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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 the inability to stop drinking or craving alcohol. 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, but alcoholism restricts someone’s ability to stop drinking. As a result, an alcoholic can endanger their relationships, finances, and health.
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 is tragically common. 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 risk of alcohol poisoning and long-term 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 2 and 7 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 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
- Brain damage
- Delirium Tremens
- Withdrawal symptoms
- Heart disease
- Accidents (i.e. falling, drunk driving, bumping into furniture)
- Aggressive behavior (i.e. fighting, assaulting others, breaking furniture)
- Inflammation of the pancreas
- Liver damage
- Birth defects
- Bone damage
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 include from fatigue, anxiety, depression, tremors or hallucinations.
Alcoholism Risk Factors
There are many risk factors associated with alcoholism. Stress is a threat to many Americans, manifesting in heart problems, anxiety disorders, weight imbalances, and substance use. Some seek out alcohol out for its relaxing properties. Someone who has had a tough day at work can easily combat stress with a few glasses of wine, or hard liquor. Once someone finds this an effective tool for stress-relief, they can develop a habit of drinking just “to take the edge off.”
Genetics also can play a role. Children of parents who had alcohol use disorders are more likely to develop the same in adulthood. Peer pressure and media advertising can also encourage someone to consume alcohol.
Another common factor that can potentially lead to alcoholism is using it to cope with heavy emotions. Alcohol and depression often go hand in hand. In some cases, depression leads to alcoholism and vice-a-versa. Nevertheless, drinking to soothe depression can lead to alcoholism and death.
Untreated mental conditions like depression 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 can be difficult to overcome, but it is not a lifelong prison 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 specialist today to discover treatment options and get the help you deserve.