Finding out about alcoholism when everyone has a different definition of what the word ‘alcoholism‘ actually means can be difficult. Alcoholism is when you drink despite problems with physical or mental health, neglect family and job responsibilities, and alcohol controls your life and your relationships. Alcohol abuse is when drinking leads to problems, but not to physical addiction.
Alcoholism has four main features:
- Craving – a strong need to drink
- Loss of Control – Not being able to stop drinking once you’ve started
- Physical Dependence – Withdrawal symptoms like sweating, shakiness, and nausea when you don’t have a drink
- Tolerance – The need to drink larger amounts of alcohol in order to feel the same effects
Physical Effects of Alcoholism
Many people find out about alcoholism addiction after someone they know is suffering from the effects on the body. Some physical effects of alcoholism are:
- Heavy drinking can damage every organ in the body.
- Alcoholism can increase the risk of certain cancers.
- Many deaths occur every year because of driving while drinking.
- Homicides and suicides are committed while people are intoxicated.
- Pregnant women who drink alcohol can cause their child to have physical or mental problems.
The alcohol, itself, is not the only dangerous issue of drinking. Usually heavy drinking causes lifestyle changes, such as nutritional problems from not eating regular meals and just a poor diet in general. The person’s hygiene usually suffers as well.
Alcohol liver disease happens after many years of heavy drinking. Cirrhosis eventually occurs. Not all cirrhosis is caused by alcohol. Many times too much prescribed medications can also cause this disease. An individual who has drank heavily for many years is very prone to developing cirrhosis, though.
Mental Effects of Alcoholism
People discuss more about the physical effects of alcoholism than the psychological effects. Alcohol abuse can cause tremendous changes in an individual’s personality. For example, a normally considerate and respectful individual can become selfish, angry, and even violent when intoxicated. Mood swings and aggression are very common in an intoxicated person. They will say and do things which they would never normally say or do.
Many people drink alcohol to mask their problems or to make their feelings of depression go away. This may provide an escape for a small amount of time, but the truth is that drinking can actually cause depression. Drinking can cause anxiety in individuals also, along with many other mental problems.
Studies have found that genetics may have something to do with alcoholism, but exactly how that works it not known. You have an increased risk for alcoholism if you have a parent with this problem.
Other things that contribute to alcoholism are if you:
- Live in a culture where alcohol use is common and accepted
- Have easy access to alcohol
- Live a stressful lifestyle
- Have low self-esteem
- Have depression or anxiety disorders
- Have problems with relationships
- Are a young person with peer pressure to drink
According to the National Institutes of Health (NIH) around one person out of six in the United States has a drinking problem. This is a jaw-dropping statistic.
Alcoholism: A Family Disease
Alcoholism has been called a “family disease.” When there is problem drinking, it affects not only the alcoholic, but the entire family. Children tend to feel unsafe when one or both of their parents are addicted to alcohol. They are ashamed of the fact that they cannot have parents who participate in school activities and programs. They cannot invite friends to their homes for fear of embarrassment by their parent. Many times they are afraid of the parent who is intoxicated.
In many cases, the older child has to take on the responsibility of the adult in the family. They have to see that their siblings are fed and dressed for school each morning. The alcohol has become more important to the parent than anything else, including the children. This is a horrible way for a child to have to grow up. They never feel safe or as if they have anyone to take care of them and their needs. They grow up feeling that they can depend on nobody but themselves.
According to NIAAA (National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism) one in four children grows up in a home where someone drinks too much. NIAAA is part of the National Institutes of Health.
Oftentimes, spouses of alcoholics suffer abuse, verbal, physical, or both, from the alcoholic. They are disappointed time and time again because of obligations or responsibilities that have been forgotten or that just didn’t seem as important as their alcohol consumption. Yes, alcoholism is a family disease.
Some symptoms of alcoholism are:
- Drinking alone
- Becoming violent when drinking
- Making excuses to drink
- Not being able to control drinking (not being able to stop drinking once started)
- Neglecting to eat or eat properly
- Not caring about personal hygiene
- Missing work or school because of drinking
- Stopping activities in order to drink
If you or a loved one are displaying any of these symptoms, there are many ways of achieving help. Don’t let alcoholism be the end of your family, or your life; alcoholism can be treated. There are many different types of treatment for alcoholism.
Inpatient or residential treatment has proven to be very successful for alcohol addiction. In residential treatment you live at the treatment facility for usually several months, or as long as it takes, for you to recover from this dreadful disease. The alcoholic must go through the detoxification process before receiving any counseling. This can be very dangerous and should never be attempted by oneself. In a residential center, you will have trained specialists on hand 24 hours a day, seven days a week to monitor you through this process and take care of any physical issues which may arise. During the detox process is when withdrawal symptoms will appear. When the alcohol is no long being ingested, once it starts getting out of your system, the withdrawal symptoms can be very severe.
In a residential treatment center you will be taken out of your usual environment where alcohol is a major player. You will receive one-on-one counseling, group counseling, and family counseling when possible. In most residential treatment centers, you also receive aftercare treatment. You are not left on your own to reintegrate into society. You will have ongoing help and counseling.
No one has to live with alcoholism. Get the help you need and do it right away.