Alcoholic Definition Essays

'Alcoholic' is a term used to describe someone who suffers from alcoholism - they often have a physical and/or psychological desire to consume alcohol beyond their capacity to control it, regardless of how it affects their life.

According to the National Institute of Health (NIH), in 2015, 15.1 million American adults (6.2 percent of the population) had an alcohol use problem.

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), globally, 3.3 million deaths every year result from harmful use of alcohol.

Definition


Alcoholism is a term for long-term addiction to alcohol.

Alcoholics Anonymous U.K., do not have a formal definition for alcoholism, but say it may be described as a physical compulsion, together with a mental obsession. They say that, apart from having an enormous craving for alcohol, an alcoholic often gives in to the craving at the worst possible times. The alcoholic knows neither when nor how to stop drinking.

Definition - an alcoholic is a person, while alcoholism is the illness. An alcoholic suffers from alcoholism. Alcoholism is a long-term (chronic) disease. It should also be acknowledged that there is a growing trend away from using the term "alcoholic" as it is perceived to be a negative label. Instead, you may hear the person referred to as "a person who suffers from alcohol use disorder."

Alcoholics are obsessed with alcohol and cannot control how much they consume, even if it is causing serious problems at home, work, and financially.

Alcohol abuse generally refers to people who do not display the characteristics of alcoholism, but still have a problem with it - they are not as dependent on alcohol as an alcoholic is; they have not yet completely lost their control over its consumption.

Moderate alcohol consumption will not generally cause any psychological or physical harm. However, for some individuals, social drinking eventually leads to heavier and heavier alcohol consumption, which does cause serious health and psychological problems.

Symptoms

Typically, the last person to be aware that they have a serious drinking problem is the person with alcohol use disorder - they are often in denial.

Some signs and symptoms include:

  • Drinking alone.
  • Drinking in secret.
  • Not being able to limit how much alcohol is consumed.
  • Blacking out - not being able to remember chunks of time.
  • Having rituals and being irritated/annoyed when these rituals are disturbed or commented on. This could be drinks before/during/after meals, or after work.
  • Dropping hobbies and activities the person used to enjoy; losing interest in them.
  • Feeling an urge to drink.
  • Feeling irritable when drinking times approach. This feeling is more intense if the alcohol is not available, or there appears to be a chance it may not be available.
  • Having stashes of alcohol in unlikely places.
  • Gulping drinks down in order to get drunk quicker and then feel good.
  • Having relationship problems (triggered by drinking).
  • Having problems with the law (caused by drinking).
  • Having work problems (caused by drinking, or drinking as root cause).
  • Having money problems (caused by drinking).
  • Requiring a larger quantity of alcohol to feel its effect.
  • Nausea, sweating, or even shaking when not drinking.

A person who abuses alcohol may have many of these signs and symptoms - but they do not have the withdrawal symptoms like an alcoholic does, nor the same degree of compulsion to drink.

The problems linked to alcohol dependence are extensive, and affect the person physically, psychologically, and socially. Drinking becomes a compulsion for a person with a drink problem - it takes precedence over all other activities. It can remain undetected for several years.

Causes


There are many potential causes for alcoholism, including peer pressure to drink, drinking from a young age, and depression.

Alcohol dependence is a gradual process which can take from a few years to several decades to become a problem - with some very vulnerable people, addiction can come in a number of months.

Eventually, over time, regular alcohol consumption can disrupt the balance of the brain chemical GABA (gamma-aminobutyric acid), which controls impulsiveness, as well as glutamate, which stimulates the nervous system.

Brain levels of dopamine are raised when we consume alcohol - dopamine levels may make the drinking experience more gratifying.

Over the long- or medium-term, excessive drinking can significantly alter the levels of these brain chemicals, making the person's body crave alcohol in order to feel good and avoid feeling bad.

These risk factors may also be linked to excessive drinking:

  • Genes - scientists say there may be specific genetic factors that make some people more likely to become addicted to alcohol, and other substances. People who have a family history of addiction are at higher risk for abusing alcohol.

    Researchers from the Universidad de Granada, Spain, revealed that "the lack of endorphin is hereditary, and thus that there is a genetic predisposition to become addicted to alcohol."

  • The age of first alcoholic drink - a study found that people who started drinking alcohol before the age of 15 were much more likely to have an alcohol problem later in life.
  • Easy access - experts say there is a correlation between easy access to alcohol (cheap prices) and alcohol abuse and alcohol-related deaths. A U.S. study found a strong link between alcohol tax increases in 1983 and 2002 and a significant drop in deaths related to alcohol use in one American state - the effect was found to be nearly two to four times that of other prevention strategies such as school programs or media campaigns.
  • Stress - some stress hormones are linked to alcoholism. If our levels of stress and anxiety are high, some of us may consume alcohol in an attempt to blank out the upheaval.
  • Peer drinking - people who have friends who drink regularly or abuse alcohol are more likely to drink excessively and eventually have an alcohol problem.
  • Low self-esteem - experts say that people with low self-esteem who have alcohol readily available are more likely to abuse it.
  • Depression - people with depression may deliberately or unwittingly use alcohol as a means of self-treatment. On the other hand, alcohol abuse may lead to depression risk, rather than vice versa.
  • Media and advertising - in some countries, alcohol is portrayed as a glamorous, worldly, and cool activity. Many experts believe that alcohol advertising and media coverage of it may convey the message that excessive drinking is acceptable.
  • How the body processes (metabolizes) alcohol - people who need comparatively more alcohol to achieve an effect have a higher risk of eventually having an alcohol problem.

Diagnosis

In the U.S., to be diagnosed as an alcoholic, the individual must meet the criteria laid out in the DSM (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders), published by the APA (American Psychiatric Association). This includes a pattern of alcohol abuse that leads to considerable impairment or distress. The patient should experience at least three of the criteria below during the past 12 months:

  • Alcohol tolerance - the patient needs a large quantity of alcohol to feel intoxicated. However, when the liver is damaged and cannot metabolize the alcohol so well, this tolerance may drop. Damage to the central nervous system may also reduce tolerance levels.
  • Withdrawal symptoms - when the patient abstains from alcohol or cuts down, they experience tremors, insomnia, nausea, or anxiety. Typically, the patient drinks more to avoid these symptoms.
  • Beyond intentions - the patient ends up drinking more alcohol, or drinks for a longer period than they intended.
  • Unsuccessfully attempting to cut down - the patient is continuously trying to cut down alcohol consumption, but does not succeed. Or the patient has a persistent desire to cut down.
  • Time consuming - the patient spends a lot of time obtaining, using, or recovering from alcohol consumption.
  • Withdrawal - the patient withdraws from recreational, social, or occupational activities. This did not used to be the case.
  • Persistence - the patient carries on consuming alcohol even though they know it is harming them physically and psychologically.

Some signs and symptoms of alcohol abuse may be due to another condition, or simple aging, such as memory problems, or falling. Some patients may go to their doctor about a medical condition, such as a digestive problem, and not mention their alcohol abuse.

It is not always easy for a doctor to identify candidates for alcohol dependency screening. If a doctor suspects alcohol may be a problem, they may ask a series of questions - if the patient answers in a certain way, the doctor may go on to use a standardized questionnaire.

Tests for alcoholism

Blood tests can only reveal very recent alcohol consumption. They cannot tell whether a person has been drinking heavily for a long time.

If a blood test reveals that the red blood cells have increased in size it could be an indication of long-term alcohol abuse.

Carbohydrate-deficient transferrin (CDT) - this is a test which helps detect heavy alcohol consumption. It is a blood test.

There are other tests that can indicate whether the liver has been damaged, or whether a man has reduced testosterone levels, both of which might indicate chronic alcohol consumption; however, screening with a good questionnaire is seen as the most effective means for an accurate diagnosis.

Most alcoholics deny they have a problem and tend to minimize the extent of their drinking. Talking to family members may help the doctor understand the situation (permission will be needed for this).

Complications


Complications of alcoholism may include memory loss, confusion, mental illness, and problems with work or home life.

Usually, drinking alcohol initially elevates the person's mood. However, after a long period of regular heavy drinking, the person's nervous system will become depressed and the drinker will become sedated by alcohol.

Alcohol may undermine a person's judgment; it can lower inhibitions and alter the drinker's thoughts, emotions, and general behavior.

Heavy regular drinking can have a serious effect on a person's ability to coordinate their muscles and speak properly. Heavy binge drinking could cause the patient to go into coma.

Eventually, regular heavy drinking may cause at least one of the following problems:

  • Fatigue - the patient is tired most of the time.
  • Memory loss - especially the patient's short-term memory.
  • Eye muscles - the eye muscles can become significantly weaker.
  • Liver diseases - the patient has a considerably higher chance of developing hepatitis, and cirrhosis. Cirrhosis of the liver is an irreversible and progressive condition.
  • Gastrointestinal complications - the patient can develop gastritis, or pancreas damage. These problems also seriously undermine the body's ability to digest food, absorb certain vitamins, and produce hormones that regulate metabolism.
  • Hypertension - regular heavy drinking invariably raises the person's blood pressure.
  • Heart problems - regular heavy drinking can lead to cardiomyopathy (damaged heart muscle), heart failure, and stroke.
  • Diabetes - alcoholics have a very high risk of developing diabetes type 2. Patients who have diabetes will invariably have serious complications if they are regular heavy drinkers of alcohol. Alcohol prevents the release of glucose from the liver, causing hypoglycemia. A person with diabetes is already taking insulin to lower their blood sugar levels - hypoglycemia could be devastating.
  • Menstruation - alcoholism will usually stop menstruation or disrupt it.
  • Erectile dysfunction - alcoholic men are much more likely to have problems getting or sustaining an erection.
  • Fetal alcohol syndrome - women who abuse alcohol during their pregnancy are much more likely to have babies with birth defects, including a small head, heart problems, shortened eyelids, as well as developmental and cognitive problems.
  • Thinning bones - alcoholics invariably suffer from thinning of the bones because alcohol interferes with the production of new bone. This means an increased risk of fractures.
  • Nervous system problems - alcoholism can cause numbness in the extremities, dementia, and confused/disordered thinking.
  • Cancer - alcoholics have a much higher risk of developing several cancers, including cancer of the mouth, esophagus, liver, colon, rectum, breast, prostate, and pharynx.
  • Accidents - alcoholics are vulnerable to injuries from falls, car crashes, being run over, etc.
  • Domestic abuse - alcohol is a major factor in spouse-beating, child abuse, and conflicts with neighbors.
  • Work (school) problems - employment problems, unemployment, school problems, are often alcohol-related.
  • Suicide - suicide rates among people who are alcohol-dependent or who abuse alcohol are higher than among people who do not.
  • Mental illness - alcohol abuse increases the risk of mental illness and can make existing mental illnesses worse.
  • Problems with the law - the percentage of alcoholics who end up in court or in prison is significantly higher compared with the rest of the population.

Treatment

The first step for the alcoholic is to acknowledge that there is an alcohol dependency problem. The next step is to get help. In most countries there are a range of support groups and professional services available.

The following are recognized treatment options for alcoholism:

  • Do-it-yourself - some people with an alcohol problem manage to reduce their drinking or abstain without seeking professional help. There is a great deal of material in books and the on the Internet that may help the self-helper.
  • Counseling - a qualified counselor can help the alcoholic talk through their problems and then devise a plan to tackle the drinking. CBT (cognitive behavioral therapy) is commonly used to treat alcohol dependency.
  • Treating underlying problems - the alcoholic may have a problem with self-esteem, stress, anxiety, depression, or some other mental health problem. It is important to treat these problems, too. It is crucial for the alcoholic to realize that drinking will probably make mental health problems worse. As alcoholics commonly suffer from hypertension, liver diseases, and possibly heart diseases, these will need to be treated too.
  • Residential programs - residential programs are ideal for some people. They include expert professional help, individual or group therapy, support groups, training, family involvement, activity therapy, and a host of strategies that are aimed at treating the alcoholic successfully. Some people find that being physically away from access to temptation is a great help.
  • Drug that provokes a severe reaction to alcohol - Antabuse (disulfiram) causes a severe reaction when somebody drinks alcohol, including nausea, flushing, vomiting, and headaches. It is a deterrent; but it will not treat the alcoholic's compulsion and will not cure alcoholism.
  • Drugs for cravings - Naltrexone (ReVia) may help with the urge to have a drink. Acamprosate (Campral) may help with cravings.
  • Detoxification - the patient takes some medication to prevent withdrawal symptoms (delirium tremens), which many alcoholics experience when they give up drinking. Treatment usually lasts 4-7 days. Chlordiazepoxide, a benzodiazepine medication, is frequently used for detoxification (detox).
  • Staying on the wagon (remaining abstinent) - some patients find the detox achievable, but start drinking again soon after, or some time later. Success rates are significantly improved if the patient has access to counseling or some support group. Family support is crucial. Sometimes a good GP can provide vital support.
  • Alcoholics Anonymous - Alcoholics Anonymous is an international fellowship of men and women who have had a drinking problem. It is nonprofessional, self-supporting, multiracial, apolitical, and available almost everywhere. There are no age or education requirements. Membership is open to anyone who wants to stop drinking and solve their drinking problem.

"Alcoholic" redirects here. For alcoholic beverages, see alcoholic beverage. For the song by Starsailor, see Alcoholic (song).

Alcoholism
SynonymsAlcohol dependence syndrome, alcohol use disorder (AUD)
"King Alcohol and His Prime Minister" c. 1820
SpecialtyPsychiatry, toxicology
SymptomsDrinks large amounts over a long period, difficulty cutting down, acquiring and drinking alcohol takes up a lot of time, usage results in problems, withdrawal occurs when stopping, alcohol tolerance has occurred[1]
ComplicationsMental illness, Wernicke–Korsakoff syndrome, irregular heartbeat, cirrhosis of the liver, cancer, fetal alcohol spectrum disorder[2][3][4]
DurationLong term[1]
CausesEnvironmental and genetic factors[3]
Risk factorsStress, anxiety, inexpensive easily access[3][5]
Diagnostic methodQuestionnaires, blood tests[3]
TreatmentAlcohol detoxification typically with benzodiazepines, counselling, acamprosate, disulfiram, naltrexone[6][7][8]
Frequency208 million / 4.1% adults (2010)[9][10]
Deaths3.3 million / 5.9%[11]

[edit on Wikidata]

Alcoholism, also known as alcohol use disorder (AUD), is a broad term for any drinking of alcohol that results in mental or physical health problems.[12] The disorder was previously divided into two types: alcohol abuse and alcohol dependence.[1][13] In a medical context, alcoholism is said to exist when two or more of the following conditions is present: a person drinks large amounts over a long time period, has difficulty cutting down, acquiring and drinking alcohol takes up a great deal of time, alcohol is strongly desired, usage results in not fulfilling responsibilities, usage results in social problems, usage results in health problems, usage results in risky situations, withdrawal occurs when stopping, and alcohol tolerance has occurred with use.[1] Risky situations include drinking and driving or having unsafe sex, among other things.[1] Alcohol use can affect all parts of the body, but it particularly affects the brain, heart, liver, pancreas, and immune system.[3][4] This can result in mental illness, Wernicke–Korsakoff syndrome, an irregular heartbeat, cirrhosis of the liver, and an increase in the risk of cancer, among other diseases.[3][4] Drinking during pregnancy can cause damage to the baby resulting in fetal alcohol spectrum disorders.[2] Women are generally more sensitive than men to the harmful physical and mental effects of alcohol.[9]

Environmental factors and genetics are two components that are associated with alcoholism, with about half the risk attributed to each.[3] A person with a parent or sibling with alcoholism is three to four times more likely to become an alcoholic themselves.[3] Environmental factors include social, cultural, and behavioral influences.[14] High stress levels, anxiety, as well as inexpensive cost and easy accessibility to alcohol increase the risk.[3][5] People may continue to drink partly to prevent or improve symptoms of withdrawal.[3] After a person stops drinking alcohol, they may experience a low level of withdrawal lasting for months.[3] Medically, alcoholism is considered both a physical and mental illness.[15][16] Questionnaires and certain blood tests may both detect people with possible alcoholism.[3] Further information is then collected to confirm the diagnosis.[3]

Prevention of alcoholism may be attempted by regulating and limiting the sale of alcohol, taxing alcohol to increase its cost, and providing inexpensive treatment.[17] Treatment may take several steps.[7] Due to medical problems that can occur during withdrawal, alcohol detoxification should be carefully controlled.[7] One common method involves the use of benzodiazepine medications, such as diazepam.[7] This can be either given while admitted to a health care institution or occasionally while a person remains in the community with close supervision.[7] Mental illness or other addictions may complicate treatment.[18] After detoxification support such as group therapy or support groups are used to help keep a person from returning to drinking.[6][19] One commonly used form of support is the group Alcoholics Anonymous.[20] The medications acamprosate, disulfiram, or naltrexone may also be used to help prevent further drinking.[8]

The World Health Organization estimates that as of 2010 there were 208 million people with alcoholism worldwide (4.1% of the population over 15 years of age).[9][10] In the United States about 17 million (7%) of adults and 0.7 million (2.8%) of those age 12 to 17 years of age are affected.[11] It is more common among males and young adults, becoming less common in middle and old age.[3] It is the least common in Africa at 1.1% and has the highest rates in Eastern Europe at 11%.[3] Alcoholism directly resulted in 139,000 deaths in 2013, up from 112,000 deaths in 1990.[21] A total of 3.3 million deaths (5.9% of all deaths) are believed to be due to alcohol.[11] It often reduces a person's life expectancy by around ten years.[22] In the United States it resulted in economic costs of $224 billion USD in 2006.[11] Many terms, some insulting and others informal, have been used to refer to people affected by alcoholism; the expressions include tippler, drunkard, dipsomaniac, and souse.[23] In 1979, the World Health Organization discouraged the use of "alcoholism" due to its inexact meaning, preferring "alcohol dependence syndrome".[24]

Signs and symptoms

Early signs

The risk of alcohol dependence begins at low levels of drinking and increases directly with both the volume of alcohol consumed and a pattern of drinking larger amounts on an occasion, to the point of intoxication, which is sometimes called "binge drinking". Young adults are particularly at risk of engaging in binge drinking.[citation needed]

Long-term misuse

Alcoholism is characterised by an increased tolerance to alcohol–which means that an individual can consume more alcohol–and physical dependence on alcohol, which makes it hard for an individual to control their consumption. The physical dependency caused by alcohol can lead to an affected individual having a very strong urge to drink alcohol. These characteristics play a role decreasing an alcoholic's ability to stop drinking.[25] Alcoholism can have adverse effects on mental health, causing psychiatric disorders and increasing the risk of suicide. A depressed mood is a common symptom of heavy alcohol drinkers.[26][27]

Warning signs

Warning signs of alcoholism include the consumption of increasing amounts of alcohol and frequent intoxication, preoccupation with drinking to the exclusion of other activities, promises to quit drinking and failure to keep those promises, the inability to remember what was said or done while drinking (colloquially known as "blackouts"), personality changes associated with drinking, denial or the making of excuses for drinking, the refusal to admit excessive drinking, dysfunction or other problems at work or school, the loss of interest in personal appearance or hygiene, marital and economic problems, and the complaint of poor health, with loss of appetite, respiratory infections, or increased anxiety.[28]

Physical

Short-term effects

Main article: Short-term effects of alcohol

Drinking enough to cause a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) of 0.03–0.12% typically causes an overall improvement in mood and possible euphoria (a "happy" feeling), increased self-confidence and sociability, decreased anxiety, a flushed, red appearance in the face and impaired judgment and fine muscle coordination. A BAC of 0.09% to 0.25% causes lethargy, sedation, balance problems and blurred vision. A BAC of 0.18% to 0.30% causes profound confusion, impaired speech (e.g. slurred speech), staggering, dizziness and vomiting. A BAC from 0.25% to 0.40% causes stupor, unconsciousness, anterograde amnesia, vomiting (death may occur due to inhalation of vomit (pulmonary aspiration) while unconscious and respiratory depression (potentially life-threatening). A BAC from 0.35% to 0.80% causes a coma (unconsciousness), life-threatening respiratory depression and possibly fatal alcohol poisoning. With all alcoholic beverages, drinking while driving, operating an aircraft or heavy machinery increases the risk of an accident; many countries have penalties for drunk driving.

Long-term effects

See also: Long-term effects of alcohol consumption

Having more than one drink a day for women or two drinks for men increases the risk of heart disease, high blood pressure, atrial fibrillation, and stroke.[29] Risk is greater in younger people due to binge drinking, which may result in violence or accidents.[29] About 3.3 million deaths (5.9% of all deaths) are believed to be due to alcohol each year.[11] Alcoholism reduces a person's life expectancy by around ten years[22] and alcohol use is the third leading cause of early death in the United States.[29] No professional medical association recommends that people who are nondrinkers should start drinking wine.[29][30] Long-term alcohol abuse can cause a number of physical symptoms, including cirrhosis of the liver, pancreatitis, epilepsy, polyneuropathy, alcoholic dementia, heart disease, nutritional deficiencies, peptic ulcers[31] and sexual dysfunction, and can eventually be fatal. Other physical effects include an increased risk of developing cardiovascular disease, malabsorption, alcoholic liver disease, and several cancers. Damage to the central nervous system and peripheral nervous system can occur from sustained alcohol consumption.[32][33] A wide range of immunologic defects can result and there may be a generalized skeletal fragility, in addition to a recognized tendency to accidental injury, resulting a propensity to bone fractures.[34]

Women develop long-term complications of alcohol dependence more rapidly than do men. Additionally, women have a higher mortality rate from alcoholism than men.[35] Examples of long-term complications include brain, heart, and liver damage[36] and an increased risk of breast cancer. Additionally, heavy drinking over time has been found to have a negative effect on reproductive functioning in women. This results in reproductive dysfunction such as anovulation, decreased ovarian mass, problems or irregularity of the menstrual cycle, and early menopause.[35] Alcoholic ketoacidosis can occur in individuals who chronically abuse alcohol and have a recent history of binge drinking.[37][38] The amount of alcohol that can be biologically processed and its effects differ between sexes. Equal dosages of alcohol consumed by men and women generally result in women having higher blood alcohol concentrations (BACs), since women generally have a higher percentage of body fat and therefore a lower volume of distribution for alcohol than men, and because the stomachs of men tend to metabolize alcohol more quickly.[39]

Psychiatric

Long-term misuse of alcohol can cause a wide range of mental health problems. Severe cognitive problems are common; approximately 10 percent of all dementia cases are related to alcohol consumption, making it the second leading cause of dementia.[40] Excessive alcohol use causes damage to brain function, and psychological health can be increasingly affected over time.[41]Social skills are significantly impaired in people suffering from alcoholism due to the neurotoxic effects of alcohol on the brain, especially the prefrontal cortex area of the brain. The social skills that are impaired by alcohol abuse include impairments in perceiving facial emotions, prosody perception problems and theory of mind deficits; the ability to understand humour is also impaired in alcohol abusers.[42] Psychiatric disorders are common in alcoholics, with as many as 25 percent suffering severe psychiatric disturbances. The most prevalent psychiatric symptoms are anxiety and depression disorders. Psychiatric symptoms usually initially worsen during alcohol withdrawal, but typically improve or disappear with continued abstinence.[43]Psychosis, confusion, and organic brain syndrome may be caused by alcohol misuse, which can lead to a misdiagnosis such as schizophrenia.[44]Panic disorder can develop or worsen as a direct result of long-term alcohol misuse.[45][46]

The co-occurrence of major depressive disorder and alcoholism is well documented.[47][48][49] Among those with comorbid occurrences, a distinction is commonly made between depressive episodes that remit with alcohol abstinence ("substance-induced"), and depressive episodes that are primary and do not remit with abstinence ("independent" episodes).[50][51][52] Additional use of other drugs may increase the risk of depression.[53] Psychiatric disorders differ depending on gender. Women who have alcohol-use disorders often have a co-occurring psychiatric diagnosis such as major depression, anxiety, panic disorder, bulimia, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), or borderline personality disorder. Men with alcohol-use disorders more often have a co-occurring diagnosis of narcissistic or antisocial personality disorder, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, impulse disorders or attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).[54] Women with alcoholism are more likely to experience physical or sexual assault, abuse and domestic violence than women in the general population,[54] which can lead to higher instances of psychiatric disorders and greater dependence on alcohol.

Social effects

See also: Drug-related crime

Serious social problems arise from alcoholism; these dilemmas are caused by the pathological changes in the brain and the intoxicating effects of alcohol.[40][55] Alcohol abuse is associated with an increased risk of committing criminal offences, including child abuse, domestic violence, rape, burglary and assault.[56] Alcoholism is associated with loss of employment,[57] which can lead to financial problems. Drinking at inappropriate times and behavior caused by reduced judgment can lead to legal consequences, such as criminal charges for drunk driving[58] or public disorder, or civil penalties for tortious behavior, and may lead to a criminal sentence. An alcoholic's behavior and mental impairment while drunk can profoundly affect those surrounding him and lead to isolation from family and friends. This isolation can lead to marital conflict and divorce, or contribute to domestic violence. Alcoholism can also lead to child neglect, with subsequent lasting damage to the emotional development of the alcoholic's children.[59] For this reason, children of alcoholic parents can develop a number of emotional problems. For example, they can become afraid of their parents, because of their unstable mood behaviors. In addition, they can develop considerable amount of shame over their inadequacy to liberate their parents from alcoholism. As a result of this failure, they develop wretched self-images, which can lead to depression.[60]

Alcohol withdrawal

Main article: Alcohol withdrawal syndrome

See also: Kindling (sedative-hypnotic withdrawal)

As with similar substances with a sedative-hypnotic mechanism, such as barbiturates and benzodiazepines, withdrawal from alcohol dependence can be fatal if it is not properly managed.[55][61] Alcohol's primary effect is the increase in stimulation of the GABAA receptor, promoting central nervous system depression. With repeated heavy consumption of alcohol, these receptors are desensitized and reduced in number, resulting in tolerance and physical dependence. When alcohol consumption is stopped too abruptly, the person's nervous system suffers from uncontrolled synapse firing. This can result in symptoms that include anxiety, life-threatening seizures, delirium tremens, hallucinations, shakes and possible heart failure.[62][63] Other neurotransmitter systems are also involved, especially dopamine, NMDA and glutamate.[25][64]

Severe acute withdrawal symptoms such as delirium tremens and seizures rarely occur after 1-week post cessation of alcohol. The acute withdrawal phase can be defined as lasting between one and three weeks. In the period of 3–6 weeks following cessation increased anxiety, depression, as well as sleep disturbance, is common;[65] fatigue and tension can persist for up to 5 weeks as part of the post-acute withdrawal syndrome; about a quarter of alcoholics experience anxiety and depression for up to 2 years. These post-acute withdrawal symptoms have also been demonstrated in animal models of alcohol dependence and withdrawal.[66] A kindling effect also occurs in alcoholics whereby each subsequent withdrawal syndrome is more severe than the previous withdrawal episode; this is due to neuroadaptations which occur as a result of periods of abstinence followed by re-exposure to alcohol. Individuals who have had multiple withdrawal episodes are more likely to develop seizures and experience more severe anxiety during withdrawal from alcohol than alcohol-dependent individuals without a history of past alcohol withdrawal episodes. The kindling effect leads to persistent functional changes in brain neural circuits as well as to gene expression.[67] Kindling also results in the intensification of psychological symptoms of alcohol withdrawal.[65] There are decision tools and questionnaires which help guide physicians in evaluating alcohol withdrawal. For example, the CIWA-Ar objectifies alcohol withdrawal symptoms in order to guide therapy decisions which allows for an efficient interview while at the same time retaining clinical usefulness, validity, and reliability, ensuring proper care for withdrawal patients, who can be in danger of death.[68]

Causes

A complex mixture of genetic and environmental factors influences the risk of the development of alcoholism.[69] Genes that influence the metabolism of alcohol also influence the risk of alcoholism, and may be indicated by a family history of alcoholism.[70] One paper has found that alcohol use at an early age may influence the expression of genes which increase the risk of alcohol dependence.[71] Individuals who have a genetic disposition to alcoholism are also more likely to begin drinking at an earlier age than average.[72] Also, a younger age of onset of drinking is associated with an increased risk of the development of alcoholism,[72] and about 40 percent of alcoholics will drink excessively by their late adolescence. It is not entirely clear whether this association is causal, and some researchers have been known to disagree with this view.[73]

Severe childhood trauma is also associated with a general increase in the risk of drug dependency.[69] Lack of peer and family support is associated with an increased risk of alcoholism developing.[69] Genetics and adolescence are associated with an increased sensitivity to the neurotoxic effects of chronic alcohol abuse. Cortical degeneration due to the neurotoxic effects increases impulsive behaviour, which may contribute to the development, persistence and severity of alcohol use disorders. There is evidence that with abstinence, there is a reversal of at least some of the alcohol induced central nervous system damage.[74] The use of cannabis was associated with later problems with alcohol use.[75] Alcohol use was associated with an increased probability of later use of tobacco, cannabis, and other illegal drugs.[76]

Availability

Alcohol is the most available, widely consumed, and widely abused recreational drug. Beer alone is the world's most widely consumed[77]alcoholic beverage; it is the third-most popular drink overall, after water and tea.[78] It is thought by some to be the oldest fermented beverage.[79][80][81][82]

Gender difference

Based on combined data from SAMHSA's 2004–2005 National Surveys on Drug Use & Health, the rate of past-year alcohol dependence or abuse among persons aged 12 or older varied by level of alcohol use: 44.7% of past month heavy drinkers, 18.5% binge drinkers, 3.8% past month non-binge drinkers, and 1.3% of those who did not drink alcohol in the past month met the criteria for alcohol dependence or abuse in the past year. Males had higher rates than females for all measures of drinking in the past month: any alcohol use (57.5% vs. 45%), binge drinking (30.8% vs. 15.1%), and heavy alcohol use (10.5% vs. 3.3%), and males were twice as likely as females to have met the criteria for alcohol dependence or abuse in the past year (10.5% vs. 5.1%).[83]

Genetic variation

See also: Human genetic variation

Genetic differences that exist between different racial groups affect the risk of developing alcohol dependence. For example, there are differences between African, East Asian and Indo-racial groups in how they metabolize alcohol. These genetic factors partially explain the differing rates of alcohol dependence among racial groups.[84][85] The alcohol dehydrogenase allele ADH1 B*3 causes a more rapid metabolism of alcohol. The allele ADH1 B*3 is only found in those of African descent and certain Native American tribes. African Americans and Native Americans with this allele have a reduced risk of developing alcoholism.[86]Native Americans, however, have a significantly higher rate of alcoholism than average; it is unclear why this is the case.[87] Other risk factors such as cultural environmental effects e.g. trauma have been proposed to explain the higher rates of alcoholism among Native Americans compared to alcoholism levels in caucasians.[88][89]

A genome-wide association study of more than 100,000 human individuals identified variants of the gene KLB, which encodes the transmembrane protein β-Klotho, as highly associated with alcohol consumption. The protein β-Klotho is an essential element in cell surface receptors for hormones involved in modulation of appetites for simple sugars and alcohol.[90]

Diagnosis

See also: Addiction medicine

Definition

Misuse, problem use, abuse, and heavy use of alcohol refer to improper use of alcohol, which may cause physical, social, or moral harm to the drinker.[91]The Dietary Guidelines for Americans defines "moderate use" as no more than two alcoholic beverages a day for men and no more than one alcoholic beverage a day for women.[92] Some drinkers may drink more than 600 ml of alcohol per day during a heavy drinking period.[93] The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) defines binge drinking as the amount of alcohol leading to a blood alcohol content (BAC) of 0.08, which, for most adults, would be reached by consuming five drinks for men or four for women over a two-hour period. According to the NIAAA, men may be at risk for alcohol-related problems if their alcohol consumption exceeds 14 standard drinks per week or 4 drinks per day, and women may be at risk if they have more than 7 standard drinks per week or 3 drinks per day. It defines a standard drink as one 12-ounce bottle of beer, one 5-ounce glass of wine, or 1.5 ounces of distilled spirits.[94] Despite this risk, a 2014 report in the National Survey on Drug Use and Health found that only 10% of either "heavy drinkers" or "binge drinkers" defined according to the above criteria also met the criteria for alcohol dependence, while only 1.3% of non-binge drinkers met the criteria. An inference drawn from this study is that evidence-based policy strategies and clinical preventive services may effectively reduce binge drinking without requiring addiction treatment in most cases.[95]

Alcoholism

The term alcoholism is commonly used amongst laypeople, but the word is poorly defined. The WHO calls alcoholism "a term of long-standing use and variable meaning", and use of the term was disfavored by a 1979 WHO expert committee. The Big Book (from Alcoholics Anonymous) states that once a person is an alcoholic, they are always an alcoholic, but does not define what is meant by the term alcoholic in this context. In 1960, Bill W., co-founder of Alcoholics Anonymous (AA), said:

We have never called alcoholism a disease because, technically speaking, it is not a disease entity. For example, there is no such thing as heart disease. Instead there are many separate heart ailments, or combinations of them. It is something like that with alcoholism. We did not wish to get in wrong with the medical profession by pronouncing alcoholism a disease entity. We always called it an illness, or a malady—a far safer term for us to use.[96] In professional and research contexts, the term "alcoholism" sometimes encompasses both alcohol abuse and alcohol dependence,[97] and sometimes is considered equivalent to alcohol dependence. Talbot (1989) observes that alcoholism in the classical disease model follows a progressive course: if a person continues to drink, their condition will worsen. This will lead to harmful consequences in their life, physically, mentally, emotionally and socially.[98]

Johnson's typologies

Johnson (1980) explores the emotional progression of the addict’s response to alcohol. He looks at this in four phases. The first two are considered "normal" drinking and the last two are viewed as "typical" alcoholic drinking.[99][100] Johnson's four phases consist of:

  1. Learning the mood swing. A person is introduced to alcohol (in some cultures this can happen at a relatively young age), and the person enjoys the happy feeling it produces. At this stage, there is no emotional cost.
  2. Seeking the mood swing. A person will drink to regain that feeling of euphoria experienced in phase 1; the drinking will increase as more intoxication is required to achieve the same effect. Again at this stage, there are no significant consequences.
  3. At the third stage there are physical and social consequences, i.e., hangovers, family problems, work problems, etc. A person will continue to drink excessively, disregarding the problems.
  4. The fourth stage can be detrimental, as Johnson cites it as a risk for premature death. As a person now drinks to feel normal, they block out the feelings of overwhelming guilt, remorse, anxiety, and shame they experience when sober.[101]

Milam & Ketcham's physical deterioration stages

Other theorists such as Milam & Ketcham (1983) focus on the physical deterioration that alcohol consumption causes. They describe the process in three stages:

  1. Adaptive stage – The person will not experience any negative symptoms, and they believe they have the capacity for drinking alcohol without problems. Physiological changes are happening with the increase in tolerance, but this will not be noticeable to the drinker or others.
  2. Dependent stage – At this stage, symptoms build up gradually. Hangover symptoms from excessive drinking may be confused with withdrawal symptoms. Many addicts will maintain their drinking to avoid withdrawal sickness, drinking small amounts frequently. They will try to hide their drinking problem from others and will avoid gross intoxication.
  3. Deterioration stage – Various organs are damaged due to long-term drinking. Medical treatment in a rehabilitation center will be required; otherwise, the pathological changes will cause death.

DSM and ICD

In psychology and psychiatry, the DSM is the most common global standard, while in medicine, the standard is ICD. The terms they recommend are similar but not identical.

OrganizationPreferred term(s)Definition
APA's DSM-IV"alcohol abuse" and "alcohol dependence"
  • alcohol abuse = repeated use despite recurrent adverse consequences.[102]
  • alcohol dependence = alcohol abuse combined with tolerance, withdrawal, and an uncontrollable drive to drink.[102] The term "alcoholism" was split into "alcohol abuse" and "alcohol dependence" in 1980's DSM-III, and in 1987's DSM-III-R behavioral symptoms were moved from "abuse" to "dependence".[103] It has been suggested that DSM-V merge alcohol abuse and alcohol dependence into a single new entry,[104] named "alcohol-use disorder".[105]
WHO's ICD-10"alcohol harmful use" and "alcohol dependence syndrome"Definitions are similar to that of the DSM-IV. The World Health Organisation uses the term "alcohol dependence syndrome" rather than alcoholism.[24] The concept of "harmful use" (as opposed to "abuse") was introduced in 1992's ICD-10 to minimize underreporting of damage in the absence of dependence.[103] The term "alcoholism" was removed from ICD between ICD-8/ICDA-8 and ICD-9.[106]

The DSM-IV diagnosis of alcohol dependence represents one approach to the definition of alcoholism. In part, this is to assist in the development of research protocols in which findings can be compared to one another. According to the DSM-IV, an alcohol dependence diagnosis is: "maladaptive alcohol use with clinically significant impairment as manifested by at least three of the following within any one-year period: tolerance; withdrawal; taken in greater amounts or over longer time course than intended; desire or unsuccessful attempts to cut down or control use; great deal of time spent obtaining, using, or recovering from use; social, occupational, or recreational activities given up or reduced; continued use despite knowledge of physical or psychological sequelae."[107] Despite the imprecision inherent in the term, there have been attempts to define how the word alcoholism should be interpreted when encountered. In 1992, it was defined by the National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence (NCADD) and ASAM as "a primary, chronic disease characterized by impaired control over drinking, preoccupation with the drug alcohol, use of alcohol despite adverse consequences, and distortions in thinking."[108]MeSH has had an entry for "alcoholism" since 1999, and references the 1992 definition.[109]

AA describes alcoholism as an illness that involves a physical allergy[110]:28 (where "allergy" has a different meaning than that used in modern medicine.[111]) and a mental obsession.[110]:23[112] The doctor and addiction specialist Dr. William D. Silkworth M.D. writes on behalf of AA that "Alcoholics suffer from a "(physical) craving beyond mental control".[110]:XXVI A 1960 study by E. Morton Jellinek is considered the foundation of the modern disease theory of alcoholism.[113] Jellinek's definition restricted the use of the word alcoholism to those showing a particular natural history. The modern medical definition of alcoholism has been revised numerous times since then. The American Medical Association uses the word alcoholism to refer to a particular chronic primary disease.[114]

Social barriers

Attitudes and social stereotypes can create barriers to the detection and treatment of alcohol abuse. This is more of a barrier for women than men. Fear of stigmatization may lead women to deny that they are suffering from a medical condition, to hide their drinking, and to drink alone. This pattern, in turn, leads family, physicians, and others to be less likely to suspect that a woman they know is an alcoholic.[35] In contrast, reduced fear of stigma may lead men to admit that they are suffering from a medical condition, to display their drinking publicly, and to drink in groups. This pattern, in turn, leads family, physicians, and others to be more likely to suspect that a man they know is an alcoholic.[54]

Screening

Several tools may be used to detect a loss of control of alcohol use. These tools are mostly self-reports in questionnaire form. Another common theme is a score or tally that sums up the general severity of alcohol use.[115]

The CAGE questionnaire, named for its four questions, is one such example that may be used to screen patients quickly in a doctor's office.

Two "yes" responses indicate that the respondent should be investigated further.

The questionnaire asks the following questions:

  1. Have you ever felt you needed to Cut down on your drinking?
  2. Have people Annoyed you by criticizing your drinking?
  3. Have you ever felt Guilty about drinking?
  4. Have you ever felt you needed a drink first thing in the morning (Eye-opener) to steady your nerves or to get rid of a hangover?[116][117]
The CAGE questionnaire has demonstrated a high effectiveness in detecting alcohol-related problems; however, it has limitations in people with less severe alcohol-related problems, white women and college students.[118]

Other tests are sometimes used for the detection of alcohol dependence, such as the Alcohol Dependence Data Questionnaire, which is a more sensitive diagnostic test than the CAGE questionnaire. It helps distinguish a diagnosis of alcohol dependence from one of heavy alcohol use.[119] The Michigan Alcohol Screening Test (MAST) is a screening tool for alcoholism widely used by courts to determine the appropriate sentencing for people convicted of alcohol-related offenses,[120]driving under the influence being the most common. The Alcohol Use Disorders Identification Test (AUDIT), a screening questionnaire developed by the World Health Organization, is unique in that it has been validated in six countries and is used internationally. Like the CAGE questionnaire, it uses a simple set of questions – a high score earning a deeper investigation.[121] The Paddington Alcohol Test (PAT) was designed to screen for alcohol-related problems amongst those attending Accident and Emergency departments. It concords well with the AUDIT questionnaire but is administered in a fifth of the time.[122] Certain blood tests may also indicate possible alcoholism.[3]

Genetic predisposition testing

Psychiatric geneticists John I. Nurnberger, Jr., and Laura Jean Bierut suggest that alcoholism does not have a single cause—including genetic—but that genes do play an important role "by affecting processes in the body and brain that interact with one another and with an individual's life experiences to produce protection or susceptibility". They also report that fewer than a dozen alcoholism-related genes have been identified, but that more likely await discovery.[123] At least one genetic test exists for an allele that is correlated to alcoholism and opiate addiction.[124] Human dopamine receptor genes have a detectable variation referred to as the DRD2 TaqI polymorphism. Those who possess the A1 allele (variation) of this polymorphism have a small but significant tendency towards addiction to opiates and endorphin-releasing drugs like alcohol.[125] Although this allele is slightly more common in alcoholics and opiate addicts, it is not by itself an adequate predictor of alcoholism, and some researchers argue that evidence for DRD2 is contradictory.[123]

Urine and blood tests

There are reliable tests for the actual use of alcohol, one common test being that of blood alcohol content (BAC).[126] These tests do not differentiate alcoholics from non-alcoholics; however, long-term heavy drinking does have a few recognizable effects on the body, including:[127]

With regard to alcoholism, BAC is useful to judge alcohol tolerance, which in turn is a sign of alcoholism.[3]

However, none of these blood tests for biological markers is as sensitive as screening questionnaires.

Prevention

The World Health Organization, the European Union and other regional bodies, national governments and parliaments have formed alcohol policies in order to reduce the harm of alcoholism.[128][129] Targeting adolescents and young adults is regarded as an important step to reduce the harm of alcohol abuse. Increasing the age at which licit drugs of abuse such as alcohol can be purchased, the banning or restricting advertising of alcohol has been recommended as additional ways of reducing the harm of alcohol dependence and abuse. Credible, evidence based educational campaigns in the mass media about the consequences of alcohol abuse have been recommended. Guidelines for parents to prevent alcohol abuse amongst adolescents, and for helping young people with mental health problems have also been suggested.[130]

Management

Treatments are varied because there are multiple perspectives of alcoholism. Those who approach alcoholism as a medical condition or disease recommend differing treatments from, for instance, those who approach the condition as one of social choice. Most treatments focus on helping people discontinue their alcohol intake, followed up with life training and/or social support to help them resist a return to alcohol use. Since alcoholism involves multiple factors which encourage a person to continue drinking, they must all be addressed to successfully prevent a relapse. An example of this kind of treatment is detoxification followed by a combination of supportive therapy, attendance at self-help groups, and ongoing development of coping mechanisms. The treatment community for alcoholism typically supports an abstinence-based zero tolerance approach; however, some prefer a harm-reduction approach.[131]

Detoxification

Main article: Alcohol detoxification

Alcohol detoxification or 'detox' for alcoholics is an abrupt stop of alcohol drinking coupled with the substitution of drugs, such as benzodiazepines, that have similar effects to prevent alcohol withdrawal. Individuals who are only at risk of mild to moderate withdrawal symptoms can be detoxified as outpatients. Individuals at risk of a severe withdrawal syndrome as well as those who have significant or acute comorbid conditions are generally treated as inpatients. Detoxification does not actually treat alcoholism, and it is necessary to follow up detoxification with an appropriate treatment program for alcohol dependence or abuse to reduce the risk of relapse.[7] Some symptoms of alcohol withdrawal such as depressed mood and anxiety typically take weeks or months to abate while other symptoms persist longer due to persisting neuroadaptations.[65] Alcoholism has serious adverse effects on brain function; on average it takes one year of abstinence to recover from the cognitive deficits incurred by chronic alcohol abuse.[132]

Psychological

Various forms of group therapy or psychotherapy can be used to deal with underlying psychological issues that are related to alcohol addiction, as well as provide relapse prevention skills. The mutual-help group-counseling approach is one of the most common ways of helping alcoholics maintain sobriety.[6]Alcoholics Anonymous was one of the first organizations formed to provide mutual, nonprofessional counseling, and it is still the largest. Others include LifeRing Secular Recovery, SMART Recovery, Women For Sobriety

Effects of alcohol on the body
A French temperance poster from the Union des Françaises contre l'Alcool (this translates as "Union of French Women Against Alcohol"). The poster states "Ah! Quand supprimera-t'on l'alcool?", which translates as "Ah! When will we [the nation] abolish alcohol?"
A picture of a man drinking from a bottle of liquor while sitting on a boardwalk, ca. 1905–1914. Picture by Austrian photographer Emil Mayer.

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