Alcoholism is a chronic illness marked by consumption of alcoholic beverages at a level that interferes with physical or mental health, and social, family, or occupational responsibilities. Alcohol dependence or alcoholism is the most severe form of alcohol abuse. Alcohol abuse also includes “problem drinking” such as drinking and driving or binge drinking (drinking six or more drinks on one occasion).
Causes and Risk:
Alcoholism is a type of drug addiction. There is both physical and psychological dependence with this addiction (Andrews, 1999).
Physical dependence reveals itself by withdrawal symptoms when alcohol intake is interrupted, tolerance to the effects of alcohol, and evidence of alcohol associated illnesses. Alcohol affects the central nervous system as a depressant, resulting in a decrease of activity, anxiety, tensions and inhibitions (Ketcham, 2000).
Even a low level of alcohol within the body slows reactions. Concentration and judgement become impaired. In excessive amounts, intoxication or poisoning results.
Alcohol also affects other body systems. Irritation of the gastrointestinal tract can occur with erosion of the lining of the stomach causing nausea and vomiting (www.drkoop.com/conditions.htm).
Vitamins are not absorbed properly, which can lead to nutritional deficiencies with the long-term use of alcohol. Liver disease, called hepatic cirrhosis, may also develop (www.drkoop.com).
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The cardiovascular system may be affected by cardiomyopathy. Sexual dysfunction may also occur, causing erectile dysfunction in men and cessation of menses in women (Andrews, 1999).
Alcohol affects the nervous system and can result in neuropathy and dementia. Chronic alcohol use also increases the risk of cancer of the larynx, esophageus, liver and colon. Alcohol consumption during pregnancy can cause problems in the developing foetus known as foetal alcohol syndrome, which may result in mental retardation of the child (Milam, 2001).
The social consequences of drinking problem Drinker People Drinks">problem drinking and alcohol dependence can be as serious as the medical problems. People that abuse alcohol have a higher incidence of unemployment, domestic violence, and overall difficulty with the law (Milam, 2001).
About half of all traffic fatalities are related to alcohol use.
The development of dependence upon alcohol may occur over a period of years, following a relatively consistent pattern of progression. At first, a tolerance of alcohol develops. This results in a person being able to consume a greater quantity of alcohol before it’s adverse effects are noticed. Memory lapses relating to drinking episodes may follow tolerance (Milam, 2001).
Then a lack of control over drinking occurs, and the affected person can no longer discontinue drinking whenever desired. The most severe drinking behaviour includes prolonged binges of drinking with associated mental or physical complications (Andrews, 1999).
Some people are able to gain control over their dependence in earlier phases before a total lack of control occurs. When a person who is physically dependant on alcohol tries to stop, a withdrawal syndrome develops, with symptoms that may include elevated temperature, increased blood pressure, rapid heart rate, restlessness, anxiety, psychosis, seizures and rarely even death (Johnson, 2000).
There is no definite cause of alcoholism; however, several factors may play a role in its development. A person who has an alcoholic parent is more likely to become an alcoholic than a person without alcoholism in their immediate family (Milam, 2001).
The reason for this occurrence is not known, but genetic or biochemical abnormalities may be present. Psychological factors may include a need for relief of anxiety, ongoing depression, unresolved conflict within relationships, or low self esteem (Andrews, 1999).
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Social factors include availability of alcohol, social acceptance of the use of alcohol, peer pressure and stressful lifestyles.
At risk drinkers are men who consume 15 or more drinks a week, women who consume 12 or more drinks a week, or anyone who consumes 5 or more drinks per occasion at least once a week (www.alcoholism.org.au).
Symptoms associated with alcoholism include:
•Making excuses to drink
•Need for daily or frequent use of alcohol for adequate function
•Lack of control over drinking, with inability to discontinue or reduce alcohol intake
•Episodes of violence associated with drinking
•Secretive behaviour to hide alcohol related behaviour
•Hostility when confronted over drinking
•Neglect of food intake
•Neglect of physical appearance
•Nausea and vomiting
•Shaking in the morning
•Numbness and tingling
•Confusion (Andrews, 1999)
Symptoms may vary from person to person.
Alcohol dependency usually requires programs that include medical supervision and counselling. The person with alcohol dependence often has little recognition of the problem. Alcoholism is associated with denial, allowing the person to believe there is no need for treatment (Johnson, 2000).
One of the most popular methods of getting the alcoholic to realize they have a problem is to organise an intervention. This involves friends and family talking to you as a group and detailing specific instances when your drinking has affected them, a specialist in inventions is also usually present. This usually occurs in a letter written to the alcoholic and that family member reading it to them. The intervention is over when the alcoholic agrees to go to counselling and seek further treatment (Johnson, 2000).
Detoxification is the first phase of treatment. Alcohol is withdrawn under a controlled, supervised setting. Tranquillisers and sedatives are often prescribed to control alcohol withdrawal symptoms. Detoxification usually takes 4 to 7 days (www.alcoholismtreatment.org).
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At this period, it is crucial that an examination for other medical problems be done. Liver disease and blood clotting problems is the most common (www.alcoholismtreatment.org).
Complications associated with the acute withdrawal of alcohol may occur, such as delirium tremens and depression or any other underlying mood disorders and should be treated as soon as noticed (Milam, 2001).
Another well-known treatment for alcoholism is Naltrexone. Naltrexone is a medication that blocks the effects of drugs known as opioid (a class that includes morphine, heroin or codeine) (www.firehorse.com.au).
Naltrexone competes with these drugs for opioid receptors in the brain. It was originally used to treat dependence on opioid drugs only but has recently been approved as treatment for alcoholism. In clinical trials evaluating the effectiveness of naltrexone, patients who received naltrexone were twice as successful in remaining abstinent and in avoiding relapse as patients who received placebo- an inactive pill (www.firehorse.com.au).
With this method of detox you can be fully physically withdrawn in 6 hours and you can leave the clinic after 24 hours. Cost (in Australian dollars) varies from $600 in the USA to $3000 in Israel to $7500 in Sydney (www.firehorse.com.au).
It should also be noted that naltrexone should not be taken without detoxing first. Taking naltrexone whilst still addicted will speed the withdrawal stage and leave you in serious pain.
Alcoholics Anonymous is a self-help group of recovering alcoholics that offers emotional support and an effective model of abstinence for people recovering from alcohol dependence. According to the Alcoholics Anonymous website (www.alcoholicsanonymous.org.au), Alcoholics Anonymous is defined as a fellowship of men and women who share their experience, strength and hope with each others the they may solve their common problem and help others to recover from alcoholism. The only requirement for membership is a desire to stop drinking. There are no fees for Alcoholics Anonymous, and their primary purpose is to stay sober and help other alcoholics achieve sobriety. There are more than 1 million members worldwide, and local chapters are found throughout Melbourne (www.alcoholicsanonyomous.org.au).
... only. There are also step meetings, which are normally closed. At these meetings one of the Twelve Steps are discussed. Alcoholics Anonymous has ... meeting. Closed discussion meetings are the same as open discussion meetings, but are for alcoholics and prospective A. A. members/ people who may have drinking problems ...
The two most common forms of Alcoholics Anonymous meetings are open and closed. Open meetings, as the term suggests, are open to alcoholics and their families and anyone interested in solving a personal drinking problem or helping someone else to solve such a problem. Most open meetings follow a more or less set pattern, although distinctive variations have developed in some areas. A chairperson describes the Alcoholics Anonymous program briefly for the benefit of newcomers in the audience and calls speakers to relate their personal drinking histories and may give their personal interpretation of Alcoholics Anonymous. At the end of the meeting there is usually a period for local Alcoholics Anonymous announcements, and a treasurer passes the hat to defray costs of the meeting hall, literature, and incidental expenses. The meeting adjourns, usually flowed by informal chatting over coffee or other light refreshments. Closed meetings, on the other hand, are limited to alcoholics. They provide an opportunity for members to share problems with one another related to drinking patterns and attempts to achieve stable sobriety. They also permit detailed discussion of various elements in the recovery program.
To help decide if Alcoholics Anonymous is for you, their website gives you this list of questions to answer truthfully. If you answer yes to four or more questions, it means you are in ‘deep trouble with alcohol’ (www.alcholicsanonymous.org.au).
Is AA for you?
•Have you ever tried to stop drinking for a week or so, but only lasted a couple of days?
•Do you wish people would mind their own business about your drinking & stop telling you what to do?
•Have you ever switched from one drink to another in the hope that this would keep you from getting drunk?
•Have you ever had an eye opener during the last year? (Do you need a drink to get started)
•Do you envy people who can drink without getting into trouble?
•Have you had problems connected to your drinking during the past year?
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•Has your drinking caused trouble at home?
•Do you ever try to get ‘extra’ drinks at a party because you do not get enough?
•Do you tell yourself you can stop drinking any time you want to, even though you keep getting drunk when you don’t mean to?
•Have you missed days of work or school because of drinking?
•Do you have ‘blackouts’?
•Have you ever felt your life would be better if you did not drink?
Alcoholism is a tragic disease that rips apart families and lives. It can however, be treated and cured. Educational programs and medical advice about alcohol abuse has in the past been successful in decreasing problem drinking and it’s associated problems. Young adolescents should be educated so that they can see what drinking can do to you. Treatments are readily available, but the alcoholic must want to be treated. They are also going to need strong and loving support from family and friends.
Andrews, T. (1999) Getting them Sober. Prentice Hall, New York.
Johnson, V. (2000) Intervention: How to help someone who doesn’t want help. Pedigree books, Washington.
Ketcham, K. (2000) Beyond the Influence: Understanding and Defeating Alcoholism. Prentice Hall, London
Milam, J. (2001) Understanding the influence: A Guide to the Myths and Realities of Alcoholism. Penguin books, Sydney.