Alcoholism: Symptoms, Causes and Treatment
Alcoholism, also called alcohol use disorder, is a condition characterized by an excessive desire or physical need to consume alcohol. However, it has a negative impact on the quality of life. It may involve problems controlling drinking. Being engaged with it, a strong continual even when it causes problems (put health or safety at risk or causes other alcohol-related problems) or having withdrawal syndrome when consumption is reduced.
It also involves a drinking pattern in which a man consumes five or more drinks in two hours or a woman consumes at least four drinks in two hours. This pattern is known as binge drinking, and it causes a significant health risk.
Alcohol consumption can affect all parts of the body, especially the brain, heart, liver, pancreas, and immune system. It reduces a person’s life expectancy by 10 years.
According to the WHO, in 2010, about 208 million (4.1% of the population) suffered from alcoholism. It resulted in 1,39,000 deaths in 2013 and it is more common among males and young adults.
Causes of Alcoholism
Alcoholism can be caused by environmental and genetic factors. Alcohol-related addiction can take anywhere from a few years to several decades to develop. For highly susceptible individuals, this can happen in a matter of months.
Over time, regular consumption can disrupt the balance of areas of the brain associated with the experience of pleasure and the ability to control behavior. This causes the body to crave alcohol to feel good and avoid feeling bad.
Alcoholism can result in health problems such as
- High blood pressure.
- Alcoholic hepatitis (inflammation of the liver).
- Hepatic steatosis (increased fat in the liver).
- Atrial fibrillation.
- Cirrhosis (damage and scarring of the liver).
- Gastritis (inflammation of the stomach lining).
- Diabetes complications.
- Pancreatitis (inflammation of the pancreas).
- Osteoporosis (thinning bones).
- Miscarriage (alcohol use during pregnancy).
It can also increase your risk of-
- Heart failure.
- Certain cancers, such as mouth, liver, esophagus, throat, breast and colon.
Alcoholism also increases the risk of death from injuries, homicide, suicide, and car crashes.
Risk factors of Alcoholism
Risk factors may include-
- A family history.
- Depression and other mental health problems.
- History of emotional distress or trauma.
- Peer drinking.
- People who start before the age of 15 may be prone to developing the condition.
- Lack of peer and family support.
Symptoms of Alcoholism
- Inability to limit the amount of alcohol consumed
- Drinking alone or in secret
- Making unnecessary attempts to cut down on alcohol consumption
- A strong urge or feeling to drink alcohol
- Taking alcohol to feel good
- Storing alcohol in unlikely places
- Giving up hobbies and social activities
Diagnosis of Alcoholism
A health professional can make a diagnosis if alcoholism is suspected. This may include-
- Asking questions related to your drinking.
- A physical examination to check for physical signs that may indicate complications of alcohol use.
- Lab tests and imaging tests to identify health problems that may be related to alcohol use.
Treatment for alcoholism
Treatment options may include-
- Detoxification is where sedating medications are taken to prevent withdrawal symptoms. Treatment usually lasts 4 to 7 days.
- The common medication used for detoxification is chlordiazepoxide.
- Oral medications such as Antabuse. This medication causes a reaction when you consume alcohol, including nausea, vomiting and headache
- Naltrexone is also a medication used for blocking cravings. It may help reduce the urge to have a drink.
When to see a doctor?
If you think you have a drinking problem, telling your doctor about it can be the first step to recovery.