Alcoholism is defined as a disease that is persistent, progressive and often fatal. It is not a symptom of other diseases or emotional problems; it is its own disorder. Alcohol affects every part of the body even the brain which will eventually adapt to the alcohol use by becoming dependent on it after prolonged use. Genetics and environment are factors that are influenced by this disease.
Drinking can reduce life expectancy by 10-12 years and next to smoking is the second most common preventable cause of death in America. The earlier a person starts drinking, the greater their chance is of developing serious illness later on. Once dependant on alcohol, it’s very difficult to quit.
The cause of alcoholism is unknown. Just drinking gradually and consistently over time can produce alcohol dependence and cause withdrawal symptoms during periods of abstinence, but this is not the only cause of alcoholism. To develop alcohol dependence several other factors typically come into play, like genetics, culture and psychology.
The signs of alcoholism or a dependence on alcohol vary from person to person and depend on how much the person drinks or how the person drinks. The definition of alcohol use and abuse ranges from moderate drinking, which is defined as equal to or less then two drinks a day for men and equal to or less then one drink a day for women. Hazardous or heavy drinking would be defined as more then 14 drinks per week or 4-5 drinks at one sitting for men or more then 7 drinks a week or 3 drinks in one setting for women or frequent intoxication in either gender. Harmful drinking is when alcohol consumption has actually caused physical or psychological harm or alcohol consumption has persisted for at least a month or has occurred consistently for a year. Alcohol abuse is used when the person either can’t fulfill work or personal obligation’s and/or has recurrent problems with the law. Alcohol dependence is used for people that three or more alcohol related problems in a period of one year that includes increased amount of alcohol needed to produce an effect earlier obtained with less alcohol, experiences withdrawal symptoms or drinks to avoid withdrawal symptoms, drinks more then intended, unsuccessfully attempting to cut down or quit, gives up hobbies or leisure activities to drink.
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Emotional and behavior problems such as depression and anxiety put people at a high risk for alcoholism and often are the reason the elderly turn to alcohol. Problem drinking in this case can be a way to self medicate. People may also use alcohol to become less inhibited in public situations that for some may be a source of great anxiety. Those that have impulsive personalities are also at a great risk for developing dependence to alcohol, due to the fact that they have low impulse control.
Alcoholism affects every part of the body causing illness, cancer and with long term consumption can even cause death. Frequent, heavy drinking is associated with a higher risk of death to injury, violence and medical disorders, like pancreatitis, upper gastrointestinal bleeding, nerve damage and even impotence. As people age it takes few drinks to become intoxicated and organs are damaged by smaller amounts of alcohol then younger people. Those that require surgery also have an increased risk of postoperative complications, including infections, bleeding and decreased heart and lung functions, along with wound healing problems. If withdrawal symptoms are present can inflict further stress on the body and delay healing.
Neurological or mental disorders can be caused from binge drinking which can cause memory impairment and problems thinking and concentrating. Nerve damage from severe vitamin deficiencies can impair mental function and memory and cause emotion disorders and even psychosis, like Wernicke-Korsakoff Syndrome, that causes loss of balance, confusion and memory loss and can lead to permanent brain damage and even death.
Diagnosing alcoholism can be hard, since nearly always people deny the problem. But for most, denial may be the first warning sign that their drinking is out of hand. There are tests to screen for alcoholism, most are short and allow the person to take them on his or her own time. Because people deny their problem or attempt to hide it, the questions relate to problems associated with drinking, rather then the amount of liquor consumed. The quickest test is the CAGE test and is an acronym for: 1. Attempts to CUT (C) down on drinking. 2. ANNOYANCE (A) with criticisms about drinking. 3. GUILT (G) about drinking. 4. Use of alcohol as an EYE-OPENER (E) in the morning. This test is called a Self Administered Alcoholism Screening Test (SAAST) and appears to be the most useful in detecting alcoholism in white middle aged males. Alcoholism, hard to detect in elderly women is sometimes diagnosed as depression and prescribed anti-anxiety drugs that can have dangerous effects when mixed with alcohol
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Treatments for alcoholism vary, but the overall goal in treatment is total abstinence, since those that abstain have better success rates then those that don’t. Treatment should also, include replacing addictive patterns with satisfying, time filling, behaviors which are able to fill the void in daily activities when drinking has stopped. Because alcoholism is so difficult to treat, most doctors will choose to treat alcoholism as a chronic disease that include relapses and remission periods.
Inpatient and outpatient treatments are available to those that would benefit most from these types of treatments. Those with co-existing medical or mental disorders or those that might harm themselves have greater success with inpatient treatments at a psychiatric hospital or alcohol center. Outpatient treatments work best with people that have a good support system and are able to take medications for mild to moderate withdrawal symptoms.
Psychotherapy treatments focus on Psychotherapeutic approaches and include cognitive-behavior therapy is used for severe alcoholism and gives people the opportunity to learn to cope and control their behavior, by changing the way they think about drinking and Interactional group psychotherapy that includes group based therapy like Alcoholics Anonymous or AA, 12-step program.
Alcoholism is a very real and serious disease that requires medical treatment and those suffering will require lifelong care and support.
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