In the United States, 14.5 million people aged 12 and older struggled with alcoholism in 2019. Moreover, alcohol is responsible for 18.5% of emergency room visits and was the third leading cause of preventable death in the United States as of 2019. Despite its prevalence, just over 7% of those struggling with alcoholism received treatment in this same year.

One of the reasons many people continue to abuse alcohol is to avoid alcoholism withdrawal symptoms. While there are ways to avoid alcohol withdrawal syndrome, it requires professional treatment to do so. Before seeking treatment to help stop drinking, it’s important to understand current statistics on alcoholism, what it is, why alcohol withdrawal symptoms occur and how treatment can help.

Florida Alcohol Abuse Statistics

Alcohol abuse is an issue in every state around the country, including Florida. While it can occur in just about any area, resources tend to be available in some of the larger metro areas. In Florida, they include:

  • Tallahassee (Florida’s capital city)
  • Miami
  • Tampa/St. Petersburg
  • Orlando
  • Jacksonville
  • Fort Myers
  • Hialeah
  • Cape Coral
  • Fort Lauderdale
  • Naples
  • Port St. Lucie

Understanding alcoholism trends starts with the National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH), which is administered by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. This survey provides insights on usage trends for alcohol, tobacco and illicit substances. The 2019 survey showed an average of 770,000 Floridians reported past-year issues with problematic drinking. At 4.2%, this was similar to the regional average of 4.5% but lower than the national average of 5.3%.

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An Overview of Alcohol Use Disorder

Someone who unwinds with a glass of wine after work on occasion or drinks at social gatherings isn’t the same as someone with a drinking issue. Alcohol use disorder, or alcoholism as it is colloquially known, is defined as an inability to control or cease alcohol use despite a wide array of consequences. It’s considered a brain disorder that can manifest in three iterations: mild, moderate or severe.

One of the things that makes this disorder unique is the extent to which it causes lasting changes in the brain. These changes make it hard for individuals to control the disorder and cause increased vulnerability to relapse.

Alcoholism is characterized by some of the following behaviors:

  • Having a desire to stop drinking but being unable to
  • Frequently drinking more than intended
  • Wanting to drink badly enough to block out thoughts of anything else
  • Spending a lot of time drinking and/or dealing with severe symptoms of alcohol withdrawal
  • Refraining from engaging in activities to instead drink alcohol
  • Continuing to drink even though it’s causing issues with family and friends
  • Getting into situations while or after drinking that increase the chances of getting hurt (such as drinking and driving, swimming, walking in dangerous areas or engaging in unprotected sex)
  • Continuing to drink despite the presence of depressive or anxious symptoms
  • Frequently experiencing memory blackouts due to drinking
  • Experiencing mild or severe withdrawal symptoms when drinking is stopped

An assessment of these symptoms and others may be rendered by a substance abuse treatment professional, who’ll use them to establish criteria for alcohol use disorder as noted in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition (DSM-5). This helps determine if the disorder is mild (two to three symptoms), moderate (four to five symptoms) or severe (six or more symptoms).

Alcoholism Risk Factors

The truth is that anyone can develop alcohol use disorders and the withdrawal symptoms that come with this issue. However, there are some risk factors that make certain Florida residents more susceptible than others.

Early Drinking

The earlier an individual begins using alcohol, the more likely they are to drink heavily to the point of developing addiction. In fact, research shows that drinking before age 15 increases the chances that an individual will struggle with drinking as an adult by up to five times, compared to those who wait until age 21 or older.

Family History

Family history and genetics also play a role in the prevalence of alcoholism. The combination of a person’s genes and their environment can make them more likely to drink to the point of abuse than those who don’t have this type of family history. This goes hand-in-hand with the age at which people are most likely to begin drinking.

Mental Health Conditions

A wide array of mental health conditions can contribute to alcoholism, including depression, post-traumatic stress disorder and anxiety. Individuals often attempt to address mental health symptoms with alcohol intake, which typically makes both situations worse. Given that alcohol is a depressant, it can especially be challenging to manage mental illnesses like depression through drinking. 

Signs of Alcohol Withdrawal Symptom

The signs of acute alcohol withdrawal can be significantly uncomfortable, sending many people back to drinking heavily just to avoid them. In some situations, it’s dangerous to suddenly stop drinking. Common withdrawal symptoms include:

  • Loss of appetite
  • Sweating profusely
  • Shaking
  • Nausea/vomiting
  • Restlessness/irritability/agitation
  • Headache

More severe withdrawal symptoms include:

  • Disorientation
  • Fast heart rate
  • Withdrawal seizures
  • Delirium tremens

Of the various alcohol withdrawal symptoms, delirium tremens may be the most serious. In the context of the alcohol withdrawal timeline, it starts between two and five days after a person’s last alcohol consumption and can be fatal. Delirium tremens is characterized by sudden and significant mental and nervous system changes due to the abrupt absence of alcohol from the body. It’s considered a medical emergency, and severe cases may even require intensive care in a hospital setting. 

Navigating alcohol withdrawal symptoms without the help of a medical professional can be dangerous for those with an alcohol addiction. Alcohol dependency takes a toll on the body, and while it may seem more dangerous to continue engaging in a behavior that’s causing harm, it can also be life-threatening when the alcohol level suddenly drops in the body. Chronic alcohol use requires a very carefully controlled alcohol detox process to ensure the safety of the user and avoid any life-threatening issues.

Targeted alcoholism treatment for alcohol dependence can’t begin until the detoxification process is complete. This typically takes one to two weeks, though it can take longer for more severe cases of alcoholism. Alcohol withdrawal symptoms can change quickly and aggressively, which is why professional oversight is so imperative at this stage of recovery. In addition to monitoring vital signs, checking for high blood pressure and heart rate, treatment professionals will also help you with any discomfort you might feel as your body adjusts to the lack of alcohol. 

Alcohol Withdrawal Treatment Options

Because of the dangers of alcohol withdrawal syndrome, it’s important to work with a professional who understands the risks of severe alcohol dependence. A range of options are available to help treat alcohol withdrawal syndrome and alcoholism in tandem, and these can even be beneficial for mild withdrawal symptoms. Once you’ve navigated alcohol detoxification, you can focus on treatment that will sustain you through the first phase of sobriety.

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The idea of using medication to treat even mild symptoms of alcoholism withdrawal might seem counterintuitive. Most people want to avoid using anything as a crutch for drinking or addiction in general. But many hesitate to quit drinking because of the withdrawal symptoms, which include everything from raising blood pressure to negatively impacting the central nervous system, causing the person to feel sick and weak. Medication can help with this part of the alcohol cessation process. It can also help you avoid the desire to drink after detox is complete. This part of addiction treatment is overseen by medical professionals to ensure there are no preexisting health issues that might make this a less than ideal option.

Three medications are currently available to help with alcohol withdrawal symptoms: naltrexone, acamprosate and disulfiram. All can be used with other therapies to help a person mitigate their drinking habits and are approved by the Food and Drug Administration to specifically help people stop or reduce their alcohol consumption and prevent relapse. One of the things many who struggle with addiction worry about is becoming addicted to the medications that help with the desire to drink. However, these medications have been formulated to work as intended and don’t produce effects that typically result in abuse. 

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Behavioral Intervention

Behavioral interventions are another way to help people navigate ongoing symptoms of alcohol withdrawal while finding new coping mechanisms to deal with the desire to engage in excessive drinking. Also referenced as counseling or talk therapy, this approach helps with a few different elements of recovery. It teaches individuals how to deal with the ongoing withdrawal symptoms, as well as teaching mechanisms to cope with any negative feelings an individual may have been addressing through the use of alcohol. Often, failing to have coping mechanisms in place is one of the reasons those with a drinking problem have such a hard time bringing it under control. Behavioral intervention teaches individuals how to employ some of the coping mechanisms they need to avoid reaching for alcohol when problems arise.

Finally, behavioral intervention gets to the root of any mental or emotional trauma a person may have so they’re better able to deal with it themselves instead of using alcohol to numb their pain. This approach also helps them build motivation to successfully achieve ongoing recovery and implement strategies in their home environment to avoid any distractions from sobriety. Common intervention techniques incorporate family and friends so the person is able to heal relationships that were negatively impacted by their drinking. This also helps cultivate an environment of support that can aid in recovery after intensive treatment. 

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Support Groups

Support groups have long been a mainstay of alcohol abuse treatment. While detox is used to address acute alcohol withdrawal symptoms, ongoing support is necessary to maintain sobriety. These groups have been a successful component of recovery for many who’ve dealt with alcohol addiction, in part because of the prevalence of these groups around the country. In these meetings, peers can share tips and strategies to deal with sobriety and the pitfalls that come with struggling with alcoholism. 

While support groups are a good way to help address some of the rigors of recovery, it’s important to note that alcohol withdrawal syndrome can be dangerous to your health. The results of alcohol withdrawal can be enough to shock your system into devastating health impacts that can even be fatal if not managed properly. Severe withdrawal can end up being a medical emergency, so it’s important to stop your alcohol intake under the care of a professional before proceeding to a support group.

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Co-Occurring Disorder Treatments

Because one of the contributing factors in alcohol abuse deals with mental health issues, treatment for co-occurring disorders should be a part of any process to help an individual manage an alcohol addiction. These mental illnesses typically exist in conjunction with alcohol addiction and can make it challenging for a person to recover without proper treatment all around. This is especially true for mental illnesses like anxiety, bipolar disorder, depression and post-traumatic stress disorder. Mental illness treatment can mitigate some of the symptoms that may cause someone to drink heavily. Moreover, by correcting some of the challenges of the mental illness in question, the individual may feel stronger and more capable of dealing with the nuances of sobriety.

Alcohol Withdrawal Treatment in Florida

Given the dangers of alcohol withdrawal symptoms, it’s imperative to get proper treatment to stop drinking completely. Behavioral Health Centers is a one-of-a-kind treatment center in Port St. Lucie that offers professional intervention for alcohol withdrawal and subsequent treatment for alcohol use disorder. Experienced, licensed staff members are on hand to help customize a treatment program that includes a detox element to ease the discomfort of alcohol withdrawal syndrome. Call 772-774-3872 today to find out how our Florida alcohol withdrawal program can help you regain control of your life.

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Medically reviewed by:

Dr. K. Dodge, PhD, MSPH, MSW

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