Alcoholism is a chronic, progressive disease that affects millions of Americans. It can cause a large number of medical problems and is associated with violence and child abuse. Alcoholism can be hard to detect because there is no clear point at which problem drinking becomes alcohol dependence. Recovering alcoholics can learn abstinence but must constantly guard against the possibility of relapse.
Alcoholism is a broad term for problems with alcohol, and is generally used to mean compulsive and uncontrolled consumption of alcohol, usually to the detriment of the drinker’s health, personal relationships, and social standing. It is medically considered an addictive illness. The historic definition of alcoholism includes four symptoms:
• Craving – a strong need, or urge, to drink.
• Loss of control – not being able to stop drinking once drinking has begun.
• Physical dependence – Withdrawal symptoms, such as nausea, sweating, shakiness, and anxiety after stopping drinking.
• Tolerance – The need to drink greater amounts of alcohol to get “high.”
Hazardous drinking is defined as when a person drinks over the recommended weekly limit of alcohol (21 units for men and 14 units for women). It is also possible to drink hazardously by binge drinking, even if you are within your weekly limit.
Binge drinking involves drinking a large amount of alcohol in a short space of time – eight units a day for men and six units a day for women. If you are drinking hazardously, you may not yet have any health problems related to alcohol, but you are increasing your risk of experiencing problems in the future.
Harmful drinking is defined as when a person drinks over the recommended weekly amount of alcohol and experiences health problems that are directly related to alcohol.
Alcohol is both physically and psychologically addictive and it is possible to become dependent. Being dependent on alcohol means that a person feels that they are unable to function without alcohol, and the consumption of alcohol becomes an important, or sometimes the most important, factor in their life.
Depending on their level of dependence, a person can experience withdrawal symptoms if they suddenly stop drinking alcohol. Withdrawal symptoms can be both physical and psychological.
Is Alcoholism A Disease?
Yes, alcoholism is a disease. The craving that an alcoholic feels for alcohol can be as strong as the need for food or water. An alcoholic will continue to drink despite serious family, health, or legal problems. Like many other diseases, alcoholism is chronic, meaning that it lasts a person’s lifetime; it usually follows a predictable course; and it has symptoms. The risk for developing alcoholism is influenced both by a person’s genes and by his or her lifestyle.
Is Alcoholism Inherited?
Research shows that the risk for developing alcoholism does indeed run in families. However, your friends, the amount of stress in your life, and how readily available alcohol is also are factors that may increase your risk for alcoholism. But Risk is not destiny. Just because alcoholism tends to run in families doesn’t mean that a child of an alcoholic parent will automatically become an alcoholic too.
Signs and Symptoms:
Alcoholism or too much dependence on alcohol causes some short and long term effects. Short term symptoms include drowsiness, vomiting, slurred speech, stomach cramps, gastritis, headache, and blurred vision, problems in maintaining coordination, blackouts, anaemia or loss of oxygen supply to the body.
Long-term signs and symptoms include drunken driving causing accidents, domestic violence, alcohol poisoning, high blood pressure, stroke, liver diseases, sexual problems, brain damage, ulcerations in the stomach, cancer of the gut and throat.
As with similar substances with a sedative-hypnotic mechanism, such as barbiturates and benzodiazepines, withdrawal from alcohol can be fatal if it is not properly managed. Alcohol’s primary effect is the increase in stimulation of the GABAA receptor, promoting central nervous system depression. With repeated heavy consumption of alcohol, these receptors are desensitised and reduced in number, resulting in tolerance and physical dependence.
When alcohol consumption is stopped too abruptly, the person’s nervous system suffers from uncontrolled synapse firing. This can result in symptoms that include anxiety, life threatening seizures, delirium tremens, hallucinations and possible heart failure. Other neurotransmitter systems are also involved, including dopamine, NMDA and glutamate.
Severe acute withdrawal symptoms such as delirium tremens and seizures rarely occur after one week and the acute withdrawal phase can be defined as lasting between one to three weeks. In weeks three to four, increased anxiety, depression as well as sleep disturbance is common; fatigue and tension can persist for up to five weeks; some people experience anxiety and depression for up to two years.
A progressive effect occurs in alcohol-dependents whereby each subsequent withdrawal syndrome is more severe than the previous withdrawal; this is due to neuro-adaptations which occur as a result of periods of abstinence followed by re-exposure to alcohol.
Individuals who have had multiple withdrawals are more likely to develop seizures and experience more severe anxiety. The progressive effect leads to persistent functional changes in brain neural circuits and also results in psychological symptoms of alcohol withdrawal becoming more intensified. Alcohol damages almost every organ in the body. The cumulative toxic effects of chronic alcohol abuse can cause both physical and mental health problems.
Treatment for alcoholism includes:
Detoxification and withdrawal- the treatment begins with detoxification programme for a period of four or seven days. Certain medications are prescribed to curb the withdrawal symptoms such as headache, sleeplessness, etc. Psychological counseling of the individual and family for their support. Talk therapy also known as psychotherapy can also help to treat the condition.
Complications or Side Effects:
Long term drinking of alcohol causes certain complications such as alcohol hepatitis (inflammation of the liver), liver cirrhosis (scarring or fat deposition in the liver causing irreversible damage to the liver), gastritis (inflammation of the lining of the stomach), damage to the pancreas, heart attacks or strokes, erectile dysfunction in men and menstrual problems in women, osteoporosis (alcohol interferes with production of bone cells causing weakening of the bones and fractures), neurological complications such as short term memory loss and numbness of the hands and feet, increased risk of cancer of the mouth, stomach, breast, kidneys