Alcohol dependence is also known as alcoholism; however, health professionals tend not to use this term because of its potential to increase stigma and discrimination of the condition. Alcohol dependency is the most common substance use disorder in Australia. Individuals who are alcohol dependent tend to prioritise drinking alcohol over other activities (including seeing friends and going to work). However, alcohol dependency is not an all or nothing condition. It occurs on a continuum ranging from mild to severe. Individuals with a mild dependence on alcohol may crave an alcoholic drink when it is not available and find it difficult to stop drinking after a couple of drinks. Individuals with severe alcohol dependence suffer physical and/or psychological withdrawal symptoms (e.g. vomiting, anxiety) when they do not consume alcohol.
It’s rare for people with alcoholism to strive for that diagnosis. No one grows up wanting to struggle with alcohol for the rest of life. But alcoholism can be sneaky, creeping into life in ways that are subtle and that can pass by unnoticed.Â For some, alcoholism begins with peer pressure. These people just don’t intend to start drinking, and they may not begin life even enjoying alcohol, but their peers prompt and poke them to drink alcohol. In time, as they comply with these requests from peers, they lose the ability to control how and when they drink.
As defined by the American Society of Addiction Medicine (ASAM), addiction is a disease that disrupts brain chemistry and circuitry, which in turn impacts willpower, reward, memory, and motivation. The first step calls for individuals to accept that they are unable to control their drinking and/or drug use and that their willpower and motivation have been compromised. When someone struggles with addiction, they are no longer able to manage how much and how often drugs and/or alcohol are abused. Recognition of this loss of control and admission of being powerless over addiction is the first step toward recovery.
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Since the 1950s, alcohol addiction has been treated as a separate addiction from that of other illicit drugs under the AA program, meaning that drug abuse disorders are considered to be a different struggle, so a separate 12-step program is recommended. Chemical dependency is considered the most life-threatening addiction disorder and addicts are advised to address this addiction first and prior to other addictions such as gambling or sexual addiction, until abstinence is established and recovery has begun. Drug dependency is sometimes considered the root addiction, causing the individual to develop other addictive tendencies and therefore should be addressed first.
Michael M. Miller, MD, FASAM, FAPA, is the medical director of the Herrington Recovery Center at Rogers Memorial Hospital-Oconomowoc. He is a board-certified general psychiatrist and addiction psychiatrist. Dr. Miller has practiced addiction medicine for more than 30 years and is certified in addiction medicine by the American Board of Addiction Medicine. Dr. Miller is also an at-large director of the American Board of Addiction Medicine and The ABAM Foundation. He is a past president of ASAM.
Since its origin with AA, the 12-Step model has been adopted and altered by many groups to fit other programs – for addiction treatment and otherwise. Many groups, like Narcotics Anonymous, use the steps exactly as they were conceived by AA. Others have modified the steps to fit their own needs and cultures. For example, a Native American group has combined the 12 Steps with the Native American concept of the Medicine Wheel to create a program designed specifically to help indigenous Americans who struggle with alcoholism and addiction, the Medicine Wheel and 12 Steps program. Others have come up with similar ideas to integrate the basic ideas of the 12 Steps into a cultural framework that makes sense for members of that culture.
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The Steps start from a basic acceptance that we can control and change only ourselves and our own reactions to people and events. Twelve Step participants take ongoing inventory of themselves and honestly acknowledge the ways they have hurt themselves and others. When they are ready, they attempt to make amends to all persons they have harmed. Trust, acceptance, love, goodwill and forgiveness are key elements in a Twelve Step program just as they are important elements of any healthy relationship.
People going through mild withdrawal are monitored to make sure that more severe symptoms do not develop. Medications usually are unnecessary. Treatment of a patient suffering more severe effects of withdrawal may require sedative medications to relieve the discomfort of withdrawal and to avoid the potentially life-threatening complications of high blood pressure, fast heart rate, and seizures. Benzodiazepine drugs may be helpful in those patients experiencing hallucinations. If the patient vomits for an extended period, fluids may need to be given through a vein (intravenously, IV). Thiamine (a vitamin) is often included in the fluids, because thiamine levels are often very low in alcohol-dependent patients, and deficiency of thiamine is responsible for the Wernicke-Korsakoff syndrome.
AA is a faith-based program where, in order to succeed in their recovery and progress through the 12 steps, members are instructed to admit their lack of control over both alcohol and their own lives and turn themselves over to a higher power. While the foundations of AA are based in Christianity, the 12-Step program is meant to be nonspecific regarding religion and focus more on a spiritual awakening.
Friends and family members are interconnected—suspended in delicate balance. When a loved one begins the arduous journey of recovery, the balance shifts. With work and understanding, relationships can be reshaped into something better and a healthier balance can be achieved. Recovery and support for the recovering person are reciprocal gifts that keep on giving.
Teenagers who consume alcohol excessively have been found to be at risk for abnormal organ development as the possible result of the hormonal abnormalities caused by alcohol. This is particularly a risk to their developing reproductive system. Just a few of the other many dangerous effects of alcohol abuse and alcoholism in teenagers include the following:
I agree with Jann B.'s earlier comments that the resistance of some AA members to pharmacological assistance has helped to create the divide between 12 Step recovery and academic addiction medicine. In fact, resistance by active alcoholics to psychological assisstance - mostly by withholding the true nature of their addiction - was addressed in AA's original publication in 1939 of the text Alcoholilcs Anonymous. It acknowledged that the alcoholic him/herself was in part responsible for the skepticism many professionals felt when treating alcoholics. However, AA literature also is quite clear (in the text and via subsequent pamphlets) about the importance of seeking outside help and being open-minded to the advice of a helping professional.
That said, I believe the divide between 12 Step recovery and academic addiction medicine is largely a result of AA's non-scientific approach. The nature of addiction and subsequent recovery through 12 Step work is not easily measurable or definable. Academia can measure length of sobriety and certain facts, but is not able to tell us why this occurs...at least not in a quantitative way. As a result, tends to avoid embracing 12 Step recovery because they cannot define it measurable scientific methods.
Fortunately to the suffering alchoholic who desires escape from the hell of alchoholism, 12 Step recovery doesn't necessitate understanding the process, it requires doing the process.
"Learning basic Twelve Step philosophy and language can open the lines of communication," continued Cathy. "Once you understand some Twelve Step principles, concepts such as powerlessness, spiritual awakening, higher power and making amends, they will seem less like cult mantras and more like the simple guides they are intended to be." A Twelve Step program is one that adapts the Twelve Steps of AA to fit the particular needs of a mutual-help group. Narcotics Anonymous, Al-Anon, Alateen, Gamblers Anonymous, Nicotine Anonymous, and Adult Children of Alcoholics are examples of groups with a Twelve Step foundation.
NIAAA says a relapse typically follows a predictable path. The person in recovery is placed in a high-risk situation, and the person isn’t able to handle that situation effectively. That lack of effectiveness can prompt the person to feel somehow vulnerable or weak, and it can lead to a craving for alcohol. After a weak moment, people just begin to attribute life’s good things to alcohol. They then have a lapse and drink just a bit. In time, they start to drink more and more.
According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse’s Principles of Drug Addiction Treatment: A Research-Based Guide, short-term residential programs developed the idea of using a modified 12-Step approach to provide a shorter stay in treatment that included follow-up through a 12-Step fellowship. This is seen as a way to provide the important post-treatment structure that helps people maintain long-term recovery. Other programs have also incorporated the 12 Steps, both by encouraging clients to attend 12-Step fellowship meetings, and by incorporating 12-Step ideas into their practices.
Thank you. Twelve Steps and AA culture is a great bridge to extended self help. It works great when most of those working together come from diverse backgrounds. In my humble opinion, it gets difficult when the professional treatment world extends so deep into self help that they begin to set the standards for CBT in terms of acceptable attitudes. I am disheartened by the almost organized labor or mob influence on the traditional meetings.
Alcoholism is appropriately considered a disease rather than a weakness of character or chosen pattern of bad behavior. It is the third most common mental illness, affecting more than 14 million people in the United States. Other facts and statistics about alcohol dependence include its pattern of afflicting about 4% of women and 10% of men. It costs more than $200 billion per year in lower productivity, early death, and costs for treatment. Worldwide, alcohol is thought to contribute to more than 200 illnesses and injuries, like liver disease, heart disease, and neurological problems. Alcohol-related deaths number more than 3 million per year, nearly 6% of all deaths worldwide. For adults between 20-40 years of age, that percentage rises to about 25% of deaths due to alcohol.
We AAs have never called alcoholism a disease because, technically speaking, it is not a disease entity. For example, there is no such thing as heart disease. Instead there are many separate heart ailments or combinations of them. It is something like that with alcoholism. Therefore, we did not wish to get in wrong with the medical profession by pronouncing alcoholism a disease entity. Hence, we have always called it an illness or a malady—a far safer term for us to use.
More than 7 percent of all American adults have an alcohol use disorder. These adults drink too much, too often, and in ways that harm their health, their happiness, and their relationships. An intervention, in which the family outlines alcohol’s consequences, can push these people to enter treatment programs. Once there, counseling sessions, relapse prevention coaching, and support group work can help to support recovery. Relapse rates for alcohol fall within the 40-60 percent range, so people often need to stick with aftercare for the rest of life.
Relapse can be avoided by getting sufficient aftercare. Oftentimes, aftercare involves a peer support group, ongoing therapy, and even a maintenance medication like naltrexone, which reduces or eliminates cravings. Support from family and friends is also a very important part of sustained recovery, so finding a supportive home environment – through a sober home, moving to a new house, or clearing drugs and alcohol out of one’s existing home – is very important. Working with an evidence-based treatment program can help one gather resources about nearby or online support groups and therapists.
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Alcohol, especially when consumed in excess, can affect teens, women, men, and the elderly quite differently. Women and the elderly tend to have higher blood concentrations of alcohol compared to men and younger individuals who drink the same amount. Alcoholic women are more at risk for developing physical health problems like cirrhosis of the liver and heart and nerve damage at a faster rate than alcohol-dependent men. Interestingly, men and women seem to have similar learning and memory problems as the result of excessive alcohol intake, but again, women tend to develop those problems twice as fast as men.
Other options include inpatient and outpatient rehab centers, which offer professional addiction treatment and medical care. These programs can also offer a medically supervised detox, which is important in the early stages of alcohol withdrawal. People who have been drinking heavily for long periods of time and stop are at risk of symptoms such as insomnia, nausea, vomiting, tremors, fever, seizures, hallucinations, and severe confusion. Some of these symptoms can be dangerous or even fatal. A medical detox can reduce these symptoms and prevent complications.7
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Following detoxification, social support to abstain from or moderate drinking is needed for an extended period of time. It is useful for individuals who are recovering from alcohol dependence to identify people who can support them through the process, as it can still be very difficult not to drink alcohol, or to drink in moderation following detoxification. People who have difficulty may wish to investigate whether there is medication which can help them stay away from alcohol. There are range of prescription medicines which might assist some people. Talk to a doctor before taking any medication.
Often, family members and close friends feel obligated to cover for the person with the drinking problem. So they take on the burden of cleaning up your messes, lying for you, or working more to make ends meet. Pretending that nothing is wrong and hiding away all of their fears and resentments can take an enormous toll. Children are especially sensitive and can suffer long-lasting emotional trauma when a parent or caretaker is an alcoholic or heavy drinker.
Feeling a "kinship of common suffering" and, though drunk, Wilson attended his first Group gathering. Within days, Wilson admitted himself to the Charles B. Towns Hospital after drinking four beers on the way—the last alcohol he ever drank. Under the care of William Duncan Silkworth (an early benefactor of AA), Wilson's detox included the deliriant belladonna. At the hospital a despairing Wilson experienced a bright flash of light, which he felt to be God revealing himself. Following his hospital discharge Wilson joined the Oxford Group and recruited other alcoholics to the Group. Wilson's early efforts to help others become sober were ineffective, prompting Silkworth to suggest that Wilson place less stress on religion and more on "the science" of treating alcoholism. Wilson's first success came during a business trip to Akron, Ohio, where he was introduced to Robert Smith, a surgeon and Oxford Group member who was unable to stay sober. After thirty days of working with Wilson, Smith drank his last drink on 10 June 1935, the date marked by AA for its anniversaries.
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Alcohol abuse and dependence, now both included under the diagnosis of alcohol use disorder, is a disease characterized by the sufferer having a pattern of drinking excessively despite the negative effects of alcohol on the individual's work, medical, legal, educational, and/or social life. It may involve a destructive pattern of alcohol use that includes a number of symptoms, including tolerance to or withdrawal from the substance, using more alcohol and/or for a longer time than planned, and trouble reducing its use.
interventions Extreme caution should be used in administering drugs to alcoholic patients because of the possibility of additive central nervous system depression and toxicity caused by inability of the liver to metabolize the drugs. Treatment consists of psychotherapy (especially group therapy by organizations such as Alcoholics Anonymous), or administration of drugs such as disulfiram that cause an aversion to alcohol. See also acute alcoholism, chronic alcoholism.
While consuming alcohol is, by definition, necessary to develop alcoholism, the use of alcohol by itself does not predict the development of alcoholism. The quantity, frequency, and regularity of alcohol consumption required to develop alcoholism varies greatly from person to person. People's response to alcohol may be affected by their size, age, general state of health, and by the medications they are taking. In some, fewer drinks can still cause health problems. Since there is no known "safe" alcohol level for pregnant women, the Surgeon General advises women who are, or are planning to be, pregnant to abstain from drinking.
The personal nature of the behavioral issues that lead to seeking help in twelve-step fellowships results in a strong relationship between sponsee and sponsor. As the relationship is based on spiritual principles, it is unique and not generally characterized as "friendship". Fundamentally, the sponsor has the single purpose of helping the sponsee recover from the behavioral problem that brought the sufferer into twelve-step work, which reflexively helps the sponsor recover.