Alcoholism is a disease characterized by an uncontrollable desire to drink, as well as other symptoms. Long term use of alcohol is related to many health complications, not to mention that alcohol use is responsible for many otherwise preventable accidents and injuries. Alcoholism is a serious problem in this society.
Alcoholism affects more than 14 million people in the United States, according to statistics provided by ProjectKnow1. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)2, out of lifestyle related causes of death, alcoholism ranks 3rd in this category.
What Is Alcoholism?
Alcoholism is a disease that occurs in the brain and affects the entire body. For an alcoholic, changes in the chemistry of the brain and its functioning create such an urge for alcohol that it is difficult for a person to resist. Alcoholism is also broken down into its forms and identified as alcohol abuse or alcohol dependence. The more politically correct name for alcoholism is alcohol dependency syndrome.
Alcoholism and The Body
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)3, over 50 percent of the population consumes alcohol on a regular basis. Even regular use can contribute to certain health problems, and the risk is even greater for those who abuse alcohol or who are alcohol dependent. Alcohol damages cells, tissues, and organs over the entire body. Alcoholism can damage the nerves, blood vessels, and organs, and is even linked to several types of cancer. Major organs that are affected by excessive alcohol use are:
- Immune system
- Mental health issues
This list is not exhaustive, as alcohol can affect not only entire organs or body systems, but also has effects at the cellular level, causing damage, illness, and even death.
Symptoms of Alcoholism
There are slightly different symptoms for alcoholism depending on if the diagnosis is alcohol abuse or alcohol dependence. Someone who suffers from alcohol abuse may:
- Continue to use alcohol even if it interferes with responsibilities at home, work, or school
- Engage in risky behaviors with alcohol use
- Continue to use alcohol even if it creates health or personal problems
- Have legal problems associated with alcohol use
Some who is dependent on alcohol may have additional symptoms as well as the ones listed above. These include:
- Increased tolerance, needing more alcohol to have the same effects
- Experiencing withdrawal symptoms when quitting use
- Have blackouts, or periods that are not remembered during alcohol use
- Drinking more or for longer than intended
- Engaging in binge drinking
- Many failed attempts to quit
- Increased amount of time spent on obtaining, using, and recovering from alcohol and its effects
- Social withdrawal from friends or activities in order to use alcohol
These lists are not exhaustive, as certain individuals may experience less common symptoms than those listed here. In addition, long term use of alcohol can cause increased use. That is because alcohol damages the area of the brain for self control, leading to the inability to say no to alcohol or the inability to know when to quit drinking.
Alcoholism Withdrawal Symptoms
For someone who has become dependent on alcohol, withdrawal symptoms can be extremely uncomfortable, and may lead to unsuccessful attempts at quitting. Some symptoms of withdrawal that many alcoholics experience include:
- Nausea and vomiting
- Rapid heart beat
- Tremors or shaking
For many who suffer from severe withdrawal symptoms, admittance into a qualified detox facility may be required.
Alcoholism Causes and Risk Factors
Alcoholism is typically a slow and progressive process, as the brain changes gradually to long term alcohol use. However, certain factors work together to play a role in who will develop this disease. These risk factors include:
- Genetic predisposition
- Psychological issues
- Social influences
- Environmental stimuli
- Long term use
These factors work together and are most likely to lead to alcoholism when there is a family history or genetic predisposition to the disease, though any one or a combination of these factors may eventually lead to alcoholism.
There are more than 40,000 deaths per year that can be attributed to the effects of alcohol on health3, and those numbers do not include those from accidents or homicides. Many people won’t seek treatment due to the shame and embarrassment of the stigma attached to any addiction. By bringing an awareness and increasing the education about alcoholism and all other forms of addiction to substances, this can help to decrease alcohol related diseases, injuries, accidents, and death.
- ProjectKnow.com, Understanding Addiction; Drug Addiction Statistics – Alcoholism Statistics and Data Sources
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC); Fact Sheets- Alcohol Use and Health
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC); Alcohol Use