An Overview of Alcoholism
Alcohol abuse has plagued billions of individuals. Also known as an alcohol use disorder or alcohol addiction, alcoholism is classified as a disease that is characterized by a dependence on alcohol where a person is driven by a desire or physical need to drink. Alcoholism is also characterized by alcohol cravings and compulsive, uncontrollable alcohol consumption. This differs from binge drinking or social drinking. Binge drinking is 4 or more drinks in under 2 hours for women, and 5 or more drinks in under 2 hours for men. Moderate drinking is a common practice. However, in cases of alcoholism, a person has failed to stop drinking. As a result, the person’s relationships, finances, and health may be negatively impacted.
Addiction to alcohol occurs for different reasons and can be passed down in families. Social pressures and greater acceptability of alcohol consumption can encourage relaxed attitudes towards drinking. Drinking alcohol is common and publicly accepted. An estimated 86.4% of people aged 18 and older have admitted to drinking alcohol at least 1 point in their lives. Although many believe that drinking in moderation poses little risks, alcohol is a very dangerous substance to abuse, as it carries the risks of alcohol poisoning and long-term, potentially fatal health damage.
- A reported 3.3 million deaths occur worldwide annually due to alcohol-related illnesses.
- In America, a reported 5.1 million adolescents and adults binge drank in 2015.
- 623,000 adolescents aged 12 through 17 battled an alcohol use disorder that year.
- Roughly 88,000 Americans died from alcohol-related deaths, making alcohol the third leading cause of preventable death in the United States.
- Between two and seven babies per 1,000 births have Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders, or FASD. FASD occurs when an expecting mother drinks while pregnant, producing physical and developmental abnormalities in their baby.
- 70% of people admit to drinking alcohol each year, and 56% of people admit to drinking within the last month.
- 29% of people over the age of 18 indulged in binge drinking in the past year, and 7% reported heavy alcohol use.
Alcoholism-Related Health Conditions
Depending on how much alcohol someone drinks, they will expose themselves to both short-term and long-term risks. Some of the most common health risks associate with alcoholism include:
- Kidney problems
- Wernicke Korsakoff syndrome (WKS)
- Esophageal varices
- Brain damage
- Delirium Tremens
- Heart disease
- Accidents (i.e. falling, drunk driving, bumping into furniture)
- Aggressive behavior (i.e. fighting, assaulting others, breaking furniture)
- Liver damage
- Birth defects
Alcohol can damage the brain by altering the brain receptors. When someone drinks too much, the changes in the brain’s neurotransmitters affect their moods, decision making, and judgement. This impacts the individual severely, and if he or she suddenly stops drinking, the brain can produce alcohol cravings and symptoms known as withdrawal. The symptoms of withdrawal can be fatal, and they include fatigue, anxiety, depression, tremors, seizures, strokes, and hallucinations.
Alcohol is the only drug from which an individual can die in withdrawal due to the severe physical consequences. Alcohol detox requires medical support to keep a person in withdrawal physical stable. If a person you know experiences withdrawal, do not allow them to abruptly stop drinking alcohol. Instead, immediately take them to a hospital.
Alcoholism Risk Factors
There are many risk factors associated with alcoholism. Stress-related illnesses are a threat to many Americans. Such illness include, but are not limited to, heart problems, ulcers, sleep disturbance, migraines, anxiety disorders, weight imbalances, and substance use. Some people drink alcohol for its relaxing properties. Someone who has had a tough day at work may easily combat stress with a few glasses of wine, or hard liquor. Once someone uses alcohol for stress-relief, they may develop a pattern of drinking just “to take the edge off” which could develop into a need to drink.
Genetics may also play a role. Children of parents who had alcohol use disorders are more likely to develop the same pattern in adulthood. Adult children of alcoholics (ACOA) is a popular support group which has successfully helped many people who were children of parents who abused alcohol. Peer pressure and media advertising can also influence someone to consume alcohol.
Another common factor that can potentially lead to alcoholism is using it to cope with difficult emotions. Alcohol and depression often go hand in hand. In some cases, depression leads to alcoholism and vice-a-versa. Nevertheless, drinking to numb or soothe difficult thoughts or feelings may lead to alcoholism.
Untreated mental conditions like depression or anxiety and an overactive nervous system can increase the need for a sedative, including alcohol. Combining alcohol and other substances amplifies the risk of both alcoholism and serious consequences. Mixing alcohol and cocaine, for example, can increase the risk and severity of heart problems and create other complex side effects.
Get Help for Alcoholism Now
Alcoholism may be challenging to overcome, but it does not have to be a lifelong sentence. Getting help can be one the most empowering decisions you make in your life. It starts with admitting you can’t do it alone. Contact a treatment provider to discover treatment options today. Help is available.
Author: Krystina Murray | Last Edited: June 14, 2021
Medical Reviewer: Dayna Smith-Slade