Alcoholism is a health condition, characterized by difficulty in controlling alcohol intake, even if there is a severe degree of negative impact on the affected person’s health, relationships, working capacity and social image.
This health condition is considered to be one of the addictive illnesses and also known as alcohol abuse, alcohol dependence, etc. If alcohol intake is stopped or restricted chronic alcoholics characteristically develop a number of distressing withdrawal symptoms because of physical dependence.
Regular heavy intake of alcohol at first leads to problem drinking interfering with normal routine life, although symptoms of physical dependence are still not evident. Binge drinking is a type of drinking when males consume five or more drinks consecutively and females consume four or more drinks at one sitting. Both binge drinking and problem drinking if unchecked, may lead to alcoholism in the future.
Chronic alcoholism can affect every organ of the body, including the brain and thus may cause a number of medical and psychiatric problems.
Treatment options for alcoholism include drug treatment, psychological counseling, behavioral therapy, association with support group etc.
Symptoms of alcoholism include
1. Inability to restrict the amount and frequency of alcohol intake
2. Feeling a strong urge (compulsion) to indulge in alcohol.
3. Development of tolerance so that as drinking continues to get the same pleasurable effects one need increased amount of drinking.
4. Tendency to drink alone so that no one actually knows how much alcohol is being consumed.
5. Restriction or complete avoidance of alcohol leads to number of bothersome withdrawal symptoms namely, nausea, increased perspiration, shaking of fingers, hallucination, etc.
6. Episodes of black out characterized by inability to recall particular events or commitments.
7. Indulging in ritualistic drinking at particular time of the day and irritability if somehow this ritualistic drinking is interrupted.
8. Increased irritability, if alcohol is not available at the particular time of drinking.
9. Keeping or storing alcoholic beverages at unusual places of the house and car; often indulging in episodes of binge drinking to elevate mood or just to “feel good”.
9. Frequent involvement in legal problems, difficulty in maintaining normal relationship at home, with family members, at work place etc
10. Loss of interest in hobbies, pleasurable activities, etc.
Sometimes people with problem drinking and habit of binge drinking may have all the symptoms mentioned above other than the withdrawal symptoms.
Alcoholism may lead to number complications involving different organs.
1. CNS: initially drinking is associated with stimulation of the brain however with continued drinking there is slurring of speech, gait problem, lack of motor co-ordination, poor judgment, lowering of inhibition thus leading to increased motor vehicle accidents, family related, workplace related problems, etc.
2. Liver diseases like chronic alcoholic hepatitis, cirrhosis, etc.
3. Gatroesophageal reflux diseases, gastritis, flaring up of ulcer, etc.
4. Heart problems like high blood pressure, increased risk of stroke, heart failure, etc.
5. Diabetes or high blood sugar; sometimes acute large amount of alcohol intake may lead to sudden fall in blood sugar level.
6. Eye problems.
7. Osteoporosis: thinning of bones and fracture.
8. Poor immune response; increased chance of infection.
9. Increased risk of certain cancers namely liver, colon, breast, mouth, etc.
10. Neurological problems like short term loss of memory, dementia, numbness of fingers, etc.
11. Loss of libido, poor sexual performance.
12. Alcohol consumption during pregnancy may lead to a number of birth defects in the fetus like delayed mental growth, abnormal growth of facial bones, etc.
There are a number of factors which may lead to the development of alcoholism in the future; these are genetic, psychological, social and different environmental factors. The process of becoming addicted to alcohol usually progresses gradually over time due to progressive change in the normal balance of different chemicals in the brain, leading to pleasurable feelings, poor judgment and lack of control over behavior. Ultimately, there is increased craving for alcohol.
Common risk factors for alcoholism include regular intake of large amount of alcohol for a prolonged period of time, starting of alcohol intake at an early age, family history of alcoholism, suffering from different type of mental health related problems like depression, frustration, peer pressure, having friends or mingling with people who drink regularly, abuse of other drugs with addictive property, etc.
Alcoholics often do not recognize or consider that they are having problem with alcohol. Thus, involvement of close ones is very important in convincing these people so that professional help is sought.
Treatment options include detoxification and withdrawal therapy, counseling, drugs given via oral or injectable routes, management of complications, continuous support to help the patient to refrain from alcohols etc.