Underestimating Alcohol Addiction Can Be a Barrier to Effective Treatment

Alcohol consumption is an often controversial, yet crucial, topic. When considering the drug’s far-reaching effects on health and well-being, it’s a conversation that needs to be had. The fact is that a significant number of people underestimate their alcohol intake, sometimes by as much as 40%.

alcohol addiction

Alcohol consumption is an often controversial, yet crucial, topic. When considering the drug’s far-reaching effects on health and well-being, it’s a conversation that needs to be had. The fact is that a significant number of people underestimate their alcohol intake, sometimes by as much as 40%.

What’s more, as this study shows, a large percentage of people are aware of the significant risks of alcohol consumption. Despite this, many drinkers persist in their habits, often justifying their actions by categorizing themselves as ‘moderate’ drinkers.

The misjudgment goes beyond mere numbers. When people fail to recognize or admit to their excessive drinking habits, they risk deeper health issues and, potentially, a full-blown alcohol addiction. Addressing this requires a mix of self-awareness, intervention, and potential treatment. Being honest about our drinking patterns and understanding when they cross into dangerous territory is the first step towards fostering a healthier relationship with alcohol.

In this article, we’ll explore the common barriers to the treatment of alcohol addiction, how to recognize your need for support, and therapies proven to be effective. 

The perception vs. reality gap

A comprehensive review in the British Journal of Clinical Pharmacology found that self-reported alcohol consumption only accounted for between 40-60% of alcohol sales. This implies a significant underreporting or under-recognition of consumption. 

So what are the reasons for this? Well, cognitive biases play a crucial role in how we perceive our behaviors. Key biases include:

Confirmation bias

This involves favoring information that confirms our existing beliefs. For instance, someone might remember occasions when they drank responsibly, while conveniently forgetting the times they over-indulged.

Optimism bias

This bias makes you believe you’re less at risk of negative outcomes than others. For alcohol, it manifests in thoughts like “I won’t become addicted” or “I can handle more drinks.”

Social influences and norms

Social environments can significantly skew your perceptions of “normal” drinking. A study in Addiction found that individuals consistently underestimated their alcohol consumption relative to peers, especially in heavy-drinking environments.

Comparative underestimation

It can be easy to base your drinking norms on those who drink heavily, instead of the average. This was highlighted in a study from the Journal of Studies on Alcohol and Drugs, where people perceived their drinking habits as less problematic when comparing themselves to heavy drinkers.

Recognizing and understanding this perception-reality gap is paramount. By being aware of the cognitive and social factors at play, you can make more informed decisions about your alcohol consumption.

Consequences of underestimation

Angry woman quarreling with drunk husband with alcohol addiction on kitchen

It’s easy to dismiss that glass of wine at dinner or beer after work as harmless. But when these instances accumulate, before you know it you’re consuming more alcohol than you think. 

The repercussions can be far-reaching.

The danger isn’t just in the alcohol itself but in the blindness to its impact on your life. As your alcohol consumption creeps up on you, so will its consequences. From health complications to relationships and professional endeavors, its effects can be more profound than you initially realize.

Health implications

Today, the dangers of drinking alcohol have been widely documented. Few drugs are as damaging to the human body. Liver diseases, cancers, depression and anxiety, and heart disease, are some of the potential health risks. 

Personal relationships

The emotional bonds you cherish can become strained under alcohol’s influence. Research has associated excessive alcohol consumption with decreased satisfaction in marriages. Specifically, the stress stemming from alcohol-related issues has been identified as a source of marital conflicts. Analyzing data on alcohol’s impact on relationships reveals that alcohol dependency adversely affects close relationships, elevating the chances of separations and divorces.

Professional impact

Your career, a reflection of your dedication and hard work, isn’t untouched by alcohol’s effects. Overindulgence can cloud your focus, causing dips in productivity, increased days off, and even risking your job position.

Long-term consequences

The most subtle yet perilous transition is moving from casual drinking to full-blown addiction. Over time, your regular nights out can morph into a deep-seated dependence on alcohol.

Recognizing these potential pitfalls is the first step in ensuring you maintain a balanced, healthy relationship with alcohol.

Barriers to treatment

depressed woman indoors at home mental health and alcohol addiction concept - Maui Recovery

When you underestimate how much you’re drinking, it’s not just about the numbers on a bottle or a can. It’s about the walls you unknowingly build, keeping you from acknowledging the issue and seeking timely intervention.

Underestimation and denial

Imagine consistently misjudging the depth of water you’re in, believing it’s just ankle-deep when it’s gradually rising to your waist, your chest, or even over your head. When you underestimate your alcohol consumption, you’re doing just that, preventing yourself from seeing the true depth of the issue. This misjudgment often becomes a barrier, making you believe you’re in control and don’t need assistance.

The “I don’t have a problem” mindset

Many hold onto the idea that heavy drinking is just a phase or a choice—something you can snap out of at any time. But each day this mindset persists, it becomes another day lost in acknowledging the problem. It’s a delay that can have tangible repercussions, further entrenching the belief and making intervention even more challenging.

Dangers of waiting too long

Delaying treatment isn’t a passive act; it’s an active risk. The longer you wait to address your alcohol consumption, the higher the chance of health complications – liver issues, cognitive decline, and more. Beyond health, the recovery path becomes steeper. All too easily can occasional heavy drinking lead to more serious dependencies, making the journey to sobriety longer and more arduous.

Societal stigma and self-shame

Society’s view on alcohol addiction can be a double-edged sword. On one side, drinking is often celebrated and even encouraged in many cultures and social settings. On the other, there’s a prevailing stigma attached to admitting to an alcohol problem and seeking help. 

This societal pressure can make you internalize feelings of shame or guilt, feeling that you “should” be able to handle it on your own. The fear of judgment from peers, family, or colleagues can become a significant hindrance, keeping you from openly discussing your struggles and seeking the help you might need.

In understanding these barriers, you take the first step in dismantling them, ensuring a clearer, more informed path forward.

Identifying the signs of problematic drinking

Recognizing when the seemingly casual verges into a habit is crucial. While everyone’s drinking habits vary, certain signs consistently signal a tilt into problematic drinking. Here’s a more comprehensive list to help you identify potential red flags:

Physical signs

  • Frequent hangovers
  • Increasing tolerance to alcohol
  • Blackouts or memory lapses
  • Unexplained bruises or injuries
  • Nausea or vomiting when not drinking
  • Insomnia or disrupted sleep patterns

Behavioral signs

Codependency frustrated depressed female - Maui Recovery
  • Neglecting responsibilities
  • Withdrawing from social or recreational activities
  • Drinking in solitude or secrecy
  • Consistent binge drinking
  • Defensive when confronted about drinking
  • Regularly drinking more than intended

Emotional signs

  • Feelings of guilt or shame tied to drinking
  • Anxiety or jumpiness
  • Irritability or mood swings
  • Depression
  • Restlessness
  • Obsessive thoughts about the next drink

Read our previous article to learn more about the signs and symptoms of alcohol addiction

Tools for self-assessment

Several online tools and questionnaires can assist in gauging if your drinking might be problematic. We recommend the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism’s Alcohol Use Disorders Identification Test (AUDIT).

Awareness is the first step. If several of these signs align with your experiences, consider seeking guidance or professional assistance.

The importance of early intervention

If you think you may have an issue, don’t ignore it. Recognizing and addressing problematic drinking behaviors in their initial stages can significantly improve recovery outcomes and reduce the risk of long-term health and social consequences. 

Early intervention has been shown to limit the progression of alcohol use disorders, mitigating potential physical, psychological, and socio-economic damages. As the boundary between casual drinking and dependency blurs for many, understanding the signs and seeking help promptly becomes not just beneficial but essential.

If believe you or a loved one may be suffering from alcohol-related issues, don’t be reluctant to seek support. 

Effective treatments for alcohol addiction

As alcohol dependency can impact various facets of a person’s life, addressing it necessitates a multifaceted approach. The efficacy of a treatment hinges not only on its scientific grounding but also on its alignment with individual needs. Some recovery programs, such as those adopted by Maui Recovery, take a holistic approach. By combining evidence-backed treatments with experiential therapies, we get to the root of addiction rather than merely treating the symptoms. Some effective treatments for alcohol addiction are as follows:

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT)

Cognitive Behavior Therapy In Maui for Addictions - Maui Recovery

CBT is a structured, short-term therapy that focuses on identifying negative thought patterns and behaviors related to alcohol use. It provides actionable strategies to address and change these behaviors. Scientific studies consistently support its efficacy in treating substance use disorders, including alcohol addiction. At Maui Recovery, CBT is employed to help our clients confront and alter these maladaptive patterns, aiding them in their recovery journey.

Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT)

Originally developed for treating borderline personality disorder, DBT is now used effectively for various conditions, including alcohol addiction. It combines standard cognitive-behavioral techniques with mindfulness strategies. To put it in rudimentary terms, DBT is usually a longer process than CBT, and encompasses more of you as a person. At Maui Recovery, our DBT sessions are structured to foster emotional regulation, reduce harmful behaviors, and improve interpersonal effectiveness. 

Nature Immersion

The many benefits of mature immersion are now widely recognized. Simply being in natural environments can reduce the production of stress hormones, improve mood, and enhance cognitive performance. Nature therapy, also known as ecotherapy, taps into these restorative energies, Maui Recovery’s location offers an ideal setting for nature immersion. One of several experiential therapies we offer, many of our clients have broken new ground by harnessing the power of the natural environment.

Group Therapy

Healing can’t happen in isolation. Many people who suffer from an alcohol use disorder have been deprived of nurture and care.  Group therapy offers them a supportive environment where they can share experiences, learn coping strategies, and derive motivation from peers’ recovery journeys. Evidence-based research underscores its efficacy in substance abuse treatment, especially when combined with other therapeutic interventions. 

Community is at the core of Maui Recovery (once you enter our door you join our Ohana!). Our regular group sessions ensure clients benefit from collective experiences, build invaluable friendships, and share recovery insights.

Selecting the appropriate treatment modality is crucial for effective recovery. Maui Recovery, with its evidence-backed therapeutic approaches, ensures that clients are provided with the best possible tools and strategies to navigate their recovery journey successfully.

How Maui Recovery can help

Nestled in the serene beauty of Maui, our recovery center offers more than just treatment by numbers—it provides a tranquil space where people can reconnect with themselves, become empowered, and build a new life. The calming embrace of nature complements our therapeutic interventions, creating a holistic recovery experience. 

Recognizing that each person’s relationship with l addiction is unique, our team—with years of experience behind them and a passion for helping others—crafts personalized treatment plans. This ensures that every individual doesn’t just recover, but also acquires the tools and insights to maintain long-term sobriety.

Melding traditional models with experiential therapies, we aim to usher self-discovery into your recovery journey. Our unique approach has resulted in hundreds of successful recoveries, including many we’ve helped overcome alcohol addiction.

If you or a loved one is grappling with alcohol dependency, or think you want to learn more about how we can help, don’t hesitate to contact us.

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If you’re struggling with an addiction, or know a friend or family member who is, reach out to one of our experts today. We’re here for you.

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