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How Long Does It Take To Become Addicted to Alcohol

Many individuals believe that there is a specific threshold for how much or how long they can drink before becoming addicted to alcohol. This mentality comes from the knowledge that smoking one cigarette does not make you addicted to nicotine or drinking one cup of coffee does not make you addicted to caffeine.

Alcohol addiction is also known as alcohol dependence or alcoholism. It can be a serious problem that can escalate quickly without warning. Individuals can become dependent on alcohol by binge drinking for an extended period of times. It can also be developed when individuals experience negative life events that prompt excessive drinking in order to cope with the issues.

There is not a medically established timeline for when a person can become addicted to alcohol. Alcohol can affect each person in a unique way. Some people may only be able to have a typical glass of wine before feeling the effects while others can drink an entire six-pack with no real effects.

Much like other scenarios, there are a variety of factors which contribute to a person’s ability to develop alcohol addiction or become an alcoholic. These factors include:

  • The age of the individual when they begin drinking
  • The frequency of drinking
  • The quantity of drinking in a single setting or binge drinking
  • Emotional factors such as anxiety or depression
  • Age
  • Weight
  • Tolerance
  • A family history of alcoholism
  • Presence or introduction of tragic or life-altering events

These are just some of the numerous factors which can increase a risk of developing alcohol addiction.

How do you know when you are addicted to alcohol?

As with other forms of the disease, there are symptoms and warning signs that can signal an individual if they are addicted or becoming addicted to alcohol consumption. These symptoms can range from mild to severe depending on the individual’s lifestyle and habits.

Some of the signs of a developed or developing alcohol addiction can include:

  • Needing to drink more to feel the same effects
  • Experiencing alcohol withdrawal symptoms after remaining sober for several hours
  • Feeling the ‘need’ to wind down, destress or cope with life events
  • Drinking throughout the day or finding a ‘reason’ to drink earlier than normal
  • Drinking even though it may cause problems in your family life, work life, or social life.
  • Being unable to control or limit your drinking.
  • Avoiding activities or events unless you can consume alcohol before or during the event.

Alcohol addiction or dependence can impose serious risks to your health and well-being. If you find that you need to drink several nights a week or every weekend, you may be at risk for numerous health issues as well as developing a dependence on alcohol.

The Center for Disease Controls advises that women should not drink more than 1 drink a night or 7 drinks over the course of a week. For men, the guidelines for moderate alcohol consumption is no more than 2 drinks a night or 14 drinks in a week. If you wish to limit your risks of developing alcohol addiction, it is important to stay within the suggested medical guidelines for drinking in moderation.

One drink according to these guidelines can be:

12 ounces of beer

8-9 ounces of malt liquor

5 ounces of wine or

A 1.5 ounce shot of liquor

What to do if you believe you are becoming addicted?

Alcohol addiction can create additional issues, such as experiencing symptoms of alcohol withdrawal. Alcohol withdrawal symptoms are one warning sign that an individual is experiencing alcohol addiction. These symptoms can include:

  • Headache
  • Tremors
  • Nausea
  • Rapid or increased heart rate
  • Irritability

If you are concerned about the level or frequency of which you drink, it is important that you evaluate your options.

It is important to note that you should consider the guidance of a licensed, medical professional if you are experiencing severe symptoms of alcohol withdrawal, to limit the risks to your health. The information in this article is not that of a licensed medical professional.

Many programs and options are available for reducing your addiction.

  1. Alcohol tapering is a process in which you gradually decrease your frequency and quantity of alcohol over time. Alcohol tapering can be a way to minimize risks associated with alcohol withdrawal while also providing you the opportunity to regain control of your developing addiction.
  2. Sobriety programs like Alcoholics Anonymous can offer you a regular, routine setting in which you can maintain your account for your drinking while receiving the support of those who understand what you are going through. Many cities offer numerous AA meetings each week.
  3. Professional Counselling can be an option if you find that you are drinking due to stress, anxiety, depression or related issues. A licensed therapist or counselor can help you by providing new coping skills and identifying the source of your drinking. They may also be able to refer you to psychiatric help if you should need medication to alleviate these symptoms.
  4. A medical detox is where an individual rapidly detoxes from alcohol under the strict supervision of a medical professional. Detox can be dangerous and should only be done when there is a licensed medical professional available to monitor any risks that may develop. Many hospitals and clinics will offer programs for medical detox which not only minimize the severe risks of detoxing rapidly but can also offer additional medications and support for maintaining sobriety.
  5. Rehabilitation clinics often offer a combination of the previously discussed options to create a tailored sobriety program. This can include group therapy meetings, individual counseling sessions, medications and detox options. Rehabilitation clinics are typically focused on removing a dependence on substances and substance abuse and aid individuals in maintaining life-long sobriety.

If you or someone you love is experience alcohol dependence, addiction, or alcoholism, it is important to take the necessary steps to reduce the long-term risks to health and well-being. There are a variety of options available for treatment and recovery, be sure to evaluate your individual needs, consult medical professionals when needed, and find the support of friends and family.

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Angela Sartain, PhD Psychology
Angela Sartain, PhD Psychology

Angela is currently finishing up her doctoral degree program in General Psychology. In her free time, she enjoys spending time with her family, reading, and crafting crochet dolls for her small business.

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