Alcoholism is a chronic addiction disorder in which a person becomes dependent on alcohol. Individuals with this condition are unable to control how much they drink and often experience serious consequences as a result of their alcohol consumption. Some people may not be characterized as alcoholics, but can suffer from alcohol abuse, meaning that they drink excessively but are not fully dependent on alcohol. Both conditions are considered serious and require long-term treatment in order to resume a normal, fully functioning lifestyle.

Causes of Alcoholism

Both alcoholism and alcohol abuse can develop over time as a result of several different factors. Some patients may be genetically predisposed to developing these conditions, including those with a family history of alcohol problems. Many people may develop alcoholism as a result of high stress and anxiety levels, low self-esteem, or depression. Additional risk factors for developing alcoholism may include:

  • Steady and increased drinking over time
  • People who begin drinking at an early age
  • Social and cultural factors
  • Certain mental health disorders such as bipolar disorder
  • Mixing alcohol and medication

Symptoms of Alcoholism

Many people with alcoholism deny that they have a drinking problem. Friends and family may be aware of certain signs of this condition, however not everyone with a drinking problem is necessarily an alcoholic. Signs of alcoholism or alcohol abuse may include:

  • Drinking alone
  • Uncontrollable drinking
  • Frequently blacking out
  • Feeling a need to drink
  • Loss of interest in other activities or hobbies
  • Experiencing withdrawal symptoms when not drinking
  • Hiding drinking or drinking secretly
  • Keeping alcohol at work or in the car
  • Becoming intoxicated to feel good

Alcoholism can cause problems in personal relationships, with employment or finances and can affect every aspect of a person‘s life.

Complications of Alcoholism

In addition to the personal and social ramifications of alcoholism, alcohol can affect a person‘s judgment causing poor choices to be made. People suffering from alcoholism may be involved in motor vehicle accidents, domestic disputes, and have an increased likelihood of committing violent crimes. Alcoholism may also cause a variety of health- related problems including:

  • Liver disease
  • Heart problems
  • Digestive problems
  • Sexual dysfunction
  • Weakened immune system
  • Diabetes complications
  • Increased cancer risk
  • Neurological problems
  • Birth defects if alcohol is used during pregnancy

Treatment of Alcoholism

Treatment for alcoholism varies, but the common goals are to help the individual stop abusing alcohol, maintain an alcohol-free lifestyle, and sustain a productive family and professional life. The first step in successful treatment of alcoholism often begins when the individual admits that they have a problem and need help. Treatments may differ based on the individual, and the depend on different factors including; the dependence on alcohol, physical health and medical history, age and lifestyle. Common treatment options for alcoholism may include:

  • Counseling
  • Aversion therapy
  • Detoxification
  • Intervention
  • Medication
  • Spiritual practice

These treatments may be administered at an inpatient or outpatient facility, and may be short or long-term. In addition, alcoholism commonly occurs along with other mental health disorders, so treatment for these underlying conditions may be a part of the treatment process. It is important for patients with alcoholism to have a strong support system through friends and family or self-help groups like Alcoholics Anonymous. Recovering from alcoholism is a life-long commitment that requires strength and determination.

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