What is alcoholism?

Alcoholism, also called alcohol dependence (syndrome) or alcohol addiction, is just not an addiction to alcohol. It is a disease, which destroys the finances, social life, physical life, mental health, family life, and job status of the alcoholic person.

It is a chronic disease typically associated with uncontrolled drinking and an obsessed passion for alcohol. It can last for years or even a lifetime.

The person with alcohol use disorder is unable to control his drinking due to both a physical and a strong emotional dependence on alcohol. He crosses the safety limits of drinking and slowly sinks into the depths of addiction.

This dependence causes problems that engulf every aspect of his life affecting his relationships with his family and friends. The extent of these problems depends on the severity of alcohol dependence that has developed in the person.

How does alcoholism develop?

Once you have started drinking, over time it can become habitual. The more you turn to alcohol to ease feelings of pain and hardship, the more your body becomes tolerant to the drug.

Tolerance means your body starts requiring more alcohol to feel the same effect of “feeling good”.

For example, if you were feeling good with two drinks, over time you start drinking more than two drinks to get the same feeling of intoxication.

This is because your body system has developed a tolerance or resistance to the previous dose of the alcohol and now requires more to get intoxicated. This can increase and so can your dependence on it. It can then go beyond your control and you start yearning for it.

Your life becomes constantly churned with domestic violence, car accidents, and physical violence. Addiction creeps into every aspect of your life: lost jobs, broken marriages, ruined reputation, and loss of self-esteem.

Alcoholism sets in gradually over time. In spite of all this, the person continues to indulge in alcoholism and is unable to control his urge to drink. Alcohol dominates everything in his life and takes priority over everything else

In 1979, the World Health Organization categorized alcoholism as “alcohol dependence syndrome”, indicating that a person with alcohol abuse disorder exhibits a strong desire, a craving to obtain and drink.

According to NCAAD, 17.6 million people in the United States suffer from alcohol abuse disorder. Alcoholism has led to approximately 95,000 deaths in the United States between 2011 and 2015. Premature deaths due to alcohol abuse had shortened the lives of these people by an average of 29 years.

How do you identify a person with alcohol abuse disorder?

The following features typically characterize alcoholism:

  • There is a strong craving to drink. (craving definition: die for, lust for, yearn for, etc)
  • Once started, there is no control as to when to stop.
  • The dependence on alcohol is physical – meaning if stopped there are withdrawal symptoms.
  • There is a need to drink larger amounts of alcohol.
  • This disorder can happen at any age.
  • The person with alcohol abuse disorder suffers from serious health, mental and social problems, if not stopped.
  • He often refuses treatment though he is told that alcoholism can be cured.

Causes and risk factors of alcoholism

It is still not clear why alcoholism sets into a person’s life. Though some control their alcohol intake, others cannot.

Since no single cause has been identified, experts tend to identify risk factors that make you prone to become a victim of alcohol abuse.

A combination of your genes and environmental, biological, and psychological factors significantly contributes to the development of this addiction.

It is believed that drinking alcohol regularly over time causes changes in the brain of certain chemicals, which are associated with the pleasure of drinking alcohol.

This imbalance leads to a craving for alcohol and results in alcohol addiction. Below are the potential risk factors, which can make a person addicted to alcohol.

1. Genetic factor

Genes vary in people of different races and those that are responsible for the metabolism of alcohol are also responsible for alcohol addiction in a person.

Scientists believe that not one but several genes are responsible for the risk of developing this dependence.

Additionally, accompanying social and psychological influences related to addiction make it easier to succumb to this disorder.

2. Frequent drinking

Regular drinking of alcohol can become a habit with progressive indulgence that can become difficult to stop. If you adhere to the following parameters, you are very likely to succumb to alcohol abuse disorder.

  • A man who has more than 4 drinks at one time more than 3 times a week runs the risk.
  • A woman who has more than 3 drinks at a time more than 3 times a week runs the risk.
  • Any person who drinks more than 5 drinks at a time at least once a week.

3. Family history of alcohol addiction

Those who have a family history of alcoholism are very prone to develop an addiction. There is a familial tendency to alcoholism. It is known to run in families.

Those with parents who suffered from alcohol abuse disorder are at a greater risk of becoming addicted to alcohol. You are very likely to develop an addiction if one of your parents or a close relative had dealt with alcohol abuse disorder.

4. Certain cultures

Those that live in certain cultures where alcohol is socially accepted are at high risk. Alcohol use is common and generally accepted in such cultures.

It, therefore, makes the young in the family with such tradition, very prone to drink on a regular basis and become addicted.

5. Low self-esteem

Low self-esteem is considered the number one factor for causing addiction to either drugs or alcohol or both.

Such people feel a sense of anger, loneliness, and depression due to the feeling that other people are more capable and powerful. These people then tend to take to alcohol to fight the feeling.

6. Sensitive and ambitious people

Very sensitive and ambitious people who have lost hope to achieve their goals and ambitions turn to alcohol to forget their failures.

Sensitive people are those who feel very deeply and react emotionally to a problem. Every man or woman sets goals in life and success and failures are common.

Sensitive people who are ambitious set high goals, which they may not be able to achieve. At such times, they feel very deeply and tend to go into acute stress and possibly depression, which becomes with alcohol use. Alcohol gives them that emotional relief and they, therefore, take to it in a chronic fashion.

7. Mental disorders

Those that have a continuous stressful life drink alcohol to forget the stress. Those suffering from schizophrenia, stress disorder, and bipolar disorder tend to drink more regularly to alleviate their symptoms and feel better and out of stress.

You should know that drinking alcohol when you are in depression only worsens the condition. Depression and alcohol use often coexist together.

8. Childhood trauma

Severe childhood trauma is another factor that can make you prone to this disorder. Childhood abuse and domestic or sexual abuse can produce deep mental wounds that can haunt one for the rest of the life.

Researchers have found that disturbing events experienced during childhood significantly increase the risk for alcohol use disorders in later years. The severity of childhood trauma becomes directly associated with the severity of alcohol addiction.

9. Drinking from an early age

Those who started drinking early in life especially those under 15 years old are at greater risk of developing alcoholism.

Young adults who binge drink in high school and college tend to continue into the later years and the habit peaks in the 20s. If left unabated, you become vulnerable to addiction in the later years.

10. Peer pressure

If you have a close friend or relative who frequently drinks, you will be tempted to join him and give him “company”. This can develop into a habit, which can and frequently lead to addiction.

Symptoms of alcoholism

Signs of alcoholism are typical and the doctor specifically looks for them. The craving for alcohol is so intense that symptoms typically express that craving.

Alcohol dependence is physical and mental. Alcohol symptoms are, therefore, classified as physical symptoms and psychiatric or mental.

Physical symptoms of alcoholism

  • The person with alcohol abuse disorder may present with symptoms of diseases usually caused by excessive and prolonged consumption of alcohol such as high blood pressure, heart disease, stroke, liver disease, and digestive problems.
  • Due to the development of tolerance to alcohol, there is a need to drink increasing amounts of alcohol to get the desired satisfaction of intoxication.
  • There are temporary blackouts of memory or short-term memory loss after a bout of alcohol.
  • If you stop drinking alcohol, there are symptoms of withdrawal syndrome such as nausea, sweating, and tremors.
  • Acid reflux is often present in alcohol-dependent subjects.
  • There is a tendency to eat less. Malnourishment and weight loss are, therefore, frequently seen in such subjects.
  • Such a person usually drinks alone.
  • He refuses to believe and admit that he has this alcohol disorder.
  • He shows a loss of interest in former activities, hobbies, and work.
  • There is an overall neglected physical appearance.
  • He often misses work and stays absent.
  • He gives up important social, work-related, and leisure activities because of alcohol use.

Mental symptoms

Mental symptoms are typical.

  • Irritability, anxiety, and depression are present.
  • Inability to bear the stress
  • Changes in personality and mood swings
  • May show aggressiveness when drinking
  • Sleeping disorders
  • Irritability and anger when alcohol is not available at the required time
  • Must have a drink in the morning to ward off the hangover