What is Alcoholism?

"Alcohol abuse occurs when an individual consistently drinks too much..."Alcoholism is a chronic disease characterized by a physical dependence on alcohol. This dependence, or addiction, causes alcoholics to crave alcoholic beverages. They lose control over their drinking habits. When and how much alcoholics drink are no longer up to them. These cravings often begin to interfere with an alcoholic's personal, professional, and social life, breaking down relationships and causing the alcoholic to put aside former values and priorities in favor of finding another alcoholic beverage. Alcoholism is different from alcohol abuse. Alcohol abuse occurs when an individual consistently drinks too much, which causes problems similar to those attributable to alcoholism. The main difference is that individuals who abuse alcohol do so willingly and are not dependent on the substance like alcoholics.

How One Becomes an Alcoholic

Alcohol addiction is a gradual process that occurs within the human brain. When alcohol is consumed, it alters the levels of certain chemicals in the brain, mainly gamma-aminobutyric acid, or GABA, and dopamine. GABA monitors and controls a person's impulsivity, and frequently drinking copious amounts of alcohol alters this chemical's production, often making people more impulsive and less aware of what they are doing. Dopamine is one of the chemicals in the brain that, when released, causes pleasurable feelings like happiness, joy, or even euphoria. As more and more alcohol is consumed on a frequent basis, the brain begins to grow accustomed to this chemical imbalance. If an alcoholic tries to stop drinking, then the brain is deprived of the alcohol's effect, which results in unpleasant withdrawal symptoms such as sweating, shaking, tremors, or even hallucination.

Is Alcoholism Inherited?

Side Note Picture There is a known hereditary component to alcoholism, but that doesn’t mean that someone with an alcoholic family member will definitely become an alcoholic; nor does it mean that all alcoholics have an alcoholic family member.

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Studies suggest that certain individuals are more likely to become alcoholics. People with a history of alcoholism in their family have an increased chance of becoming alcoholics. People who start drinking at an early age are also at a greater risk of developing alcoholic tendencies than those who begin drinking later in life. Men are more prone to become alcoholics, but women are much more likely to develop harmful medical effects that are linked to drinking such as liver disease.

Effects on the Body

The immediate symptom of alcohol dependency is the urge to drink. This urge can become so overpowering that an alcoholic can no longer limit the amount alcohol consumed. This leads to prolonged binges and blackouts where the alcoholic is no longer conscious of previous events. Alcoholics develop a tolerance to the desirable effects of alcohol, so they must drink even more to continue feeling those pleasurable effects. When alcoholics can't access alcohol on a regular basis, it affects their mood, often becoming annoyed or even angry. After this, withdrawal symptoms set in, which lead to discomfort or pain for the alcoholic. Eventually, chronic drinking can lead to severe liver disease that can be fatal.

The Toll

"Alcoholism often causes distance between alcoholics and their loved ones..."Alcoholism affects not only the alcoholic but also the alcoholic's family, friends, coworkers, and anyone else that the alcoholic normally comes into contact with.  The demand for alcohol can lead to trouble with finances due to the high price of frequent consumption. Alcoholism often causes distance between alcoholics and their loved ones as the need to drink begins to overpower their ability to interact and function in social settings. This can lead to a life of isolation and seclusion since alcoholics often feel the need to hide their habits. Legal problems also develop around individuals suffering from alcoholism due to their decreased ability to suppress impulses.

When to Seek Help

If you have trouble controlling the amount you drink or find that the urge to drink is preventing you from fully functioning in your daily life, then it is probably time to seek help. Many alcoholics believe that with a little willpower they can overcome their disease, while others often deny that they even are alcoholics. Few individuals are able to break free from their alcoholism without outside help as many find the pressure and process of detoxification too difficult. Fortunately, numerous options exist to help you and your loved ones overcome alcoholism. It is a good idea to speak to close family and friends about your problem and consult with a medical professional on the different types of treatment plans.

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