Alcoholism is a serious addiction that alters the way the brain functions, so it should come as no surprise that it is a risk factor for a number of other disorders. If alcohol abuse has damaged your life, learn how it affects the brain and mental health disorders, how it leads to other illnesses and how you can address such co-occurring conditions.
How Alcoholism Affects the Body and Mind
If alcohol causes serious problems in your life, yet you keep drinking, you are probably suffering from alcoholism. Someone abuses alcohol if she binge drinks until she is sick or if she drinks too often. On the other hand, if someone needs to drink to feel normal, then dependence has formed. Alcohol abuse can lead to dependence, which can lead to addiction.
According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, physiological dependence upon alcohol occurs, because the brain tries to maintain homeostasis. Alcohol upsets normalcy, so the brain reacts to keep itself in check. Alcohol inhibits the brain by limiting neuronal activity, but the brain compensates for this problem—when alcohol leaves the body, the brain overcompensates, which over-excites neurons. This reaction can cause serious problems, including death.
Alcoholism and Comorbid Diseases
“Comorbid” means co-occurring: it refers to having two or more illnesses at the same time, and is usually represented by a statistical likelihood of getting a second disease if have another. Such comorbid problems are mental health and drug abuse disorders.
Alcohol comorbidity is common due to the fact that many people drink to self-medicate pre-existing illnesses. Furthermore, the drug powerfully affects the brain over time, so dependence often accompanies the following issues:
- Bipolar disorder
- Anxiety disorders
- Major depressive disorder
- Other addictions
Alcoholics have increased risks for these disorders, which increase the risk of developing alcoholism. In other words, comorbidity is a two-way street. Furthermore, alcoholism is a multifactorial disorder, meaning its origins are genetic, psychological and environmental.
Such is also the case for psychiatric disorders—many issues influence alcoholism as well as other illnesses, so it is no wonder that people are likely to develop both problems simultaneously. Also, a brain that is compromised by alcohol is out of balance, thereby more likely to manifest a behavioral or mental disorder. All in all, a sick brain is more likely to become sick, which perpetuates the downward spiral of drug abuse and mental illness.
Treating Co-occurring Disorders
When an alcoholic goes to a hospital for alcohol-associated complications, doctors treat the alcoholism and its associated diseases at the same time—this dualistic approach must occur with alcohol dependence and mental health disorders.
Integrating treatment for mental health and drug abuse has been supported in recent years, so Dual Diagnosis treatment will probably lead to better outcomes for all patients. If you are a recovering alcoholic, then you can stay clean by treating both your mind and body—focusing on your mental health and your drug habits at once will help you succeed in sobriety.
Help Finding Addiction Treatment
Alcoholism is difficult to fight, because true recovery requires support, change and a new outlook on life. If you or a loved one struggles with substance abuse, call our toll-free helpline now. Our admissions coordinators will find the best program for your needs, so don’t wait for a sober lifestyle to find you. Our toll-free helpline is available 24 hours a day, so reach out for help right now.