We are all familiar with the image of the down and out drunk, sitting alone in a seedy flat, abandoned by his family and friends and spending his days in an alcohol-induced haze.
People have also become more familiar with Alcoholic Anonymous and the 12-step program for addiction recovery. But what is alcoholism, and do you need to be fall-down drunk to be considered an alcoholic?
The short answer is no. Not every alcoholic is sad, alone and depressed, and there are many high functioning alcoholics but, whether they want to admit it or not, they are all on a downward spiral and it is only a matter of time before they hit rock bottom.
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Alcoholism is the worst possible form of alcohol abuse and is characterised by a person’s physical need or overriding desire to drink alcohol, regardless of the consequences and the negative impact that it might have on their lives.
Alcoholism is divided into three categories; severe, moderate and mild. Each category has a number of symptoms and side effects and when left untreated alcoholism has a devastating impact on the life of the addict and their family.
People who suffer from alcoholism struggle to control their alcohol intake, often drinking copious amounts of alcohol and typically feel as though they can’t function, relax or sleep without a drink.
An alcoholic is someone who does not know when or how to stop drinking and they spend many hours thinking about their next drink and suffer from anxiety if they do not know where that drink will come from.
Not only does their severe alcohol dependence affect their health, but it also affects every other aspect of their lives, leading to a wide range of social, personal and professional complications.
- Alcoholism is Very Dangerous
- It Can Control Your Life
- You Can Beat It
According to the World Health Organisation, over 3 million people die annually from the harmful effects of alcohol on the body. The good news is that alcohol abuse and addiction is treatable, and an increasing number of private alcohol rehab facilities and clinics are specialising in treating problem drinking and alcohol addiction through counselling, support groups, clinical detox and cognitive behavioural therapy.
Due to the negative connotations and associations connect to the words alcoholic and alcoholism, health professionals now prefer to use the term alcohol use disorder. In the past alcoholism and alcohol abuse was associated with heavy drinking and excessive or inappropriate alcohol consumption rather than alcohol dependence.
While moderate alcohol consumption is legal and acceptable in most societies and is not generally physically or psychologically harmful, it can become an issue if a person starts to regularly consume more alcohol than is recommended by health professionals or binge drinks.
This can be the start of alcohol use disorder and alcohol consumption is definitely a problem if it becomes an obsession, dominates an individual’s life or takes precedence over all other activities.
Why Do People Drink?
There are many reasons why people turn to alcohol and numerous social, environmental and physical factors can increase the risk of alcohol abuse and dependence.
And while a person may start drinking for a specific reason, like stress, unemployment or bereavement, the continuous heavy drinking alters the chemicals in the brain and eventually, the body becomes addicted to alcohol and the need becomes physical as well as emotional, leading to alcohol abuse disorder.
People often rely on alcohol to reduce stress and this is not healthy. Alcohol is both a depressant and a sedative and while drinking may initially make you feel better, the more you drink, the higher your body’s tolerance for alcohol becomes and the more you have to drink to achieve the same effects that you did in the begin, increasing your risk of developing alcohol abuse disorder.
Drinking makes people feel good; it allows you to relax, builds your confidence, gives you a break from the day to day realities of life and takes your mind off things that are bothering you. But turning to alcohol to get you through the day can lead to serious drinking problems and a slippery slope to addiction.
Alcohol also enables people to overcome their anxiety, especially in social situations. It lowers inhibitions and makes you feel more comfortable but over time it can become an issue if you later find yourself consuming more and more alcohol or depending on alcohol in order to socialise.
The loss of a loved one is stressful and can take a toll on your physical, emotional and mental wellbeing. Many people turn to alcohol to numb the pain and grief but once again this is not a healthy option. If the grief is unbearable it is better to seek professional help and counselling rather than self-medicating with alcohol.
People who have recently suffered the loss of a friend or family member are extremely vulnerable and more susceptible to developing a drinking problem. Shame and trauma can also increase the risk of developing alcohol abuse disorder. The effects of alcohol can mask a person’s feelings of shame and lead them to engage in risky behaviour.
What Are The Common Signs Of Alcoholism
In some cases, the warning signs of alcohol use disorder are plain for all to see but other symptoms can take longer to become apparent. The important thing to remember is that the sooner alcohol abuse disorder is diagnosed, the sooner it can be treated and the greater the chances of recovery.
Signs of alcoholism include:
- Inability to control alcohol intake, finding frequent excuses to drink and binge drinking
- Craving alcohol and drinking first thing in the morning just to take the edge off
- Prioritising drinking and neglecting family and work commitments
- Spending a substantial, and often unaffordable, amount of money on alcohol
- drinking alone or secretly and becoming isolated from friends and family members because of your growing dependence on alcohol
- Making new friends and hanging out with acquaintances who have the same drinking habits
- Drinking even when you know it is causing health problems and can lead to liver disease
If you feel that alcohol is ruling your life or that you or a loved one could be an alcoholic, it is important to seek medical advice and explore your treatment options. Alcohol treatment usually consists of detox, rehab and maintenance.
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