Alcoholism or Alcohol Dependence is defined as a drinking pattern that results in significant recurrent adverse consequences. Alcoholism occurs when a person has built a dependency on drinking alcohol regularly and often. Someone can be diagnosed with alcoholism when their pattern of drinking results in one or more of the following consequences within a 12-month period:
• Failure to fulfill major work, school, or home responsibilities.
• Drinking in physically dangerous situations (like while driving or operating machinery).
• Having consistent alcohol-related legal problems, like being arrested for driving under the influence or for physically harming someone when drunk.
• Continued drinking despite detrimental effects on relationship problems.
Alcoholism can be mild, moderate or severe, based on the number of symptoms experienced.
What Causes Alcoholism?
There are multiple causes related to genetics, physiology, psychology, and social factors. For some people, impulsiveness, low self-esteem and a need for approval can lead to inappropriate drinking. Others drink to cope with emotional problems. Social and environmental factors like peer- pressure and the prevalence of alcohol can play key roles. Poverty and physical or sexual abuse also increase the odds of developing alcohol dependency. Genetic factors make people especially vulnerable to alcoholism. Contrary to popular belief, a higher ability to “hold your liquor” means you’re probably more at risk for alcohol problems. A family history of alcoholism doesn’t mean that children will automatically grow up to have the same problems. Nor does the absence of family drinking problems necessarily protect children from developing these problems.
Who is affected:
Alcoholism affects nearly 14 million people in the United States alone. Of these 14 million, men seem to be more alcohol dependent than women, and alcohol problems are highest among young adults ages 18 to 29.
There are a range of symptoms, which include:
• Inability to limit the amount of alcohol consumed.
• Unsuccessfully trying to cut down on how much alcohol is being drunk.
• Feeling very strong urges or cravings to drink alcohol.
• Continuing to drink alcohol despite knowing it causes physical and social problems.
• Reducing or giving up social and work activities due to the consumption of alcohol.
• Using alcohol in unsafe situations.
• Developing a tolerance towards alcohol, progressively consuming more and more.
• Experiencing withdrawal symptoms when abstaining from alcohol. These can include:
o Sweating and Shaking
Alcohol intoxication is when there is an extremely high amount of alcohol in the blood stream; it is also known as ethanol poisoning. The higher the blood alcohol concentration is, the higher the physical impairment. Alcohol intoxication can cause behavioral problems and mental changes. Symptoms include:
• Inappropriate behavior.
• Unstable moods.
• Impaired judgment.
• Slurred speech.
• Impaired attention or memory.
• Poor coordination.
• Blackout periods: times when you don’t remember events.
Sometimes, the alcohol intoxication can be so severe, that it results in a coma.
Alcohol withdrawal, is another symptom of alcoholism which can occur when alcohol use has been heavy and prolonged, then is suddenly stopped or largely reduced. It can happen from between several hours to four to five days after reducing intake, and can result in symptoms, which can sometimes be severe enough to impair your ability to function at work or in social situations. Symptoms include:
• Rapid heartbeat.
• Hand tremors.
• Sleeping problems.
• Nausea and vomiting.
• Restlessness and agitation.
• Sometimes, seizures.
Effects of Alcoholism:
Short-term effects include memory loss, hangovers and blackouts. On the other hand, Long-term effects include stomach ailments, heart problems, cancer, brain damage, serious memory loss and liver cirrhosis. Heavy drinkers also markedly increase their chances of dying from automobile accidents, homicide, and suicide. In addition, despite the fact that men are much more likely than women to develop alcoholism, women’s health suffers more, even at lower levels of consumption.
There is a wide range of treatment plans, or ways to overcome alcohol dependency. These include:
Detox and withdrawal: Treatment may begin with a program of detox, which is withdrawal that’s medically managed. This usually takes two to seven days and can be supported with sedating medications to prevent withdrawal symptoms. This is usually done at an inpatient treatment center or a hospital.
Learning skills and establishing a treatment plan. This involves meeting with alcohol treatment specialists. The treatment plan may include goal setting, behavior change techniques, use of self-help manuals, counseling and follow-up care at a treatment center.
Psychological counseling. Counseling and group therapy helps by teaching cognitive skills that lead to behavior changes. Twelve Step programs such as Alcoholics Anonymous foster a community feeling with an organized support structure.
Oral medications. A drug called disulfiram (or Antabuse) may help prevent drinking. It doesn’t cure alcoholism or remove the compulsion to drink. The drug produces feelings of nausea, vomiting, headaches and other unpleasant side-effects when taken with alcohol, as a deterrent to drinking. Naltrexone (Revia) is a drug that blocks the good feelings alcohol causes and acamprosate (Campral) can help you fight alcohol cravings once you stop drinking. Unlike disulfiram, naltrexone and acamprosate don’t make you feel sick after taking a drink
Injected medication. Vivitrol, a version of the drug naltrexone, is injected once a month by a health care professional. This can be easier for alcoholics to use consistently.
Treatment for psychological problems: Alcoholism commonly occurs along with other mental health disorders. So, if you have depression, anxiety or another mental health condition, you may need talk therapy (psychotherapy) or medication. If these mental health disturbances are the root cause for alcoholism, then treating them can result in reduced vulnerability to drinking.
Spiritual practice. People involved with regular spiritual practice may find it easier to maintain recovery from alcoholism or other addictions.
In the case of extremely serious alcohol problems, inpatient treatment at a residential treatment center, or rehab center, may be needed.