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Understanding Alcoholism and its impacts

Understanding Alcoholism and its impacts

An increased tolerance, suffering withdrawal symptoms, and having cravings are all symptomatic of alcoholism. Other than genetics, there are many factors, for instance stress, that ascertain whether someone will develop alcoholism. This can in turn lead to other diseases and influence family members as well. However, treatment usually helps people to control it.

Since alcoholism impacts one’s social and economic life as well as health, it is deemed an addiction disease. Depending on the level of abuse, the effects of alcohol addiction can be mild or severe. The similarities between alcohol addiction and the health impact of alcohol abuse are many. Still, there are thousands of people who abuse alcohol every year.

There are many behavioral symptoms that specifically accompany alcoholism. To determine whether an addiction problem is on the cards, answer the following questions.

1. Do you have an alcohol tolerance?

Tolerance develops as a result of frequent consumption of alcohol. This is because the body becomes immune to the effects of a substance after a while. After some time, in order to get the desired effect, more amounts of the same substance is required. For first time drinkers, only a few drinks can create the euphoria associated with alcohol. With subsequent drinking sessions, the person needs to drink greater amounts of alcohol to get the same effects.

2. Are you unable to quit once you have started?

Is one glass of wine or a bottle of beer enough for you? Will one drink lead to more until you are unable to stop? The inability to quit drinking after having a few is indicative of alcohol addiction. The addiction might be present in your life if you lack the ability to control your drinking habits.

3. Are there any withdrawal symptoms when alcohol is unavailable?

Depending on the individual, alcohol withdrawal symptoms might vary. These may include:

  • Excessive sweating
  • Trembling
  • Vomiting
  • Headaches
  • Being irritable
  • Increased heart rate
  • Sleeplessness, or insomnia
  • Appetite loss
  • Anxiety or depression

Sometimes these symptoms are experienced as stress. Alcoholics may want to drink in order to relieve them. But the symptoms are brought about by the alcohol itself which is a physically addictive substance.

4. Is there a craving for alcohol?

Craving is one of the most indicative symptoms of alcohol addiction. An addict may go to great extremes to satisfy the urges. Alcohol addicts may even consume non-beverage alcohol-based drinks that are highly dangerous. They might consume cough medicines, aftershaves, or similar liquids if they don’t get their daily drinks. These drinks can have a significant impact on their health.

However, sometimes even feeling that one needs to drink is good enough to tell if the person is addicted, especially if doing so takes precedence over other familial and economic responsibilities.

The impact of Alcohol on the Brain

The human brain is a fragile thing and exposing it to alcohol is detrimental to its functioning. Some may experience slurred speech or dizziness after only one or two drink. Others who are more tolerant to alcohol may experience these effects after consuming greater amounts. Whatever the amount may be, the damage is physical and it is certain.

When blood alcohol content gets high, individuals may experience a blackout. A blackout results in the inability to remember anything that one did whilst under the influence of alcohol. People may become irrational after drinking and get annoyed at the slightest of provocations. This results in bar fights and violence even if one is temperamentally calm.

Alcohol also inhibits the ability to make good decisions. High levels of alcohol in the bloodstream may make people reckless, especially in their sexual behavior and while driving. This can jeopardize the lives of all those who are involved with the alcoholic.

The long-term effects of drinking on the brain are quite severe. The brain goes through physical changes that can be measured on MRI scans when a person engages in binge drinking. The synapses, which are responsible for signal transmission, are negatively affected. This dysfunction of the nervous system will remain even after the immediate behavioral effects of alcohol go away.

Is alcoholism passed on genetically?

Many debates revolve around whether a person can have a genetic inclination to alcohol addiction. Studies have been able to prove that genetic predisposition to addiction can be due to hereditary reasons, and that includes alcoholism. But it is important to note that it is only one of the factors that lead to alcoholism.

There are several social, medical and psychological factors that influence alcohol addiction. Some of them are:

  • Alcohol availability
  • Exposure to stress
  • Presence of underlying conditions like anxiety or depression
  • The age at which one starts drinking

A history of alcoholism in the family is also an important factor when it comes to whether or not someone will develop an alcohol addiction. However, this factor alone cannot lead to alcoholism.

Alcoholism and its long-term health impact

By definition, alcoholism refers to consumption of large quantities of alcohol. The health impact can be quite severe. This can cause cirrhosis, a degeneration of the liver, which is life threatening. According to the National Digestive Diseases Information Clearinghouse, cirrhosis deaths resulting from alcohol abuse is greater than all other forms of cirrhosis deaths.

Pancreatitis, or an inflammation of the pancreas, is another health hazard resulting from alcohol addiction. Pancreatitis results in destruction of pancreatic parts and improper pancreatic functioning.

When alcohol comes into contact with different types of human cells, it can also lead to different types of cancer. Some of them include esophagus, throat, or stomach cancer. Since liver metabolizes the alcohol, liver cancer is also one of the possibilities.

Impact of Alcoholism on families

It is not only the alcoholic who suffers. The impact of alcoholism is greatly felt by the family members of the alcoholic as well. For instance, alcohol addiction can cause a rupture in family relations. Even when the family members cut their ties with the alcoholic, the death of the family member will cause them terrible grief and they will worry for his/her health on a constant basis.

If the family chooses to stick with the alcoholic member, they are forced to suffer tremendously as well. They may feel the need to make excuses for the alcoholic when it comes to addressing social or personal problems.

There may be physical and/or emotional abuse in the family that is often dealt to the children by the alcoholic parent. Studies have shown that alcohol-related abuse can take on many forms. There may be physical forms of abuse like sexual abuse, and/or psychological abuse and neglect.

If black outs occur after heavy bouts of drinking, neglect of the children is the very minimum that is bound to happen. If a child is regularly neglected, there is a higher chance of suffering from traumatic psychological abuse. In worst case scenarios, the alcoholic parent may physically abuse the children.

Financial impact of alcoholism

Alcoholism creates huge financial problems for the alcoholic as well as the families. The individual abusing alcohol may be unable to perform well on the job which may lead to unemployment. The alcoholic may end up taking jobs that do not provide enough pay. They may also, for instance, steal money from their own family for drinking.

The financial impact of alcoholism is evident in the form of fines, legal fees and other penalties that come about due to reckless behavior caused by the alcohol. Charges of drinking under the influence of alcohol are a good example of this. Thousands of dollars are lost while covering such charges, especially when one considers court fees, lawyer fees, fines, etc. In most cases of drinking under influence of alcohol, the driving license of the alcoholic will be revoked.

Since there is an additional risk of accident or injury, automobile insurance costs will increase greatly. In order to cover any state liability, most states require a driver with a propensity to drinking to get a special policy. These policies in themselves cost hundreds of dollars per year.

Warning levels of Alcohol consumption

Before evaluating how much alcohol is too much for you or a family member, it is important to know what exactly determines the level of “one drink”. According to government standards, a single drink constitutes one 12-ounce beer, one hard liquor shot, or one 5-ounce wine glass. Unhealthy consumption of alcohol is a clear sign that an individual may possibly become dependent on alcohol. The National Institute of Health has clearly defined the warning levels of alcohol consumption. These are as follows:

  • More than 15 drinks weekly for men
  • More than 12 drinks weekly for women
  • More than 5 drinks in a session per week for anyone

In practical terms, if one is consuming a six-pack of beer on a weekend, he or she is at a greater risk of developing alcohol addiction. Similarly, if a woman has a few cocktails every night after work, she too is increasing her chances of developing alcoholism. If a man at work is drinking three to four drinks as he is entertaining clients multiple nights a week, he may be increasing his chances of developing alcoholism.

Even though alcoholism is not curable, there is some good news. Treatment, proper counseling, and medication can help counter one’s dependence on alcohol. With proper guidance and intervention, there is a possibility that the alcoholic can cure his or her disease and get past his unhealthy habits.

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Posted by Byran Hamilton
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