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Alcohol Addiction (Alcoholism)

Systems Affected - Psychic-emotional, liver, brain, and nervous.
Specialists  - Family physicians, internists, psychiatrists, psychologists.

Symptoms

bulletEvidence of withdrawal - when intake is interrupted. (The Shakes)
bulletTolerance - to the effects of alcohol.
bulletAlcohol-associated illnesses - alcoholic liver disease, cerebellar degeneration.
bulletContinued drinking - despite strong medical and  social contradictions, and life disruptions.
bulletImpaired social and occupational functioning. (Unable to get along with others, unable to hold a job.)
bulletBlackouts - unable to remember what happened while drinking, in whole or part.
bulletDepression - A "down or sad mood" is common.

This is only a partial list, highlighting the major symptoms for the purpose of recognition of a problem

How it all works:

The general theory is that alcoholism can be broken down into two basic phases, problem drinking and alcohol addiction. Problem drinking occurs when alcohol is used repetitively, to relieve stress, anxiety, other emotional problems, or combinations of these problems. Problem drinking can be characterized as the early stages of alcohol addiction or alcoholism. People often become dependent on alcohol after discovering that it helps relieve stress, and because alcohol is used more and more frequently, as stressful situations arise, a pattern of abuse develops. This is unfortunate because the more dependent a person is on alcohol, the less stress they can actually handle. This relationship is inversely proportional, meaning that as the dependence on alcohol increases, the ability to effectively deal with stress decreases. (Stress is only an example, you could literally, substitute almost any emotional problem into this equation.) This dependence slowly builds until the individual is drinking nearly constantly. In extreme cases, this does not just mean every evening, but constantly, during all hours of the day, from the time they get up until the time they go to bed, or pass out. As tragic as it sounds, this happens every day, in the smallest towns and the largest cities, all over the world.

It is also important to remember that many alcohol and drug users, even regular users, may continue for extended periods of time to lead functional, relatively balanced, and productive lives.

 

Diagnosis

The American Psychiatric Association provides the following definitions of abuse and dependence:

bulletAlcohol or drug abuse is a maladaptive pattern of alcohol or drug use manifested by recurrent and significant adverse consequences related to the repeated use of alcohol or drugs.
bulletAlcohol or drug dependence involves a cluster of cognitive, behavioral, and physiological symptoms that result from repeated self-administration that usually results in tolerance, withdrawal, and compulsive drug-taking behavior.

The two most common factors involved in determining alcohol problems are tolerance and dependence. The number of drinks an individual consumes on a regular basis can tell us what type of tolerance has been developed. This can vary quite a bit between individuals because everyone is a little different in their genetic makeup. It seems some ethnic groups may be more susceptible to alcoholism than others, and "start" with a lower tolerance. Generally speaking, a greater tolerance indicates that the individual has more experience drinking. This is evidence that the individual has been continually increasing the dose of alcohol, over a period of time, in order to attain the desired affects of the substance. Another factor to consider is an individual who has difficulty getting through the day without regular alcohol consumption. This person I almost always considered to be alcohol dependent.

Causes

Unfortunately the specific causes of alcoholism are largely unknown. What is known is that there is some evidence that alcoholism may run in families, and there is some evidence that points to a genetic predisposition to alcoholism. Analyses of the National Longitudinal Alcohol Epidemiological Survey have also concluded that the younger the age of onset of drinking, the greater the chance that a person will develop a clinically defined alcohol disorder (National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism 1998). Youth who began drinking before they turned 15 were twice as likely to develop an alcohol abuse problem and four times more likely to develop alcohol dependence, compared with persons who did not begin drinking before age 21. More than 40 percent of respondents who began drinking before age 15 were classified as alcohol dependent at some time in their lives.

Seeking Treatment

One of the fundamental principals in treating alcoholism is, "Once an alcoholic always an alcoholic". This is because most research indicates that an alcoholic is not able to return to normal social drinking. This is the way most recovery organizations, like Alcoholics Anonymous, and treatment centers around the country teach their members how to live normal lives again. Simply never drink again. To an alcoholic or any one else for that matter, this is good advice. AA has a very good track record, and could very well be the most effective treatment program known. In addition to AA there are licensed counselors throughout the country that conduct individual and group therapy sessions on a weekly basis. There are also treatment facilities in every state as well, and every state has an Alcohol and Drug Abuse Agency. (An excellent place to start your search for treatment.) Another place people find comfort, is at their local church. Many Priests, Ministers, and Rabbis are trained in this area, or they know where to send you for help in your area.

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