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Alcohol addiction is one of the most profound and far-reaching public health threats Americans currently face. According to the 2019 National Survey on Drug Use and Health, roughly 7 percent of American adults between the ages of 18 and 22 reported engaging in heavy drinking over the course of the past month, and nearly 30 percent of adults in the same age group reported binge drinking at least once in the same period of time. Because alcohol consumption is such a deeply ingrained aspect of American culture and because heavy drinking is condoned in many social circles, it can be difficult for a person to identify whether or not they are struggling with a diagnosable alcohol use disorder. If you have been consuming more alcohol than intended on a regular basis, if you have been experiencing personal consequences as a result of your alcohol consumption, or if you have attempted to cut back on your own with limited success, some degree of treatment might be necessary.

At Princeton Detox & Recovery Center we understand how difficult it can be to come to terms with an alcohol use disorder. If you or someone you love has been struggling to control their drinking, we are available to help. Our medical detox program in New Jersey helps individuals undergo a safe, pain-free alcohol withdrawal while preparing them to take the next appropriate step on their personal journeys of addiction recovery. To learn more about our alcohol addiction recovery program or to begin your personal journey of healing, contact us today.

What is Alcoholism, or Alcohol Use Disorder?

An estimated 17.6 million Americans struggle with alcohol misuse or dependence, making it the most widely used addictive substance in the country. Additionally, more than half of adults in the U.S. have a family history of alcoholism. Alcohol addiction can happen to anyone and deeply affects every aspect of a person’s life. Both short and long-term alcohol use can pose serious risks to a person’s physical health, leading to increased risk of accident and injury, neurological impairments, cardiovascular problems and several types of cancer. Alcohol misuse and addiction can also negatively impact a person’s mental health, their interpersonal relationships, their career and their financial security.

What exactly is a diagnosable alcohol use disorder, and how can you tell whether or not professional treatment has become necessary? The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 5th Edition (DSM-V) outlines a list of diagnostic criteria associated with alcohol addiction. If you answer “yes” to two or more of the following questions, entering into a treatment program is likely a good idea. However, it is important to note that alcohol use disorders vary in severity, and a multi-staged program of recovery is not an ideal option for everyone. Contact us today to learn more about what type of treatment program will best meet your unique, personal needs.

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Signs & Symptoms of Alcohol Use Disorder

The DSM-V diagnostic criteria  for an alcohol use disorder are outlined below. Ask yourself the following questions when attempting to determine whether or not professional treatment is right for you.

Stages of Alcoholism

The development of alcoholism can be broken down into three distinct stages: early stage, middle stage, and end stage. The progression of the medical condition will vary depending on personal circumstances and the presence of pre-existing risk factors. For example, someone with a family history of substance misuse who works a high-stress job might develop an alcohol use disorder more quickly than someone with no genetic predisposition or environmental risk factors.

Stage 1: Early Stage Alcoholism

During the initial stage of the development of an alcohol use disorder, a person’s relationship with alcohol begins to change. Perhaps they drink more frequently than they used to, or they begin drinking alone whereas they used to only drink in social settings. They might drink to feel better about their current circumstances, or start to rely on alcohol to “take the edge off” after a long day of work. Warning signs begin to prevent themselves, and might include:

  • Regularly blacking out or experiencing hangovers that interfere with day-to-day life.
  • Experiencing problems at work, school, or in relationships as a direct result of your drinking.
  • Thinking about drinking obsessively or experiencing intense cravings for alcohol.
  • Attempting to cut back or quit entirely, but being unable to do so for an extended period of time.

Stage 2: Middle-Stage Alcoholism

During this stage of the development of alcoholism, the consequences related to excessive drinking become more severe. It becomes difficult for a person to function without alcohol; they might begin to hide their drinking from others, or grow defensive if their alcohol consumption is brought up by loved ones. Physical and psychological symptoms of alcohol misuse become apparent, including gastrointestinal issues, bloating, fatigue, irritability, and disrupted sleep schedules. At this stage it is still possible for a person to regain control over their drinking with some degree of professional help, like individual counseling and involvement in a peer support group.

 Stage 3: End-Stage Alcoholism

At this stage in the process, end stage alcoholism, the person has become physically and psychologically dependent on alcohol, and cannot quit without intensive professional help. This often looks like a short stay in an inpatient detox center followed by a higher level of clinical care. If a person attempts to quit without professional help they are liable to experience a host of potentially dangerous withdrawal symptoms.

Withdrawal & Detox Process

What does the alcohol withdrawal and detox process look like? The answer depends heavily on several factors, including the severity of the alcohol use disorder, the duration of use, and whether or not alcohol was being combined with any other chemical substances. In most cases, the process looks like this:
Reach out to a medical detox center that seems to be a good fit for you and your needs.
Arrange travel plans and determine how you will cover the cost of detox (insurance, self-pay or private pay).
Arrive at the detox center and undergo a detailed evaluation, which will help the medical and clinical team develop a personalized treatment plan.
Undergo a safe, pain-free alcohol withdrawal.
Once you have been physically stabilized, transition into the next appropriate level of care.

 Alcohol Withdrawal Symptoms

The symptoms associated with alcohol withdrawal vary on a person-to-person basis, and often include:

  • Severe headaches.
  • Body tremors/uncontrollable shaking.
  • Severe stomach cramping.
  • Nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea.
  • Loss of appetite.
  • Insomnia and other sleep-related issues.
  • Profuse sweating/night sweats.
  • Increased heart rate and blood pressure.
  • Seizures.
  • Disorientation and confusion.
  • Hallucinations (often associated with delirium tremens).
  • Anxiety and panic attacks.
  • Depressed mood/suicidal ideation.

Because withdrawal symptoms can be both physical and psychological in nature, and because more severe withdrawal symptoms can be lethal when left untreated, entering into a professional medical detox program always comes recommended.

Alcohol Withdrawal Timeline

Withdrawal symptoms are likely to appear between 6 and 24 hours after the last drink, and they vary from person to person. Some symptoms, such as headaches or nausea, are relatively mild and tend to resolve on their own, while others are more severe and warrant professional medical care. Symptoms of alcohol withdrawal can be unpredictable, which makes detoxing at home an unsafe option. The safest way to detox from alcohol is in a medically-supervised environment.

Alcohol withdrawal symptoms are broken up into three distinct stages.

These stages are:

Stage 1 (Mild) — Lasts 8 hours; headache, anxiety, insomnia, depression, mood swings, nausea, loss of appetite, fatigue, heart palpitations, tremors, abdominal pain.

Stage 2 (Moderate) — Lasts 1-3 days; mild symptoms as well as increased blood pressure and temperature, sweating, irritability, confusion.

Stage 3 (Severe) — Lasts 1 week; moderate symptoms in addition to fever, hallucinations, seizures, disorientation, agitation.

While many of the more severe physical withdrawal symptoms subside after several days in detox, psychological symptoms can be more persistent. This puts those new to sobriety in a vulnerable position, seeing as even the slightest trigger can increase the risk of relapse and continued alcohol abuse

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 Treatment Options

The best treatment options for alcohol addiction depend on your unique case. When it comes to professional treatment, several factors should be taken into close consideration, including:

  • The severity of the alcohol use disorder. If the alcohol use disorder is moderate or severe, entering into a long-term treatment program is likely a good idea.
  • The potential of withdrawal symptoms. Because the physical and psychological symptoms associated with alcohol withdrawal can be unpredictable, it is important for anyone who has been suffering from alcohol addiction to enter into a professional medical detox program for short-term monitoring.
  • The presence of any co-occurring disorders. If a person has been simultaneously suffering from an alcohol use disorder and a mental illness, entering into a longer term dual diagnosis treatment program might be necessary.

In most cases, it is recommended that a person who has been suffering from a diagnosable alcohol use disorder of any severity enter into a multi-staged treatment program, which begins with medical detox and transitions into the next appropriate level of care. Depending on your personal needs, you might choose to follow detox with an extended stay in an inpatient treatment center, or continue with a more flexible and less time-demanding option, like outpatient treatment. Treatment options include:

  • Medical detox. In medical detox a person undergoes a safe, pain-free alcohol withdrawal under the close supervision of a team of medical professionals.
  • Residential inpatient treatment. This is the most intensive treatment option; residential programs typically last for between 30 and 90 days depending on the needs of the individual. Most inpatient programs incorporate individual, group, and family therapy, 12 Step program education and involvement, and holistic treatment modalities to provide a comprehensive treatment experience.
  • Partial hospitalization. This level of care is a step down from inpatient treatment, and includes full days of intensive therapeutic care (usually 7 days a week) with the freedom to return home in the evenings.
  • Intensive outpatient treatment. Also known as IOP, this level of care is ideal for those who have completed a short stay in medical detox and are looking for a flexible treatment option with an ample amount of personal freedom. IOP is ideal for those with a mild or moderate alcohol use disorder and no co-occurring issues.
  • Outpatient treatment. Outpatient treatment, or OP, is one more step down from IOP, with group sessions typically only meeting between 2 or 3 times a week for several hours.
  • Aftercare. Because alcohol addiction is a chronic health condition, ongoing treatment is necessary to longer term recovery. Most aftercare plans consist of ongoing involvement in a peer support group (like Alcoholics Anonymous or Recovery Dharma) and ongoing individual therapy.
  • 12 Step program involvement. While many recovering individuals choose to participate in a 12 Step recovery program like Alcoholics Anonymous or Narcotics Anonymous, there are numerous other options available. Peer support is often an important part of aftercare.
  • Individual therapy and/or ongoing psychiatric services. Because many individuals who suffer from alcohol addiction simultaneously struggle with co-occurring issues, ongoing therapy and/or psychiatric care often come recommended.
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If you or someone you love has been suffering from an alcohol use disorder of any severity, Princeton Detox & Recovery Center is available to help. Our medically monitored detox program was designed with client comfort in mind. We provide our clients with a safe, pain-free alcohol withdrawal in a therapeutic setting, actively preparing them to take the next appropriate step on their personal recovery journeys. As soon as you make the decision to reach out for help you will be put in contact with one of our experienced and compassionate Treatment Advisors, who will help you determine whether or not our alcohol detox program is right for you. If we believe our program is a good fit, we will proceed with a brief pre-assessment and a free, no obligation health insurance benefit check. We accept coverage from most major national health insurance providers as well as most regional providers throughout New Jersey and surrounding areas. To learn more about alcohol addiction and treatment or to begin your own personal journey of alcohol addiction recovery, contact us today.

Alcohol FAQs

Alcohol abuse causes a range of serious consequences — not just for the individual struggling with alcoholism, but for all of their loved ones. Alcohol abuse can lead to physical, mental, and emotional issues. The individual who is drinking heavily might experience financial issues, legal problems directly related to their drinking, alcohol-related illnesses, and significant interpersonal problems. As the condition progresses, related consequences tend to grow more and more severe.

How can you tell if you are an alcoholic? There are several qualifying factors, including whether or not you are able to quit on your own. If you repeatedly attempt to quit with little or no success, there is a good chance that some degree of treatment would be beneficial.

Alcoholism affects different people in different ways. Some people go for days, weeks, or months without drinking, and then go on a multiple-day bender that results in a mass of serious personal consequences. Others wake up and drink first thing in the morning, and still others wait until 5pm and drink a 12-pack. The amount of drinks you consume in a day is definitely not an accurate way to gauge whether or not you are suffering from alcoholism.

An “abusive drinker” is someone who drinks excessively, or drinks more than the recommended amount in a single sitting. An abusive drinker might binge drink, drink heavily, or drink to the point of blackout. However, it can be difficult to spot an abusive drinker, as not every individual who abuses alcohol shows visible signs and symptoms.

Amanda Hilzer

Reviewed for accuracy by: our Executive Director:


Amanda graduated from Lehigh University with both an undergraduate degree in Psychology and a Master’s of Education degree in Counseling Psychology and has worked in the field of substance use disorder treatment and mental health treatment as a counselor and as a clinical manager for over 14 years.