The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism reports over 15 million adults, and over 620,000 youth between the ages of 12 and 17, in the United States suffer from an alcohol abuse disorder. 12.5% of these substance abusers are college students.
Alcohol abuse disorder is a combination of alcohol abuse and alcohol dependence, or alcohol addiction or alcoholism.
Addiction has become a national crisis in society, causing some devastating consequences. Reports show there are nearly 88,000 alcohol-related deaths in the United States each year. This makes alcohol abuse the third leading cause of preventable deaths.
Nearly 2,000 of these deaths occur among college students.
Just like anything else, the road to alcohol addiction is different for each person. Some people may be able to drink a few drinks and not think about alcohol again for weeks or months.
To understand how long it takes to become addicted to alcohol requires you to first understand what it means to be addicted.
What is Alcohol Addiction?
Alcohol addiction can appear through many signs and symptoms.
If you feel like drinking is the only way to wind down or release stress, if you are unable to control how much you drink, or if you feel the need to drink more alcohol to achieve the buzz you need are all examples of being addicted.
Some addicts want to drink or catch a buzz before attending parties or events. They think this will help them socialize better. And if they can’t drink ahead of time, they avoid going altogether.
Some who are dependent on alcohol find reasons to drink during the day or night, they feel withdrawal symptoms when trying to not drink, or they continue to drink even though it causes rifts in relationships or interferes with working and completing other responsibilities.
Alcohol abuse disorder develops over time, and it is the brain that encourages someone to become addicted.
How Long Does it Take to Get Addicted to Alcohol
Alcohol enters the brain in less than ten seconds. Once it enters, it begins to affect how we think, feel and act. It does so by changing how the neurotransmitters, or chemicals, in the brain works.
Alcohol causes a spike in your happy chemicals. This means you are feeling great once you start drinking. You have a buzz and can feel euphoric. This is a false sense of happiness, however. When you stop drinking, your happy chemicals drop back down to normal.
Normal is not what your brain wants to feel, though. It wants to feel high again, so it encourages you to continue drinking.
The more you must drink, the more you become dependent on alcohol.
It’s this process that can vary among alcoholics, causing some to become addicted faster than others. This is not the only factor, however.
Other Factors That Lead to Alcohol Addiction
How and when you consume alcohol are determinants of becoming addicted. Normal drinking consists of drinking three or fewer drinks a night, a few times a week. If your “normal” drinking consists of drinking five to ten drinks a night, five nights a week, you are headed towards addiction.
Some researchers claim the younger you are when you first start drinking, the more likely chance you will develop an addiction to alcohol. Other researchers claim the younger you are to try any addictive substance, including cigarettes or e-cigarettes, the more likely you are to become an addict.
Your family history can be a factor in whether you become an alcoholic or not. There are genes related to addiction that can be passed down from your parents, grandparents, and ancestors. Just because you have the gene does not mean you will become an alcoholic, but it can mean your chances are higher.
Many people addicted to alcohol have experienced some form of trauma in their past. They use alcohol to numb the pain they feel. They use alcohol as a coping tool. While it is a negative coping tool, it does work but only for a short time.
Over time, this coping tool becomes another problem to overcome.
Self-medicating with alcohol is more common than you may think. Some use it to help with physical pain, others with mental pain.
Stages of Alcoholism
There is research that shares there are four stages of alcoholism.
One, or the early stage, is hard to recognize because consequences are not very great at this point. Examples of someone in this stage can include college students who are binge drinking but are still able to keep up with their academic and personal responsibilities.
However, binge drinking is a sign.
In the next stage, the middle stage, the negative consequences of drinking too much start to appear. Weight loss or gain, blackouts, physical health problems, skipping classes to drink or due to hangovers, drop in grades, and withdrawal symptoms are signs to look for.
The third stage is recognized by a person’s desire to involve drinking alcohol in all areas of their life. While someone can still be functioning in school or work, they are becoming more preoccupied with consuming alcohol.
It may even be interfering with relationships and causing medical health problems.
The fourth stage is the end-stage. This is when a person is being controlled by alcohol, not the other way around. They feel they must drink in order to function and will take great risks to continue their abuse of alcohol.
At any age, there is help and hope.
How to Overcome Addiction to Alcohol
No matter what stage you are in, you can get help for your addiction. There are addiction treatment centers, outpatient, inpatient, and intensive inpatient programs, individual and group counseling, peer mentoring, sober coaches, and many other services available in your community and on college campuses.
As alcoholism has increased, so have the resources to help you conquer your addiction.
Reaching out is the first start, something you can do today, right now, to begin living the sober life you deserve.