What is alcoholism? It is a long-term chronic disease that affects individuals in many areas of life. It is both a physical compulsion and mental obsession that causes individuals to crave alcohol even at inappropriate times.
Those who suffer with alcoholism often cannot control their desire for it and cannot control when nor how to stop. Even when it interferes with relationships with others, work and finances, it is difficult to stop.
Alcoholism is similar to alcohol abuse but differs in dependency. Those who abuse alcohol may overindulge but do not depend on it nor lose control over consumption. A recent US study estimated that 30% of Americans have reported having an alcohol disorder at some time in their lives.
Alcohol is a factor in 1 in 25 deaths worldwide according to a Canadian study and is one of the most commonly abused substances among adolescents and teens. Consumption during critical stages of physical and mental development can cause serious health issues for adolescents and increases the likelihood of dependency developing later in life. In addition, as binge drinking gains popularity among college-aged young adults, more individuals put themselves at risk for developing serious health complications that can also increase the likelihood of alcohol dependency developing.
What is Alcoholism? Risk Factors and Causes
Alcoholism can develop as a result of a number of factors. In many cases, risk factors for alcoholism include:
- Ease of access
- Peer drinking
- Low self-esteem
- Media and advertising
- Age of first alcoholic drink
- How the body metabolizes alcohol
What is Alcoholism? Signs & Symptoms
Alcohol dependence gradually progresses over years but can develop in a few short months for especially vulnerable individuals. Because of the way the brain responds to consumption of alcohol, excessive drinking can alter levels of dopamine in the brain (often referred to as “feel good” chemicals) in which a person’s body craves alcohol in order to feel pleasure.
Alcoholism is diagnosed by a number of factors. These factors include:
- Alcohol tolerance (needing large amounts to feel intoxicated)
- Withdrawal symptoms
- Unsuccessful attempts to cut down
- Persistence in drinking although aware of negative consequences
- Excessive time consumed through obtaining, using and recovering from effects
Others may exhibit symptoms such as memory problems, digestive issues or falling over. Alcohol use can cause initial feelings of elevated mood but gradually depresses the individual and sedates them. It often lowers inhibitions, alters thoughts and affects their emotions and behaviors. In addition to negatively impacting relationships with others, work and finances, alcoholism can cause a number of long-term side effects. Theses include:
- Liver problems
- Heart problems
- Thinning bones
- Nervous system problems
- Alcoholism often is at the center of domestic abuse, mental illness, trouble with the law, accidents and suicide.
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What is Alcoholism: Getting Treatment
Acknowledging alcohol dependency is often the first critical step in treating alcoholism. Treatment often begins with detoxification in a safe, medically-monitored environment to ensure any withdrawal symptoms are able to be treated immediately.
The 12-step program is often utilized in treating alcoholism in order to help those battling dependency. It provides a foundation and model for individuals to follow in order to overcome the effects of alcohol on their own lives. This program treats alcoholism at a variety of levels. The 12-step model not only encourages the development of self but also the restoration and mending of relationships with others. While forgiving oneself and practicing self-discovery, individuals are encouraged to explore humility, acceptance, honesty and forgiveness. Alcoholism affects not only the individual suffering with chronic addiction, but those around them. Through experience, hope and change, the 12-step program is highly effective in helping many overcome addiction.
Alcoholism can often come about as a result of attempts to self-medicate for other troubles in life. For many, group and individual therapies allow individuals to explore tough topics and relate to others experiencing many of the same troubles. In this environment, young adults are physically away from temptation and surrounded by other individuals with similar experiences striving towards the same goals. Because many are driven to alcoholism as a result of co-occurring disorders and other medical or environmental factors, a dual-diagnosis program allows individuals to explore influences that may have led to dependency. The utilization of experiential therapies in conjunction with dual-diagnosis allows individuals to develop healthy coping mechanisms and outlets that deter temptation to indulge in alcohol once exiting treatment.
Alcoholism is often the result of long-term abuse that can lead to life-long complications. Treatment for alcoholism is extensive and requires change in many aspects of life. The most critical part in treating alcoholism is building a desire for sobriety and a willingness to work at maintaining it. It is important for young adults to know their worth and to desire happiness and good health for their futures.