Alcoholism is a form of alcohol abuse and dependence. Alcoholics have a physical addiction that causes them to continue drinking at the expense of their health, livelihood and relationships. Alcoholism is considered a chronic disease that spans a person’s lifetime. Symptoms include:
- Physical craving for alcohol and drinking
- Dependence, including withdrawal symptoms when removed from alcohol
- No control over drinking, cannot stop once started drinking
- High tolerance to alcohol, may take many more drinks than normal to get drunk
- Withdrawal from everyday life
- Legal, workplace and social problems
- Routines or patterns of regular episodes of drinking and/or binge drinking
- Alcohol stashed around the living space
- Regularly drinking alone and possibly in secret
- Mood swings
- Memory loss or blackouts
- Preoccupation with alcohol; obtaining it, drinking it and recovering from it
- Trouble with the law
- Increased amount of accidents
The World Health Organization states that there are around 140 million alcoholics in the world, with 15 percent of Americans being problem drinkers. Alcohol impairs motor function and mental abilities, causing the drinker to make poor decisions leading to loss of employment, legal troubles, motor vehicle accidents, problems with relationships and other social problems.
Alcoholism can lead to serious health problems, as consuming alcohol in large quantities acts as a depressant to your system, slowing breathing and causing poor temperature regulation, irregular heart rate, and impaired mental and physical functions. Alcoholism can lead to cirrhosis of the liver, heart disease, coma, lowered immune system, increased risk of cancer, severe dehydration, mental illness, asphyxiation and even death. Medical News Today reports that alcohol is a factor in one in 25 deaths per day worldwide, and it is the third-leading cause of preventable death in America.
Factors Leading to Alcoholism
There is no cut-and-dried answer as to what makes one person an alcoholic and another not. People and their bodies respond differently to the consumption of alcohol. Where one person may develop an addiction, another may not.
Many factors are thought to be involved in the progression from drinking to alcoholism and alcohol addiction. When you have your first drink is important as studies indicate that those who take their first drink under age 15 are more likely to develop alcoholism later in life, and 26.6 percent of Americans under the legal drinking age of 21 are drinking, according to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration.
Family history plays a vital role as well. Growing up in an alcoholic home where parents regularly abuse alcohol can certainly increase your risk for developing an addiction to alcohol. Depression and anxiety as well as family conflict also increase the risk.
Risk factors can include:
- Peer pressure
- Easy access to alcohol
- High stress levels
- Low self-esteem
- Relationship problems
- Mental health problems like depression, bipolar disorders, schizophrenia and anxiety disorders
- Cultural acceptability
- Social and economic status
Studies also show the link between genetics and alcoholism. The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism mentions that genes are responsible for around half of the reason people develop alcoholism, meaning other factors are responsible for the other half.
Nature vs. Nurture
The age-old argument of what plays a bigger role, your inherited nature or your environmental nurture, is heavily debated when it comes to addiction and alcoholism. Most scholars agree that just because you have a parent who is an alcoholic does not mean that you too will develop the disease, although your risk is definitely higher.
The Collaborative Study on the Genetics of Alcoholism states that a child of a parent with an addiction to alcohol is four to nine times more likely to follow in their footsteps. Is this due to inherited genes or growing up with a skewed idea of the dangers of alcohol consumption? Studies on twins have backed-up the claims that alcoholism can be at least partly inherited.
Multiple genes are thought to play a role in the possible hereditary development of alcoholism. The CREB gene, which influences withdrawal, tolerance and dependence, is one of these genes. Many of the other genes are related to anxiety and depression. A staggering 30 to 70 percent of alcoholics suffer from depression and anxiety as published by The Journal of Neuroscience. The ability to control addiction can also be inherited.
There are ways to help decrease your risk if alcoholism or addiction runs in the family, either through genetics or environmental reasons. Here are some examples:
- Wait to take your first drink until you are of legal drinking age
- As an adult, drink in moderation – no more than one to two drinks at a time
- Avoid binge drinking episodes
- Stay healthy both mentally and physically
- Get treatment for anxiety or depression, if necessary
- Try to balance your stress level
- Surround yourself with healthy relationships
- Talk about your risks with your health care provider
If you are, or someone you know is, struggling with alcohol addiction, the first step is recognizing this. Help is only a phone call away. Here at Axis, individualized treatment plans are available and specialists are standing by to help start you on the path toward a healthy and happy life, free from the grasp of addiction. Call today.