What is Alcoholism?
For many adults, having the occasional drink as part of a relaxation regime is a rather harmless activity with no serious impact other than feeling a bit ‘tipsy’. However, for others, alcohol dependency is a very real and serious problem that can have devastating and far-reaching consequences. Addiction is a problem that plagues our population, and of all the abused substances, alcohol is the most prevalent and costly to society.
This is because the problems associated with alcoholism often extend far beyond the drinker. If left untreated, alcoholism can lead to strains on personal relationships, the inability to hold down a job, increased accidents, increase incidence of violent behavior, negative parenting techniques, health problems such as liver disease and even death.
Unfortunately, many people that abuse alcohol do not realize they are doing so and many never seek treatment. For those that do, there are many treatment options that have shown great success in combating a dependence on alcohol. It is possible to find healthier ways of dealing with life’s ups and downs, and repair whatever damage alcoholism has caused in your life.
Your doctor will probably ask you a number of questions about your drinking habits to assess whether you have a problem with alcoholism. They may also give you a full medical check to see if any physical damage has been caused by excessive drinking. Remember to be open and honest with your doctor as they are only there to help you.
There are four main signs of Alcoholism that may alert you to the fact that you, or a family member or friend, may have a drinking problem:
- Cravings or a strong NEED, or compulsion, to drink
- Increased tolerance to the effects of alcohol – (an increasing amount of alcohol is needed to have an effect on your system).
- Continued alcohol use despite the fact that you ‘know you shouldn’t’ and an inability to stick to a reasonable limit.
- Withdrawal symptoms such as nausea, sweating, shakiness, and anxiety, occur when you try and stop or limit your alcohol use.
What causes Alcoholism?
Developing an alcohol problem is usually the result of a combination of factors. While there is no singular cause, certain factors tend to make some individuals more vulnerable to becoming Alcoholics than others. Some of the contributing factors may be:
- Genetics – Certain genes may cause some individuals to be more prone to developing substance abuse problems, especially alcoholism, as it tends to run in families.
- Personality Types – Some people have personalities that may make them more inclined to have alcohol abuse problems. Some people have an addictive personality type and tend to become easily addicted to habit forming behaviors.
- Emotional and Psychological Factors – High levels of stress, anxiety, PTSD or depression as well as low self-esteem and poor coping skills can all precipitate an individual to start drinking as a means of solving his or her problems which greatly increases the chances of alcohol dependence.
- Social and Cultural Factors – Certain cultures and societies encourage drinking or show excessive drinking to be the norm. In Western society, drinking is often associated with good times, partying and a way to forget your problems – all images that are perpetuated by the media. Certain social situations such as poverty, homelessness and poor social support can also increase chances of alcoholism.
- Other risk factors – Having a family member who drinks heavily or is an Alcoholic increases your chances of learning poor problem solving skills. Having a dependence on any other substance also increases Alcoholism likelihood.
Alcoholism can develop at any age and is often a slow process beginning with casual alcohol use. The most common age of onset is between 18 and 29 and it tends to affect three times as many men as it does women.
Second only to smoking, alcohol abuse is the most common preventable cause of death in The United States, (excluding deaths of others such as victims of drunken drivers, or alcohol-related homicides). While alcoholism may be very prevalent, treatment programs and the necessary help to quite drinking are readily available.
Certain disorders seem to be related to Alcoholism and it is not uncommon to find people suffering from Alcoholism as well one of the following:
Help for Alcoholism
There are various treatment options available to those who need help with alcohol problems. The first step is to assess how severe the problem is and the various circumstances that would be unique to the individual. Typical treatments may include an out-patient program or counseling, a support group, and/or an inpatient residential stay.
Drug Treatments – Certain prescription medications have been used to help people combat alcohol abuse problems:
- Disulfiram (Antibuse) : This drug acts as a deterrent to drinking alcohol. While it cannot take away alcohol cravings, it causes a very unpleasant physical reaction including, nausea, vomiting and headaches if alcohol is consumed.
- Naltrexone (ReVia) and Acamprosate (Campral) are anti-craving medications which helps to reduce the urge to drink.
- Benzodiazepines such as Valium or Beta-blockers such as Propranolol (Inderal) are sometimes administered to patients suffering from alcohol withdrawal symptoms.
While some of these medications may be beneficial during the initial process of alcohol abstinence, it is advisable to use them in combination with other treatments such as counseling. These Drugs may also have negative side effects that need to be explained to you in detail. Ask your doctor about adverse side effects or visit www.rx.com for more information on these drugs.
Psychological Therapy – There are many forms of therapy that can help you change your habitual drinking behaviors as well as you mental perceptions of alcohol as a "life-support". These may include Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT), individual therapy, group therapy or a support group with a reputable recovery plan. Therapy can also help you with underlying problems such as stress, depression or anxiety and assist you in developing healthier coping methods.
Natural Herbal and Homeopathic Remedies can help – While there are no specific cures for Alcoholism, natural herbal and homeopathic remedies may be greatly beneficial in helping to soothe the mind and steady anxious nerves during the recovery process. Ingredients such as St. John Wort help ease feelings of depression and reduce anxiety, while homeopathic formulas containing ingredients such as Ferrum Phosphoricum, Kalium Phosphate and Magnesium Phosphate help to relieve anxiety and quiet jittery nerves.
In addition, certain remedies will also help to flush out and detox your body to help counteract some of the damage caused by excessive drinking. Herbs such as Milk Thistle and Dandelion which are renowned for effectively treating liver damage and promoting healthy liver functioning are commonly used in all natural remedies.
More Information on Alcoholism
Many people suffering with Alcohol problems find themselves in a state of denial, and often do not actively seek treatment. It is usually concerned family members or friends that confront the individual and encourage them to seek help. Sadly, it is often only when disaster strikes, such as losing a job, a near accident or an ultimatum from a loved one that the person truly realizes they need help.
If you do think you have a problem with drinking, there are a number of options available to you and people that can help. Contact your general practitioner and ask them about your treatment options and have them recommend a reputable treatment centre or support group. It is important to realize that while stopping drinking may be difficult; you don’t need to face it alone. There are plenty of people that will help you along your path to recovery.
Tips for Giving up alcohol
- Admit that you have a problem. Denial is your worst enemy when it comes to addiction. The sooner you can truthfully admit the extent of your problem, the sooner you can successfully confront it. Be honest with yourself.
- Don’t do it alone! Make use of professional support as well as the support of family and friends. Also tell others that you are giving up drinking. They will be less likely to offer you alcoholic drinks or invite you to a pub before you are ready, thus removing a large part of the temptation. They may also become a key source of encouragement and emotional support. No man is an island!
- Replace a bad habit with a good habit. By adding positive habits such as meditation, exercise and drinking water, you will be less likely to replace your drinking habit with another vice. You will also find these positive life-style changes make you feel healthier and give you the mental energy to confront your problems.
- Reward yourself. Calculate how much you generally spend on alcohol per week. Set this money aside and buy yourself something great such as saving for the overseas trip you’ve always dreamed of taking.
- Stress less! Take on fewer responsibilities, go on a stress management course or seek counseling from a licensed professional to help you develop positive coping mechanisms and reduce the amount of stress in your daily life.
- Beware of Guilt! Recovery is an up and down process so expect to have good days and bad. Some days the reasons you quit will seem obvious and you will feel positive about your choice. On other days, you may find yourself trying to justify why you shouldn’t just throw in the towel and have a drink. These thoughts and emotions are to be expected so don’t beat yourself up about them. If you do slip up, then don’t fall into a self-defeating hole of guilt, just try again. Remember to take it one day at a time.
Living with an Alcoholic
- Ask for help. It is not your responsibility to help them on your own or solve their problems for them. Contact a support system or your general practitioner and ask for advice. You may also consider seeking professional therapy for yourself as living with an alcoholic can be extremely difficult and heartbreaking.
- Confront the individual when they are sober. Tell them how their drinking affects you and honestly discuss all your concerns. Do not attempt to do this when they have been drinking as they probably won’t be reasonable and will more than likely forget the conversation.
- Be honest with yourself. Not only do they have to admit that they have a problem, but you have to admit just how serious the problem is and how it is affecting the whole family. The inevitable "I’m so sorry" the next morning should not be a "forgive-all card" and you need to weigh up the realistic dangers and consequences of their actions against the safety of you and your family. If drinking often results in violence or abusive behavior, it is best that you take yourself out of the situation until the person has received the proper help.
- Let them deal with the problems they cause. Let them take some of the responsibility for their actions by not continuously bailing them out of the messy situations they get stuck in. Stop calling in sick on their behalf, or making excuses for them.
- Take care of yourself and live your life. Many people get so caught up in their family member’s drinking problem that they begin to lose their identity and feel like their sole purpose is to "fix it". You need to set aside genuine "me-time" where you pursue your own interests and develop your own independent sense of self. Consider taking a short course in something you enjoy, or joining the gym.
What are the long-term effects of Alcoholism?
- Stomach and intestinal problems such as gastritis and ulcers
- Increases the risk for certain cancers
- Heightened blood pressure and increased risk of heart disease
- Liver disease or problems such as liver swelling
- Kidney problems
- Weight loss and poor diet which may result in malnutrition
- Memory loss
- Delirium tremens and hallucinations
- Difficulties learning
- Degenerative brain disorder called Korsakoff’s syndrome
- Anxiety Disorders
- Negative emotions such as shame, guilt and hopelessness
- Problems at work as a result of reduced efficiency and productivity
- Problems with close relationships linked with increased incidence of domestic violence and abuse
- Increased risk of accidents due to delayed response time, poor judgment and impaired alertness
Alcohol also has detrimental effects on the developing fetus which can result in Fetal Alcohol Syndrome (FAS).