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Overcoming an alcohol addiction is a daunting task. Drink is everywhere, withdrawal can be tough, and returning to your old ways is always tempting. Here's what you need to know about becoming sober.

Alcohol is everywhere. Over half of the American adult population regularly enjoys alcoholic beverages, and almost everyone sees alcohol as a normal part of life. Think about it — a glass of wine at dinner, beer to relax with your friends, champagne to celebrate something, cocktails at a wild party and spirits to relax before bed. That sounds perfectly acceptable, doesn't it?

What image does your mind conjure up when you hear the word "addict"? Chances are that you'll think about someone who hides their addiction, can't hold down a job, doesn't wash regularly and frequently even steals to maintain their habit. Maybe you'll think of heroin, ecstasy, crack, or meth — substances that are both illegal and socially unacceptable. 

Though alcoholism can ruin life in much the same way as a serious drug addiction, becoming sober is a challenge that can better be likened to overcoming a food addiction. Like food, alcohol is impossible to escape.

Slipping into an alcohol addiction is easy, and people who think you're merely enjoying a social drink will not try to stop you. Getting out of it is tough for the very same reason. Moving out of the neighborhood and getting away from your bad crowd won't liberate an alcoholic from the burden of seeing drink every day. 

How do you quit or help a loved one become sober? What can you expect from the withdrawal process?

Alcoholism In The DSM-5

The most recent version of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Health Disorders (DSM) terms what is commonly known as alcoholism "Alcohol Use Disorder" (AUD). There are 11 diagnostic criteria, and anyone meeting two or more of them over one 12 month period qualifies for the diagnosis of AUD. The disorder is, however, broken down into mild, moderate or severe, depending on how many criteria are met. 

The alcoholism diagnostic criteria in the DSM-5 are:

  • Alcohol use in larger amounts or over longer periods of time than intended
  • A persistent desire, or unsuccessful attempts, to cut down on alcohol or to control its use
  • Cravings for alcohol
  • Alcohol use that interferes with the person's normal responsibilities (work, school, home)
  • Alcohol use that is continued even when social or interpersonal problems result
  • Important activities are given up or reduced due to alcohol abuse
  • Alcohol use in situations in which it is hazardous
  • The continuation of alcohol use despite known alcohol-induced physical or mental problems
  • Needing more alcohol with time, or not getting the same effects from the same amount (tolerance)
  • Withdrawal symptoms after alcohol cessation, or continued use to avoid withdrawal symptoms

Saying No To The Drink

Most alcoholics start off as normal social drinkers, who gradually grow to be increasingly dependent on alcohol. With the gradual nature of an alcohol addiction comes the "convenient" option of denial. Denying the existence of a problem is even more possible because alcohol consumption is socially acceptable. 

Alcoholics who look at the diagnostic criteria in the DSM-5 may think these things do not really apply to them. They may simply believe that they can control their use of alcohol, that they are merely using it to cope with stressful situations, that they are just having a good time, or that their alcohol habit does not interfere with their lives. 

Alcohol cessation is usually a gradual process, much like becoming addicted. Recognizing there is a problem is a tremendous start, because denial is the biggest enemy of overcoming addiction. 

Some alcoholics benefit from analyzing the impact alcohol is having on their lives honestly. They can ask themselves what alcohol is doing to their health, their family and friends, their job, and their brain. Then, they can look into the benefits of quitting. These may include better health, saving money, and improved social contacts. Alcoholics who are committed to becoming sober should also examine their underlying reasons for turning to drink in the first place, and promise themselves to seek counseling regarding those issues. 

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