Throughout history, people have been using various terms to define alcoholism, including ‘alcohol dependence’ and ‘alcohol abuse’. In modern days, they use the term ‘alcohol use disorder’ to define the same.
In fact, many people use alcohol as a social drink. With time, some of them become addicted to or dependent on alcohol. This affects them both mentally and physically.
Ultimately, they lose their jobs, ruin their relationships with their loved ones, fall ill and even die. In spite of experiencing these deadly consequences, they may not be able to stop drinking. This very stage is called ‘alcohol dependence’ or ‘alcohol use disorder’.
Some people, though drinking too much, are not physically dependent on it. They have the ability to control themselves and stop drinking when they wish. This stage is termed ‘alcohol abuse’.
In general, Alcohol is a depressant, that acts on the central nervous system. It also slows down the working of some parts of the brain and causes impaired cognitive function.
What Causes Alcoholism?
The potential causes for alcohol use disorder (AUD) are yet to be discovered in detail. Often, drinking too much of this depressant can cause some chemical changes in the brain.
As a result, the drinker beings experiencing ‘pleasurable feelings’. In spite of the harm, this makes him want more alcohol.
However, these ‘pleasurable feelings’ last only for a short time. So, the drinker with alcohol use disorder (AUD) consumes even more of this depressant to avoid withdrawal symptoms. These symptoms are often disturbing and can also be dangerous.
With time, the alcohol use disorder (AUD) gradually develops and ruins both the personal and official life of the drinker, further.
What Are the Possible Risk Factors for Alcoholism?
Although the actual causes of alcoholism are unknown, some factors may relate to its development. They include:
Genes – Some genetic factors may also contribute to addiction in some people. They may have a family history.
Metabolism – Some people need more alcohol to gain the sedative effect compared to others. Such people pose a high risk of developing alcohol-related problems.
Age (First Alcoholic Drink) – According to a study, drinking this depressant before 15 years of age may contribute to alcoholic-related problems, at later stages of life.
Peer Drinking – This may happen at parties, functions, and other social gatherings. When someone drinks excessively and makes a habit of it, he is most likely to develop alcohol-related problems.
Easy Access – According to a study, alcohol-related deaths dropped significantly after a state increased taxes on alcohol. In fact, the effect was about 2 – 4 times higher compared to other prevention plans such as media campaigns or public programs.
Stress, Anxiety, Low self-esteem, Depression – When a person suffers high levels of stress and anxiety, he may consume this depressant. This makes him feel a temporary blank out. However, it may lead to other problems.
People having low self-esteem and depression problems also use alcohol to relieve themselves. However, having too much of this depressant, may make the conditions worse, rather than soothing them.
Media and Advertising – In fact, some nations portray drinking alcohol as a worldly, glamorous, and prestigious activity. This may convey a wrong message regarding the acceptance and ill effects of this depressant.
What Are the Health Risks of Alcoholism?
There are a number of ways in which chronic heavy drinking (Alcoholism) can affect human health both mentally and physically including:
1.) Liver Damage
In general, alcohol is a renowned toxin. If you happen to drink it in large quantities quicker, your liver may fail to keep up. Moreover, this depressant can damage liver cells and cause cirrhosis, a liver scarring. Long-term chronic heavy drinking may also cause fatty liver (alcoholic) disease.
The liver produces antibacterial proteins, thereby playing a key role in the activities of the immune system. Therefore, the damaged liver can hamper the immune system of the human body.
2.) Heart Disease
Chronic heavy drinking may lead to blood clots. It may also cause high levels of cholesterol and fats in your body. Past studies and observations indicate heavy drinkers may have trouble, pumping blood fluently to their hearts. In turn, this increases the risk of several heart diseases.
3.) Nervous System and Brain Problems
Drinking this depressant can interrupt the communication pathways of the brain. As a result, you may find it harder to think, remember, speak, make decisions and move your body.
It may also cause mental health problems like dementia and depression. In some cases, you may suffer painful nerve damage. Even after you revive yourselves (sober up), this pain may linger for a long duration.
Alcohol, in general, has a tendency to damage a variety of cells in the human body. This includes cells in your throat, mouth, voice box, and esophagus. In turn, this causes cancers in your breast, liver, and intestines.
Moreover, it can help certain cancer-causing chemicals in products like tobacco to enter the human cells easily.
5.) Epilepsy and Seizures
Chronic heavy drinking may increase the risks of epilepsy. Moreover, it may cause seizures as you try to pull out from drinking habits.
Typically, when a person eats a high quantity of food that contains purines (a chemical), uric acid builds up in his joints. This causes gout, a type of arthritis. Such foods include shellfish, red meat, and alcohol, especially liquor and beer.
7.) Digestive Problems
Alcoholic beverages, in general, are caustic. They may inflame the lining of the stomach, thereby causing nausea and heartburn. This may further lead to chronic inflammation in the esophagus, stomach, and gut. It can also cause ulcers, over time.
Alcohol gives a hard time to the intestines, digesting certain key nutrients like thiamine and Vitamin B12. It can also cause pancreatitis, affecting insulin production. As a result, it increases the risks of diabetes.
Chronic heavy drinking may give you a feeling of sleepiness temporarily. However, it disrupts your sleep quality after the sedative effects fade out. Particularly, it is difficult to fall asleep and stay that way, after frequent binge drinks. It can also increase the risks of sleep apnea and snoring.
If you are suffering from alcohol-related problems, it is best to consult an addiction specialist as early as possible. You can also visit your local Alcoholics Anonymous branch office.
How Alcoholism is Diagnosed?
In the course of the past 12 months, a person must meet at least 3 criteria from the following, in order to be diagnosed with Alcoholism, in the US
Alcohol Tolerance – Some individuals require more alcohol consumption, in order to get the intoxicated feeling. However, this tolerance may drop if the liver or central nervous system is damaged.
Persistent Alcohol Consumption – Some individuals, though knowing alcohol ruins them physically and mentally, continue their drinking habits. There may be many reasons for this including their psychological conditions.
Beyond Intentions – Typically, persons with alcohol use disorder drink more over a longer duration, beyond their intention.
Withdrawal Symptoms – When the drinkers try to restrain from alcoholism, they experience withdrawal symptoms. They include anxiety, insomnia, tremors, or nausea. Therefore, to avoid them, drinkers tend to consume more of this depressant.
Unsuccessful Cut-Down Attempts – Despite several attempts, some individuals may find it hard to cut down the alcohol. There may be many reasons for this including the fear of withdrawal symptoms.
Time Consumed – Some persons may take a lot of time to recover from drinking habits.
Withdrawal From Previous Activities – Some individuals, previously, may have actively participated in social, recreational, or occupational activities. However, due to alcoholism, they may not be able to continue the same. As a result, they withdraw from such activities.
The health workers, before diagnosing, may ask you a series of questions regarding your problem. Depending on your answers, they may use a standardized questionnaire form to evaluate you more.
What Type of Tests Are Carried Out for Alcoholism?
Generally, blood tests show only the recent consumption of alcohol. They are not sufficient to determine the long history of alcoholic consumption. However, If the red blood cells increase in size, it may be an indication of alcohol abuse (long term).
In such cases, the doctors may use CDT (Carbohydrate-deficient transferrin) blood tests to detect the heavy consumption of alcohol.
Doctors may also test the liver damage or testosterone levels (in males) to detect chronic alcohol consumption.
However, many experts consider screening the patients with an appropriate questionnaire as the best way to diagnose.
In most cases, heavy drinkers tend to deny that, the problems are arising due to alcohol. They also try to minimize their drinking extents. Discussing with their family members may help doctors to determine the real case. But they cannot do it unless permitted.
As a first step, the drinkers must realize and accept that they are facing an alcohol dependency problem. Then, they must seek help from relevant institutions.
There are several treatment methods available for alcoholism including the following:
Counseling – A professional counselor can help the drinker to sober up in a well-planned manner. Depending on the case, he may also suggest CBT (Cognitive behavioral therapy) treat the problem.
Dealing With Underlying Problems – Some persons tend to drink, because of stress, low self-esteem, depression, anxiety, etc., Chronic heavy drinking may cause further problems such as liver diseases, hypertension, and heart diseases.
Hence, it is essential to consult a medical professional to treat the underlying problems. In some cases, treating these problems may reduce alcohol dependency. After that, individuals can cut off alcohol entirely with some professional help.
Residential Programs – Residential Programs – Typically, these types of programs use many strategies to treat alcoholics. They may also include various therapies and professional help from support groups.
Drugs – When a drinker consumes alcohol, certain drugs like Antabuse (disulfiram) cause severe reactions such as nausea, headaches, vomiting, flushing, etc.
In fact, these types of drugs serve as potential deterrents. However, they can neither treat the compulsions arising to drink nor solve the alcoholic problems in the long run.
In some cases, drugs like Naltrexone (ReVia) may reduce the urge to drink. Also, taking drugs like Acamprosate (Campral) may help reduce cravings.
After Treating Alcoholism
Detoxification – in fact, many people fear delirium tremens (withdrawal symptoms) after cutting off alcohol. But this is an unnecessary fear, as there are many medications available to treat these symptoms.
Doctors commonly suggest Chlordiazepoxide (a benzodiazepine medication) for detoxification. Depending on the cases, these treatments usually last for 4 – 7 days.
Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) – It is an international fellowship run by groups of people who suffered from alcoholism. This dedicated group helps alcoholics around the world. It runs a popular Twelve Steps program (spiritually inclined) for this purpose. In fact, it is a self-supporting, non-professional, apolitical, and multiracial group.
Moreover, it is open to any individual who wants to quit drinking, irrespective of age or gender. It is also free to join and get help.