We all love an occasional drink of our favorite wine or a bottle of beer when we are out with friends or at a party, and that is completely normal. However, in some cases, adults or even pre-teens and teenagers develop an unhealthy dependence on alcohol. At first, it may seem like not that big of a medical problem, but over the course of an individual’s lifetime, long time abuse of alcohol can lead to serious psychological and physiological problems.
What is alcohol?
Although alcohol may be a very common substance, it is actually an addictive drug, and like the case with any addictive drugs, prolonged use can cause serious dependence. Generally, a peg or two of alcohol “loosens up” the body because it is a depressant. This means that large levels of alcohol can temporarily hamper a person’s motor functions, slur their speech, make them drowsy, and interferes with a person’s abilities of perception.
What is alcohol dependence?
Initially, alcoholism was divided into two categories. The first was called alcohol dependence, and the second was called alcohol abuse, but now, as such, there are no clear cut divisions.
A person is said to be suffering from alcoholism or alcohol addiction when they cannot operate on a regular basis without the consumption of alcohol, when they crave alcohol on a daily basis, when they cannot seem to cut off from it, when alcohol consumption takes up majority of their time and when it seriously starts to affect their social behavior and their health.
What are the primary causes of alcohol addiction?
Like any disorder, alcohol dependence or alcohol addiction does not occur suddenly in a day or without any cause. In most cases, it occurs due to a combination of more than one cause.
• Genetic causes: In a scientific study conducted by the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, it has been suggested that alcohol addiction does not completely happen by virtue of environmental factors, that is, an “alcoholic” gene already present in a person’s family may be passed down from their parent to them over time. In fact, according to a medical study undertaken recently, a certain DRD2 gene is associated with alcoholism.
• Physiology: Each individual’s body is built in a different way. This means that different people have different reactions to the similar substances. For instance, you and your friend may ingest a particular food, with different results. While you may like it, your friend may absolutely hate. Same is the case with alcohol. While some may not like alcohol, other might start craving it.
• Psychological disorders: Anxiety, depression, loneliness and isolation can lead an individual to have a dependence upon alcohol over time. This is because, scientifically, alcohol consumption produces dopamine, the “feel good” hormone. Thus, people begin craving that euphoria and the only way they see of doing this is by consuming alcohol.
• Family history of alcohol: As children, we start seeing the world first in our families and homes. Therefore, a family with an alcoholic in it, is more likely to produce a child that grows up to be alcoholic, because to that child, excessive alcohol consumption does not seem to be anything out of the ordinary.
• Socio-economic factors: Sociologists have discovered certain patterns between social behaviors and alcoholism. For instance, people who are unemployed or do not make the bare minimum wage, are more likely to become alcoholics than the ones with properly paid jobs.
Is there a difference between alcoholism and alcohol abuse?
Alcohol abuse is when an individual frequently drinks alcohol and this consumption seems to be increasing over time, with no sign of stopping. Alcoholism, on the other hand, develops as a later stage of alcohol abuse, that is, when a person develops a physical dependency on alcohol and cannot function normally without it. This can also lead to the body developing a tolerance towards alcohol. This means that the “high” that the person used to feel initially, does not feel it anymore. Thereby, they increase their alcohol consumption to feel the same sense of euphoria.
What are some of the symptoms of alcoholism?
There are some obvious tell-tale symptoms of alcoholism in an individual, which includes :
• Declining work performance and increasing withdrawal from friends and families.
• Increase in the amount of consumption of alcohol over time.
• The individual spends more time consuming alcohol than doing anything else during their day.
• They seem to develop a tolerance towards the effects of alcohol, that is, the same quantity of alcohol does not produce the results as it used to.
• Prolonged hangovers and the individual needs more time to recover to their “usual” self.
• Withdrawal symptoms like nausea, sweating and shaking when unable to consume alcohol for some time.
What are the withdrawal symptoms?
When the body denies any substance that it has been flooded with for a long time, the body suffers from withdrawal or craving. Similar is the case with alcohol withdrawal. Some of the symptoms of alcohol withdrawal are:
• Inability to focus on daily tasks.
• Intense sweating irrespective of the temperature.
• Tremors or shaking that occurs at irregular intervals.
• A sense of nausea and occasional vomiting.
• Anxiety or depression.
What are the short term effects of alcohol on the body?
Some of the short term effects of alcohol on the body are:
• Drowsiness or a feeling of lethargy.
• Sudden bursts of emotion like depression or euphoria.
• Slurred speech.
• Uncoordinated movements, that is, inability to walk or sit straight.
• Distorted visual and auditory perception.
• Blackouts in some cases.
What are the long term effects of alcohol on the body?
Like any addictive drug, the prolonged use of alcohol can cause serious health and mental problems. Some of them are :
• Cardiovascular disorders: Not only does excess alcohol consumption make the heart muscles weaker and the heart beats irregular, but they are also more likely to make the platelets in the human blood clot, thus increasing the risk of heart attacks in an individual quite significantly. This means that a heavy drinker is more likely to have a stroke or a heart attack, which if not treated immediately, can lead to their death.
• Seizures: Alcohol sometimes interacts differently with different types of medication that a person consumes. In most cases, heavy drinking makes it likely for the consumed alcohol to react negatively with medication, leading to seizures in patients with no medical history of epilepsy.
• Liver cirrhosis: High levels of alcohol is extremely harmful for the liver cells. In fact, over consumption of alcohol can permanently damage the liver cells, rendering the liver unable to function normally for the rest of a person’s life.
• Cancer: When alcohol enters the body, it is automatically converted into acetaldehyde, which is one of the most lethal carcinogen, that is, a cancer causing substance. Therefore, the more alcohol a person consumes, the more the amount of acetaldehyde the body produces and thus, the greater the risk of developing cancer in the near future.
• Brain disorders: Some scientific studies have revealed that prolonged overuse of alcohol can alter the brain’s chemistry, thereby shrinking their brains at a rate faster than normal and over time, it can permanently hamper an individual’s ability to make judgments and interact socially.
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