the body against any incoming infection. Alcohol can also affect the development and function of these types of cells, throwing the monocyte-macrophage system out of balance. With an impaired monocyte-macrophage system, the body is more susceptible to microorganisms before and during infections.

Alcohol Holds Back the Blood-Clotting System

The body’s blood-clotting system is responsible for closing damage to blood vessels. This process prevents excess loss of blood and helps scabs form. When the blood-clotting system doesn’t function to its full capacity, the body remains open to potential infections and serious levels of blood loss. Alcohol can affect several different parts of this system, putting people at risk.

Thrombocytopenia

Thrombocytopenia occurs when someone experiences a reduced level of platelets in the bloodstream. When it comes to clotting blood, platelets are the ones that secrete proteins, triggering the rest of the process.

With lower levels of platelets, there can be a reduced blood-clotting effect. Thrombocytopenia is an especially high-risk condition for those who regularly drink large quantities of alcohol. However, abstinence can help reverse the effects.

Thrombocytopathy

Aside from reducing the number of platelets in the bloodstream, long-term alcohol abuse can also lead to impaired function of existing platelets. This leads to many of the same difficulties as in thrombocytopenia. Those with thrombocytopathy are at risk of negative reactions to nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, such as painkillers like ibuprofen.

Fibrinolysis Process Gets Impacted

When clotting blood, the body forms fibrin, a protein that forms the mesh that helps catch blood cells and prevents excessive blood flow outside the vascular system. Once the wound has healed, fibrinolysis occurs, breaking down the fibrin mesh and restoring regular blood flow.

While studies show mixed conclusions, ingesting large portions of alcohol may run the risk of hindering the fibrinolysis process. This would put individuals at risk for thrombosis, a condition where clots block blood cells from circulating properly.

Strokes

When there are problems in the blood-clotting and fibrinolytic systems, there is a high risk for medical consequences. Long-term alcohol abuse can contribute to these complications, thereby increasing the chances of suffering a stroke.

Two potential types of stroke are likely:

  • Hemorrhagic strokes occur when a ruptured blood vessel leads to bleeding in the brain.
  • Ischemic stroke occurs when a blood clot blocks a blood vessel.

Alcohol’s Role in the Cardiovascular System

Aside from these specific impact alcohol has on the blood, alcohol abuse can lead to many other changes in the cardiovascular system, such as:

  • Blood pressure
  • Heart rate
  • Tone of heart muscles
  • Viscosity of the blood

In addition to increasing the risk of a stroke, these effects on the cardiovascular system can also contribute to numerous other health complications.

Preventing Alcoholic Blood Disorders

These alcoholic blood disorders can have a serious impact on your life and overall health. Fortunately, abstinence from alcohol can help to reverse many of these effects as the body begins to regulate itself. However, for those struggling with alcohol abuse and addiction, cutting oneself off from drinking can be a difficult task.

Reflections Recovery Center’s extended care inpatient programs can help men overcome their alcohol addiction, which will help reduce the risk of alcohol complications and get their lives back on track. With ongoing support from medical professionals and other men facing similar challenges, the active and structured lifestyle of Reflections Recovery Center can help move your life away from alcohol abuse and toward better health.

For more information on how alcohol impacts your health, read about the connection between alcohol and low blood sugar:

Learn About Alcohol & Hypoglcemia

Relapse Prevention for Alcohol Abuse: Tips for Staying Sober


Alcohol treatment centers are the oldest consistent forms of addiction treatment programs. People have been struggling with addiction to alcohol since we started manufacturing alcoholic drinks thousands of years ago. In all that time, alcohol relapse has remained a problem, with alcohol relapse rates averaging anywhere from 30-80%.

Relapse prevention has become a needed component to alcohol addiction recovery, due to the fact that urges and triggers are ever-present in sobriety. Quitting drinking is one thing, but how do you stay sober after alcohol rehab?

How Long Does It Take to Become Addicted to Alcohol

How long does it take to become addicted to alcohol, or physically dependent? The exact time it takes for the body to develop a chemical dependency to alcohol has many variables, but many recovering alcoholics will admit that they can remember a single moment when their alcohol problems began. This doesn’t mean that it took a split second to become addicted, but it certainly did only take a moment for the seeds of addiction to be sown.

In early alcohol addiction, the signs of a problem are obfuscated – meaning the signs are hazy and not exactly clear. Binge drinking, and drinking 6-15 beers in a single night is an obvious red flag, but most don’t recognize that as being a problem in the early stages. When you start craving a drink every night after work, that is another obvious red flag, but many simply write it off as a stress-reliever.

Alcoholism is a progressive disease, and in its early stages it can look similar to the habits of social drinkers. The problem is that problematic drinking doesn’t go away, it worsens. For that reason, it could take as little as a month to develop the early stages of alcoholism and alcohol addiction. This may seem like a short amount of time, but when you think of the fact that severe alcoholism and end stage alcoholism can develop in the short span of 5 years, a single month of binge drinking is more than enough time to do damage.

10 Tips to Quit Drinking Alcohol and Stay Sober

Before you can focus on staying sober, you first have to quit drinking. Quitting alcohol is the first hurdle in alcohol abuse recovery. This is easier said than done for most people who have been chronic drinkers or binge drinkers for a long time. The best way to deal with an alcohol use disorder is to seek help and treatment from an alcoholic treatment program. However, it could be beneficial for you to take these tips to stop drinking.

  1. Take a Good Look at Your Social Circle and Your Entertainment Habits

    Your entertainment habits include what you do to relax and enjoy yourself. It includes going out to dinner, watching movies, attending events with friends, and what you do to keep yourself busy. If dinner with friends always includes or is based off of drinking – that is a problem. If you go to sports events, movies, or concerts, and you have to have a few drinks to enjoy the event – that is a problem.

    Look at why you need to drink to enjoy these things. Is it because your social circle is drinking and you want to feel part of the crowd, or do you not truly enjoy the activity, and enjoy the drinking aspect instead? Looking at this and making a change to how you spend your free time can be the biggest help in cutting down or quitting your drinking.

  2. Look at Your Mental and Physical Health

    Self-medicating with alcohol is very common for a host of mental and physical issues including depression, anxiety, and underlying medical conditions you might not be aware you have. Find out what makes you happy and what doesn’t. If you find that you have to have alcohol to boost your mood or feel the excitement, then there is likely an underlying condition that needs to be addressed. In many cases, treating anxiety, depression, or other health concerns can fix the perceived need for alcohol.

  3. Replace your Alcoholic Beverages with Non-Alcoholic Drinks

    An issue that is very common amongst long-term beer drinkers is that the habit and action of drinking alcoholic beverages has become an addiction. In short, your drinking is just a habit that you have fallen into. You might be able to recognize this if you have ever had an empty drink, and the feeling of needing a replacement could almost drive you mad. What do you need another drink for? Is it just to have one?

    Try switching drinks to non-alcoholic choices, and have those choices available to you at all times. Sugary sodas are not the best option, but seltzer water, juice, tea, and flavored waters are great choices.

    Try and break the habit of giving the body an alcoholic drink every time the urge comes along. It might be tough to break the habit at first, but in many cases where the issue is problematic drinking, and not alcohol dependence, this solution may be enough to get you to cut out alcohol completely.

  4. Focus on Better More Quality Sleep

    Sometimes our cravings for alcohol equate to self-medication due to exhaustion and stress. The body’s natural remedy for these feelings is to get a good night of deep and restorative REM sleep so you can awake relaxed and refreshed for another day. If you are caught in the cycle of working late, drinking even later, waking up feeling sluggish and sick, and repeating the whole cycle over again, you are due for some rest and relaxation.

    Try getting a full night’s rest and waking up in the morning naturally (no caffeine), and see if this decreases your cravings for alcohol. Alcohol may feel like it helps you overcome a fast lifestyle, but when the alcohol becomes a bigger problem than you can handle, nipping it at the bud and focusing on slowing down your lifestyle might get to the root of the problem.

  5. Compare Your Drinking Habits to Those of Your Significant Other

    If you are in a relationship with someone, you can definitely adopt their habits, or their drinking habits can affect yours. Similar to our first suggestion of “Take a Good Look at Your Social Circle and Your Entertainment Habits,” take a look at what you and your spouse or significant other do together to keep each other busy.

    How much of your relationship is built on drinking? Would cutting down or quitting drinking put you at odds with your S/O, or would they be willing to cut down or quit as well? If your significant other is unwilling to change, how do you expect to be able to spur a change in yourself?

  6. Find Your Hobby. What do you love to do?

    Drinking is very much an affixation. When you are young and drinking is a new experience, it quickly becomes an easy go-to for entertainment. Think about those early experiences with alcohol – when it was new, it quickly became something that you planned on doing on weekends, or created a new angle on activities you enjoyed. The problem is that alcohol quickly takes over, and soon enough you look forward to the alcohol more than the activities. Instead, replace the alcohol with activities.

    Find out what you love to do, and can see yourself doing for hours on end, without even worrying about alcohol. For some, exercise is a natural replacement activity; for others, creating art or writing is a replacement. We can give more generic examples, but really it comes down to finding what you like to do. Can’t think of anything that interests you? Start trying new things and search out what makes you happy. Just don’t let alcohol be the only thing that brings you (what you perceive as) joy and fulfillment.

  7. Exercise, Eat Healthy, and Focus on Bettering Yourself

    Exercising and being healthy can be the activity or hobby that some find they love to spend their time on; but even if this is not going to become your hobby, it should be a part of your routine. Focusing on moderate exercise, healthier diet choices, and an overall focus on a healthier attitude and daily routine is essential for everyone – not just those looking to cut down on unhealthy habits.

    Diet and exercise plays the biggest part in who you are. A poor diet and lack of exercise can make you depressed, anxious, moody, emotional, and pretty much hate life. If you have these types of negative feelings, simply cutting out alcohol isn’t going to reverse everything and fix all your problems. Cutting out alcohol, eating a healthier diet, and getting a moderate amount of exercise will make you feel better though.

  8. Stay Away from Social Media (Or Moderate its Use at the Very Least)

    Social media is a very tricky thing; while it promotes that it is an easier way to help you stay connected to friends, social media is not your friend. In fact, it is the enemy of your mental and emotional health. Health agencies are starting to find that we are in the midst of a mental illness epidemic the likes of which has never been seen before – and it can be tied directly back to social media usage.

    Researchers have also begun to link increased drinking and an increase in alcohol use disorders to those that spend more than an hour per day on social media. Social media is built on reward triggers in the brain, just like drugs and alcohol trigger reward centers. Removing the source of these triggers can help greatly in reducing urges to drink when first quitting alcohol, or when trying to stay sober.

  9. Spend Time with Friends (and Without Alcohol), or Don’t Be So Hard On Yourself When Alone

    Social interaction (real social interaction, not social media interaction) can greatly help your mental health, and can help to prevent urges to drink. Spend time with your friends, and get your brain to spark the reward centers based off interaction with others. The reward your brain gives you for enjoying a conversation with a friend or talking about what you two have in common is chemically the same as reward response triggered by alcohol.

    Not only that, but talking about your feelings, problems and emotions with a good friend gives you another viewpoint. Talk through your problems with someone else, or vent a little – it can take a load off your shoulders.

    What if you’re an introvert, and prefer some time alone over too much time with others? Hey, no one loves you like you love you… but make sure it is self-loving and not self-loathing. Spending too much time focused on your problems, shame, embarrassment, or what doesn’t make you happy will only cause more negativity in your life. Don’t ruminate! If you don’t have anything nice to say about yourself, find a community or group activity that you can get involved with and try and get some new experiences that teach you to love yourself.

  10. Take a Look at Your Behaviors

    Nearly every aspect of staying sober comes down to your behaviors – whether it is what type of drink is in your hand, who you hang out with, how much exercise you get, or what activities and hobbies you are engaged in. There is a good reason alcohol abuse is often referred to as a behavioral health issue – the act of drinking is a behavior that is detrimental to your health.

    Take a deep look at your behaviors and ask yourself, why am I doing this? Why do I want do drink that drink? What reward am I going to get from that drink? What would I be missing out on if I don’t drink that drink…? This deep look at why you do what you do is a staple of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, and CBT is one of the best therapies for alcoholism and alcohol abuse.

    CBT does work best when you have someone objective that is guiding you through the process (at least in the beginning), but you can get into CBT all by yourself, and it can change your life. For everything you do in life, there is a thought process that happens in the blink of an eye, too fast for you to even realize the decision-making process that just happened. By slowing down and looking at that decision-making process, you can make better choices, or at least make choices that guide you toward better outcomes.

Alcohol Relapse Rates 

All of the ideas we have given are great examples of how you can fight urges to drink when you are first quitting, or if you find yourself in a situation where your sobriety is tested. However, alcohol addiction and the urges to drink can be powerful, they can even be stronger than your better judgement, in some cases.

*Short Term Alcohol Relapse Rates (Within the First Year of Recovery):

  • With Treatment – Vary between 20% and 50% depending on the severity of the alcohol use disorder
  • Without Treatment – Vary between 50% and 80% depending on the severity of the alcohol use disorder.

*Long Term Alcohol Relapse Rates (Within the First Year of Recovery):

  • With Treatment – Average 23%
  • Without Treatment – Average 40%

This is why we urge those who have struggled with alcohol use to get into treatment,if they can’t do it on their own. When we look at the numbers, we can see that alcohol relapse rates are much higher in those that do not receive any help at all. You are stronger than addiction, but sometimes you need a coach in your corner that motivates you to show that extra strength and knock back the urges.

We can also see that the rate of relapse drops significantly if you can stay sober in your first year. Getting through that first year is key, and most of us need professional help for alcoholism and alcohol abuse to get through all of the triggers that present themselves in the first year.


*Moos RH, Moos BS. Rates and predictors of relapse after natural and treated remission from alcohol use disorders. Addiction (Abingdon, England). 2006;101(2):212-222. doi:10.1111/j.1360-0443.2006.01310.x.

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Unresolved Grief and Addiction: How Self Medication Turns into Addiction


Grief hurts. There is no magic pill for healing your grief. And honestly, it’s insulting when people tell you to just get over it and move on. It just plain sucks.

Who among us can say it takes this amount of time or that amount of behavior to stop grieving? Time heals nothing you don’t work on.

And it’s tough. The emotional pain of grief is tantamount to a slow recovery from major surgery. So, naturally, we avoid it if we can. But avoiding it heals nothing either.

It’s easy to see why people use substances to avoid the pain, often falling into addiction and adding another problem to their grief.

What Causes Grief? 

There are many life events that cause grief. Here are some of the things that cause normal grief:

  • Death of a loved one
  • Death of a friend
  • Divorce
  • Divorce of a parent
  • Loss of a pet
  • Ending of a friendship or relationship
  • Loss of a job
  • Trauma of physical or emotional abuse
  • Seeing a loved one suffer
  • Loss of familiar surroundings
  • Remembering past losses and abuses
  • Major change in any meaningful part of life

Any great loss, change or traumatic experience can cause significant grief. Perhaps particularly apropos for people abusing substances, the loss of identity, loss of self and a life wasted in substance abuse can be the biggest grief-causing trauma of all. Regret turns into grieving.

The Impact of Grief

Although grief and loss are deeply personal issues and there is no typical response, psychology experts recognize five main stages of grief:

  • Denial
  • Anger
  • Bargaining
  • Depression
  • Acceptance

These stages aren’t necessarily in order, and are as individual as human DNA. However, being aware of our feelings and understanding them does help us cope. It’s also nice to know we’re not alone and we’re not the only ones who’ve ever felt this way.

Being capable of coping and being able to accept loss does not mean we’re OK with what happened, but it does mean we are willing to get better and begin to live again.

Uncomplicated Grief

Uncomplicated grief, or normal grief, is the natural sorrow we all go through when dramatic situations arise. Going through the grieving process is how we deal with loss. It’s not a bad thing; it’s a healthy response to a difficult situation.

Symptoms of uncomplicated grief include:

  • Pining for a lost relationship
  • Longing for a person who has passed away
  • Yearning for a lost companion
  • Preoccupation with loss, sadness and depression
  • Difficulty accepting a change in one’s life
  • Agitation, irritability and anxiety

While these symptoms are excruciating, people learn to accept them and come to terms with their loss. Although the memory of a loved one or relationship will never be forgotten, bereaved individuals learn that they have other people and goals in life to pay attention to. After a period of emotional work and spiritual growth, people with uncomplicated grief recover.

Complicated Grief

Unresolved Grief and Addiction: How Self Medication Turns into AddictionTen to 20 percent of those grieving develop complicated grief. In these cases, sorrowful feelings worsen over time instead of improving.

People with complicated grief are often predisposed to addictions. They can be codependent, love addicted, sex addicted or have none of those conditions. Grief itself can be an addictive habit.

People suffering from complicated grief do not let the memory of the person or loss go. They keep the memories alive in their heads by focusing on them and inadvertently feeding their own pain. Stimulating these thoughts in one’s head activates the reward center in the brain.

Similarly, clinging to a past love fires the brain’s pleasure signals, resulting in a chemical reward resembling being with your lover in person. In this way, complicated grief sucks people into an ever-winding whirlpool of sadness and painful/pleasurable emotion. Having complicated grief or bereavement disorder makes one prone to abuse drugs and alcohol.

Coping with Drugs

For people getting clean and feeling emotions, they are not used to coping with without substances, it can be overwhelming. Many of us can’t handle the rush of emotions that flood our souls once the drugs and alcohol wear off. So much of our society buys into the “I need a drink!” way of thinking, and we learn to numb our feelings with alcoholism, substance abuse and other unmanageable addictions that give our brains feel-good chemicals.

It seems fine at first. After all, “It’s what everyone does,” we reason. Unfortunately, substance use turns into addiction and numbing the pain becomes the only way we deal with (or neglect dealing with) feelings. When grief is stuffed down and out of mind, instead of getting better, people get worse.

Addiction and Grief 

While drug and alcohol abuse seems to offer solace to grieving souls, that temporary escape fuels the same neural pathways as the grief-love cycle. Both addiction and relationship attachment – including the memory of love – arouse the same part of the brain.

People in bereavement are vulnerable to drug addiction, and people abusing drugs are prone to cling to grief until it becomes a disorder. Ultimately, which comes first is irrelevant.

Self-Medicating Grief

Cross-addictions come in many forms like alcohol and heroin, meth and Oxy, alcohol, and gambling. For people suffering from loss, it is not uncommon to self-medicate grief with alcohol and drugs.

When simple grief evolves into complicated grief, it becomes a chronic, debilitating mental health condition. And in this weakened state, seeking emotional pain relief through self-medicating substances ramps up.

Codependency and addiction to a person, love or sex carry much grief and loss when the relationship ends – whether due to death or a break-up. At times like these, people are drawn into drugs and alcohol to quiet their minds and to stop feeling.

Toxic Grief 

Grief is painful. Pain makes us gravitate toward relief of suffering. It’s natural.

Even superheroes grieve. With powers like the ability to regrow limbs and stave off cancer, they can find no superpower to avoid emotional pain. And without treatment, even heroes grieve violently, ingest large doses of drugs or attempt suicide. Prolonged complicated grief is toxic.

In dealing with grief and substance abuse in men, effective treatment involves addressing not only the symptoms of substance abuse and addiction, but also the work necessary to overcome deep grief. Although feeling pain is tough, going through it with guidance and support is the way to get emotionally healthy and abandon self-medicating habits.

Summoning the strength to quit drugs and let go of unhealthy attachments takes work. It takes a commitment and surrender to the process. But with the proper treatment and a desire to change, men are accomplishing such feats every day at Reflections Recovery Center.

How to Help a Family Member Suffering from Grief and Addiction

If you have a loved one dealing with substance abuse and you suspect it’s tied to grief – either through the loss of a family member or friend, a divorce or other type of deep-seated grief from the past – you need to get your loved one help at a dual diagnosis rehab center. A dual diagnosis treatment center for men, specifically those dealing with grief and addiction, will offer the best chance at a full recovery from both co-occurring disorders. Reflections Recovery offers just such a program for men.

Regardless of whether your loved one is predisposed to addiction or not, whether the addiction or grief came first, treating substance abuse is the initial therapy. Until a person can think clearly and feel things soberly, no grief work can be done.

Only getting help for addiction and not treating the grief leaves people vulnerable to relapse or developing another addiction. Unresolved emotional issues like complicated grief can wreak havoc for a lifetime.

Read More About Trauma and Addiction

Alcoholic Cardiomyopathy: Symptoms, Causes, Life Expectancy, and Recovery


Alcohol abuse – especially binge drinking and long-term chronic alcohol abuse – takes its toll on the heart muscle and vascular system. We often forget just how dangerous alcohol can be, and wrongly assume that it takes decades for severe problems to show up from excessive drinking. 

How Alcohol Affects the Heart 

There are several concerns about the heart and circulatory system with heavy drinkers:

  • Arrhythmias
  • Strokes
  • Hypertension
  • Alcoholic Cardiomyopathy (Heart Failure)

Arrhythmias Caused by Alcohol Abuse – Abnormal heartbeats are quite common in heavy and chronic drinkers. The severity of arrhythmias ranges from mild to severe, with the least concerning being “innocent” heart palpitations and arrhythmias. These innocent heart arrhythmias could be temporary and could stem from a simple electrochemical imbalance or from poor nutrition and diet caused by alcohol abuse. Both atrial fibrillation and ventricular tachycardia are forms of arrhythmias in common with alcohol abuse.

Alcohol-Related Strokes – A more serious concern is the risk of strokes with alcohol abuse. Binge drinking and chronic alcohol consumption for months or even a few short years can increase the risk of ischemic strokes and hemorrhagic strokes. Alcohol-induced strokes can occur in otherwise healthy patients and without existing coronary artery disease.

“Binge drinkers have an increased risk of ischemic stroke, are 56% more likely to have a stroke than non-binge drinkers, and are 39% more likely to have any type of stroke.

Alcoholic Hypertension – Binge drinkers and chronic drinkers know all too well the fact that heavy alcohol use raises blood pressure – sometimes raising it to dangerous levels. Alcohol causes your arteries and veins to stiffen, instead of flexing to the beat of the heart. Worsening the problem, continued alcohol abuse can cause the blood vessels to constrict within the already shrinking arteries and veins. Hypertension is an early sign of the increased risk of stroke and heart disease.

Alcohol and Cardiomyopathy 

Alcoholic Cardiomyopathy is the most serious concerns of the effects of alcohol on the heart. Cardiomyopathy means “heart failure,” and alcoholic cardiomyopathy simply means that the heart failure is caused by alcohol. Alcoholic cardiomyopathy is a progressive disease, meaning that it worsens over time – especially with continued alcohol use.

“Quitting alcohol as soon as possible, and staying sober can immediately stop the progression of alcoholic cardiomyopathy in many cases – as long as the heart failure is not in the late stages of progression.”

Alcoholic Cardiomyopathy Symptoms 

It is good to note first that just because you have one or more of these symptoms, it does not mean that you immediately have heart failure. The symptoms of very serious cardiomyopathy are similar to the symptoms of less serious heart issues that can be temporary and also caused by alcohol. If you have any of these symptoms, it is important to see your doctor and have them test to know for sure what is causing those symptoms.

That being said, the following are the symptoms that should prompt your doctor visit:

  • Edema (swelling of the ankles, feet, and legs)
  • Swelling in the extremities, neck, torso and overall swelling
  • Shortness of breath, especially when running or with strenuous activity (dyspnea)
  • Difficulty breathing (especially when laying on your back)
  • Weakness, Fatigue, and feeling faint or lightheaded
  • Foggy head (decreased alertness or difficulty concentrating)
  • Coughing and a cough with mucus discoloration (pink or frothy)
  • Decreased urine output (oliguria)
  • Increased urination at night (nocturia)
  • Heart Palpitations (irregular heartbeats)
  • Rapid pulse (tachycardia)

 Can Alcoholic Cardiomyopathy be Reversed? 

Alcoholic cardiomyopathy can be treated, which is good news for those suffering the symptoms of early stages of the disease, however, it does require a change of lifestyle to be effective. It all depends on how early you catch the disease, and whether or not you can quit drinking for good – that means no alcohol at all.

Alcoholic Cardiomyopathy Life Expectancy

Alcoholic Cardiomyopathy: Symptoms, Causes, Life Expectency, and RecoveryWhat is the prognosis and life expectancy for someone who has been diagnosed with alcoholic cardiomyopathy? The prognosis really depends on whether or not the patient is able to quit drinking. If he/she stops drinking and the damage to the heart is not severe, the outlook is very good, and one would not expect a shortened lifespan. However, if the disease is in late stages and the damage is severe enough, it may be too late. Someone with end-stage alcoholic cardiomyopathy is not expected to live more than 4 years.

If someone does not quit drinking, the progressive disease is expected to get worse, and the outlook is grim for someone who continues to drink alcohol and let the disease progress to final stages. Let us be clear that if you do not stop drinking, alcoholic cardiomyopathy will lead to death – although this could take anywhere from 2-10 years, depending on how much existing damage there is.

“We cannot say this enough: quitting alcohol completely gives you the best shot at slowing or reversing this disease, and continued drinking only leads to worsening the disease and eventual death.”

Preventing Alcoholic Cardiomyopathy: Alcohol Treatment Programs 

Again, alcoholic cardiomyopathy is a progressive disease, and gets worse as you continue to drink. When diagnosed with this disease, it is imperative that you quit drinking completely. It is at this stage – when trying to quit – that many binge drinkers and chronic drinkers find that they cannot quit, or can’t stay sober for an extended period of time without relapsing.

When alcohol has such a strong hold on you that even the threat of terminal heart failure can’t get you or a loved one to quit drinking, the need for an alcohol treatment program that is intensive and offers a high chance of turning around both your lifestyle and health is needed. Individuals at this point are in a serious position where the stakes are high, and they need the best clinical and therapeutic care they can get.

Reflections Recovery Center is a leading alcohol treatment center in Arizona that can deal with unique needs an of alcoholic men facing health problems due to chronic drinking. The Reflections program puts emphasis on adopting a healthier lifestyle and finding joy in being sober and caring about your health and happiness. Our program can be just what men need when faced with the reality that they need to quit drinking, or face serious health problems.

Is Your Young Adult Child Addicted to Alcohol? Take Our Assessment to Find Out.

What real clients have to say about Reflections Recovery Center in Arizona
Reflections provided me with the tools that got me where i am today with 14 months sober.
— Ricky A, Long Beach CA
Reflections gave me a life and an opportunity to become part of society. They challenged me and shaped me into the man I want to be.
— Dyer K, Gilbert AZ
I learned how to stay sober, found my best friends and created a new life at Reflections
— David S, Phoenix AZ

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