Alcoholism is a chronic and often progressive disease that includes problems controlling your drinking, being preoccupied with alcohol, continuing to use alcohol even when it causes problems, increase the drinking capacity to get the same effect (physical dependence), or having withdrawal symptoms when you suddenly decrease or stop drinking. If you have alcoholism, you can't predict how much you will drink.
It's possible to have a problem with alcohol, even when it has not progressed to the point of alcoholism. Having a drinking problem generally means you drink too much at times, causing problems in your life, although you're not completely dependent on alcohol.
Binge drinking is a pattern of drinking where a person consumes five or more drinks in a row this can lead to the same health risks and social problems associated with alcoholism. The more you drink, the greater the risks. Those who make this a habit, which often occurs with teenagers and young adults, may evolve this into alcoholism over time.If you have alcoholism or you have a problem with alcohol, you may not be able to cut back or quit without help. Denying that you have a problem is part of it.
What is considered one drink?
One standard drink is:
- 12 ounces (355 milliliters) of regular beer (about 5 percent alcohol)
- 8 to 9 ounces (237 to 266 milliliters) of malt liquor (about 7 percent alcohol)
- 5 ounces (148 milliliters) of wine (about 12 percent alcohol)
- 1.5 ounces (44 milliliters) of 80-proof hard liquor (about 40 percent alcohol)
What about my drinking?
If you've ever wondered whether your drinking crosses the line into problem drinking or alcoholism, ask yourself these questions:
- If you're a man, do you ever have five or more drinks in a day?
- If you're a woman, do you ever have four or more drinks in a day?
- Do you ever need a drink to get you started in the morning?
- Do you feel guilty about your drinking?
- Do you think you need to cut back on how much you drink?
- Are you annoyed when other people comment on or criticize your drinking habits?
If you answered yes to even one of these questions, you may have a problem with alcohol.
The main symptoms of a alcoholism include:
- Be unable to decide on a limit to the amount of alcohol you drink.
- Urge to drink.
- Develop tolerance to alcohol which leads to increased drinking to get the desired effects of alcohol.
- Drinking alone or sneaking your drinks.
- Physical withdrawal symptoms that you may experience like nausea, sweating and shaking.
- Not being able to remember conversations or commitments, sometimes referred to as a "blackout".
- Make a ritual of having drinks at certain times and become annoyed when this ritual is disturbed.
- Getting irritate around the same time every day when you are about to have a drink, especially if alcohol is not available.
- Keep alcohol in unlikely places at home, at work or in your car.
- Intentional drinking to cope with problems and drinking with haste to get drunk quickly.
- Intentional drinking to cope with problems and drinking with haste to get drunk quickly.
- Lose interest in activities and hobbies that you use to enjoy.
If you binge drink, you may have many of the signs and symptoms above, although you may not feel as much of a compulsion to drink compared with someone who has alcoholism and you may not have physical withdrawal symptoms when you don't drink, but this pattern of drinking can still cause serious problems and lead to alcoholism. As with alcoholism, you may not be able to quit drinking without help.
Alcoholism is associated with genetic, psychological, social and environmental factors that in turn governs your mental attitude and body responses.
The process of becoming addicted to alcohol occurs gradually, although some people have an abnormal response to alcohol from the time they start drinking. Over time, drinking too much may change the normal balance of chemicals and nerve tracks in your brain associated with the experience of pleasure, judgment and the ability to exercise control over your behavior. This may result in your craving alcohol to restore good feelings or remove negative ones.
Risk Factors: - for alcoholism include:
- Steady drinking over time. Drinking too much on a regular basis for an extended period or binge drinking on a regular basis can produce a physical dependence on alcohol.
- Age. People who begin drinking at an early age are at a higher risk of getting addicted.
- Family history. The risk of alcoholism is higher for people who have a parent or a close relative who have a drinking problem.
- Depression and other mental health problems. It's common for people with a mental health disorder such as anxiety, depression or bipolar disorder to get involved with substance abuse or alcoholism.
- Social and cultural factors. Having friends or a close partner who drinks regularly could increase your risk of alcoholism. The way that drinking is portrayed in the media also sends a message that it's OK to drink.
- Mixing medication and alcohol. Some medications interact with alcohol, results into toxic effects.
Alcohol depresses your central nervous system. In some people, initially they may not feel anything but as they continue to drink, they become sedated. Alcohol lowers your inhibitions and affects your thoughts, emotions and judgment.
Too much alcohol affects your speech, muscle coordination and vital centers of your brain. A heavy drinking habit may even be life-threatening or can induce coma. If you have problems with alcohol, you're more likely to also have problems with other substances.
- Motor vehicle accidents and other types of accidents.
- Domestic problems.
- Poor performance at work or school.
- Violent behavior.
- Alcohol is often a cause in other deaths, including drowning, suicides and homicides.
- Drinking makes it more likely teenagers become sexually active and engage in unprotected sex and also become victims of sexual abuse or date rape compared with those who don't drink.
- Alcohol use can lead to accidental injury, assault and property damage.
Health problems caused by excessive drinking can include:
- Liver disease. Heavy drinking can cause alcoholic hepatitis — an inflammation of the liver. After years of heavy drinking, hepatitis may lead to irreversible destruction and scarring of liver tissue (cirrhosis).
- Digestive problems. Heavy drinking can result in inflammation of the stomach lining (gastritis), as well as stomach and esophageal ulcers. It also can interfere with absorption of B vitamins and other nutrients. Heavy drinking can damage your pancreas — which produces hormones that regulate your metabolism and enzymes that help digestion — and lead to inflammation of the pancreas (pancreatitis).
- Heart problems. Excessive drinking can lead to high blood pressure and increases your risk of an enlarged heart, heart failure or stroke.
- Diabetes complications. Alcohol interferes with the release of glucose from your liver and can increase the risk of low blood sugar (hypoglycemia). This is dangerous if you have diabetes and are already taking insulin to lower your blood sugar level.
- Sexual function and menstruation. Excessive drinking can cause erectile dysfunction in men. In women, it can interrupt menstruation.
- Eye problems. Over time, heavy drinking can cause involuntary rapid eye movement (nystagmus) as well as weakness and paralysis of your eye muscles due to a deficiency of vitamin B-1 (thiamine).
- Birth defects. Alcohol use during pregnancy may cause fetal alcohol syndrome, resulting in giving birth to a child who has physical and developmental problems that last a lifetime.
- Bone loss. Alcohol may interfere with the production of new bone. This can lead to thinning bones (osteoporosis) and an increased risk of fractures.
- Neurological complications. Excessive drinking can affect your nervous system, causing numbness and pain in your hands and feet, disordered thinking, dementia and short-term memory loss
- Weakened immune system. Excessive alcohol use can make it harder for your body to resist disease, making you more susceptible to illnesses.
- Increased risk of cancer. Long-term excessive alcohol use has been linked to many cancers, including that of the mouth, throat, liver, colon and breast. Even casual drinking can increase the risk of breast cancer.
Care and Treatment
Early intervention can prevent alcoholism in teens. For young people, the likelihood of addiction depends on the influence of parents, peers and other role models; how much they're influenced by advertising of alcohol; how early in life they begin to use alcohol; the psychological need for alcohol; and genetic factors that may increase their risk of addiction.
If you have a teenager, be alert to signs and symptoms that may indicate a problem with alcohol:
- Loss of interest in activities and hobbies and in personal appearance.
- Bloodshot eyes, slurred speech, problems with coordination and memory lapses.
- Difficulties or a change in relationships, such as joining a new group you might not be introduced to.
- Declining grades and having problems at school.
- Frequent mood changes and defensive behavior.
In order to prevent the above, you can start by setting a good example with your own habits. Talk openly with your child, spend quality time together, and become actively involved in your child's life. Let your child know the consequences and have a healthy discussion.
When to Call the Doctor
If you feel that you drink too much or your family is concerned about your drinking, talk to your doctor. See your doctor even if you don't think you have alcoholism, but because it's causing problems in your life. Other ways to get help include talking with a mental health provider or seeking help from a support group such as Anonymous Alcoholics.
Denial is common, you may not feel like you have a problem with drinking or that you need help. You might not realize how much you drink or how many problems in your life are related to it. For that listen to your family, friends or co-workers when they ask you to seek help.