The word “alcoholic” is a non-medical term for an individual who drinks alcohol beyond their ability to control it and is therefore unable to stop drinking on their own. Most often, this is accompanied by daily drinking, binge drinking, and the general consumption of higher amounts of alcohol than most others.
The development of “alcoholism,” or an individual being an “alcoholic,” are not clinical diagnoses. Instead, they are somewhat archaic yet still commonly used terms. Current modern medical terminology is primarily based on the DSM-V (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 5th Edition), which places various levels of alcohol abuse under the category “alcohol use disorder” using severities.
Alcoholics Anonymous defines alcoholism as “a physical compulsion, coupled with a mental obsession, to consume alcohol.” The person usually has intense cravings for alcohol, often at times when drinking is inappropriate or hazardous.
When speaking about the everyday references to alcoholism, most individuals tend to imagine a person who is not just a binge drinker or occasionally drinks too much. Furthermore, the average person probably doesn’t usually think of someone who drinks every day but rarely becomes extremely intoxicated and manages to control their addiction and their lives in some way.
Instead, they imagine someone who has developed a physical dependence on alcohol, drinks way too much too frequently, and clearly exhibits addiction through an obsession with obtaining and consuming alcohol. Simply put, an alcoholic is perceived as an addict, no different than a person who is addicted to prescription drugs, heroin, or cocaine.
What Causes Alcoholism?
There is no one singular cause for alcoholism. Alcohol dependence has been defined as a disorder that occurs when a person drinks so heavily that it alters the structure and function of their brain and body.
When an individual consumes alcohol, dopamine levels increase just as they do with exposure to many other substances. Dopamine is a neurochemical responsible for feelings of pleasure and reward. Normal activities can boost dopamine naturally, including eating, socializing, and exercising.
Certain drugs and alcohol raise dopamine to levels far beyond natural stimuli, thereby promoting further substance abuse and, ultimately, dependence and addiction. Over time, an individual developing an alcohol addiction begins to have intense cravings for alcohol.
These cravings may be accompanied by uncomfortable withdrawal symptoms when alcohol use is stopped, even for a short period. Depending on several factors, such as a person’s biology, environment, psychology, or stress levels, he or she may be more susceptible to becoming an alcoholic and find themselves unable to abstain for even the most rational of reasons.
Signs of Alcoholism
For those struggling and their loved ones, it is vital to be able to identify the behavioral signs of an alcoholic, which can include the following:
- Drinking alone or in secret
- Concealing alcohol and drinking patterns from others
- Blacking out and severe memory impairment
- Exhibiting an inability to control one’s alcohol consumption
- Having extreme cravings for alcohol
- Engaging in risky, impulsive, aggressive or violent behavior when drinking
- The manifestation of withdrawal symptoms when not drinking, such as shaking, trembling, sweating, nausea, vomiting or fatigue
- Denying that a problem exists in spite of clear evidence to the contrary
- Loss of interest in activities once considered important or enjoyable to engage in drinking
- Placing alcohol use above personal obligations and relationships
- Poor academic or work performance
- Tolerance—needing to consume increasing amounts or more potent drinks in order to produce the same effect
Alcohol use can affect every organ in the body. The most commonly known to be affected is the liver, but there are many other adverse medical consequences of alcohol use, including the following:
- Heart issues
- Increased risk of stroke
- Stomach problems
- Sleep disturbances
- Impaired cognition
What’s more, long-term alcohol use increases the risk of developing cancers of the mouth, throat, esophagus, breast, liver, and colon.
Risk Factors: Age and Gender
Alcoholism is a progressive, chronic condition that will eventually take a toll on the entire body. For older adults who have been drinking excessively for a long time, cognitive impairment is possible, and research has linked alcoholism to an increased risk of dementia. Many individuals who are alcoholics past middle-age have been so for a long time, sometimes decades.
It is crucial to understand alcoholism’s truly insidious nature, which, unfortunately, is frequently overlooked and minimized. Someone can remain a relatively “high-functioning” alcoholic for many years and appear to be mostly stable. However, stressful situations, such as job loss, retirement, divorce, financial issues, or the death of a loved one, can be enough to send a person over the deep end.
The alcoholic’s underlying instability is just one reason why those close to him or her need to understand the nature of addiction. An addict is not always a person who has already hit “rock bottom” in the throes of addiction, but also a seemingly healthy individual who may be just one step away from falling into that abyss.
Moreover, there is a lot to be said for seeking treatment at any stage of alcohol abuse, as it may help prevent an intensification of the disease and its associated problems. Also, as addiction becomes more intense and ingrained, recovery becomes progressively more challenging and complicated.
Finally, women, due to differences in metabolic rates, are also often more prone to become addicted to alcohol and more rapidly than men. They are also twice as likely to die from disorders related to alcoholism. Both sexes are under-treated for alcoholism, however, although a higher percentage of men are diagnosed with an alcohol use disorder.
Alcoholism, Treatmexnt, and Recovery
Discontinuing alcohol use is not always enough to dramatically improve one’s quality of one’s life because long-term sobriety often requires additional emotional and mental health treatment. Moreover, many persons who are alcoholics struggle with a co-occurring mental illness that needs to be addressed simultaneously.
Just Believe Recovery specializes in the treatment of dependence on drugs and alcohol as well as mental health conditions, including anxiety, depression, schizophrenia, borderline personality disorder, bipolar disorder, and trauma. Achievements in emotional, physical, and spiritual balance are the focus of our treatment as individuals build and regain energy, repair relationships, and discover a renewed purpose.
We use a holistic approach to treatment that addresses all aspects of the person, their addiction, and other unique factors. We seek to alter perceptions and bring new purpose into the lives of both the patient receiving treatment and their loved ones.
We offer a comprehensive, personalized approach to addiction treatment that consists of evidence-based services vital to the recovery process. These approaches include behavioral therapy, individual, group, and family counseling, peer group support, health and wellness programs, and aftercare planning for continual long-term treatment and support.
Highly-skilled, caring addiction professionals facilitate these services with expertise and provide those we treat with the tools and resources they so direly need to achieve abstinence, prevent relapse and maintain long-term health and wellness.
If you or someone you love is exhibiting signs of alcohol addiction, please contact us as soon as possible for a free consultation and to discuss treatment options. We are dedicated to helping people free themselves from the shackles of addiction and reclaim the fulfilling lives they deserve!