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Understanding Alcoholism

Many people consider alcoholism to be an addiction, while others consider it a disease. The truth is that alcoholism can in fact refer to many different problems related to drinking, and if you or someone you know has a problem with drinking, it is important to educate yourself with the facts of alcoholism.  Alcoholism can affect a person's health, work life, social life, and family life. It is a major problem that hundreds of thousands of Americans face every day.

The Fine Line Between Alcoholism and Alcohol Abuse

Alcoholism can affect a person’s work, social and family life.Alcoholism might also be referred to as a drinking problem, but the medical community has classified it as a disease. It is also generally considered that someone suffering from this disease is addicted to alcohol. It is an especially dangerous disease, as drinking too much can eventually lead to serious problems in health, not to mention the problems it can cause when interacting with others. Alcoholism can lead to a detrimental situation with friends, family members, spouses, and at a place of work. Despite all this, those who suffer from alcoholism continue to indulge in drinking. This is because the individual has developed an alcohol dependency.

Determining Whether Someone is Dependent on Alcohol or at Risk

While some research has been conducted over the years that had led scientists to believe the chances for alcohol dependency can increase due to a person's genes, there is still much that is not known about the relation between genetics and alcohol. However, studies show that risks of both alcohol abuse and becoming dependent are significantly increased if an individual has one or both parents that have or have had drinking problems.

Nobody wants to admit that they have a problem with drinking. There are definite criteria that can be used to identify those that are already suffering from a dependency or are increasing their chances of becoming so. First and foremost, the amount of drinks consumed on a daily or weekly basis must be considered. A male individual who consumes at least 15 drinks within a weekly period and a female individual who consumes at least 12 drinks can be increasing the risk of developing an alcohol dependency.

Some people say that they only drink at parties, but research also indicates that anyone who consumes at least five drinks during an occasion can also be at risk, especially if there is more than one occasion a week.

Social and mental factors can also lead an individual to become dependent on alcohol or suffer from alcohol abuse. If someone is living with a large amount of stress, or suffers from low self-esteem or other mental issues such as anxiety or depression, the chances of developing a problem increase.

Also at risk are young adults who are in high school, as well as college students who live or often go to environments where drinking is common, and they are easily susceptible to peer pressure.

These criteria place show how easy and common it is for someone to abuse alcohol, and eventually become dependent on it. In the United States, it has been determined that 1 of 6 individuals have problems with drinking, and because so many often don't detect that they or others have a drinking problem, that number may be higher.

What is a drink?

A drink does not necessarily mean just cocktails. The "drink" can consist of a shot or cocktail consisting of 1 1/2 ounces of liquor, a bottle or can of beer holding 12 ounces, or a glass of wine measuring 5 ounces.

Alcohol Abuse and Dependency Symptoms

While many individuals often don't want to admit they have a drinking problem, if their normal lifestyle regarding school, work, or social activities is affected by alcohol on a frequent basis, or if their relationship with others is affected by alcohol, then it is an easy diagnosis.

Alcohol can affect people in many different ways. If a person becomes violent when drinking, has no concern for their behaviour or how they look, or even gets angry if questioned about their drinking habits, chances are they have a drinking problem.

If a person continues to imbibe in alcohol despite the fact that their health may be suffering, and despite the fact that others in their lives are also being affected, they are likely dependent on alcohol. This also holds true if a person cannot stop drinking, continues to find reasons to have a drink, needs to drink every day, and often drinks when they are by themselves. Alcohol dependency can also affect a person's performance throughout the day, and may cause them to even stop eating properly.

Serious symptoms of a dependency problem can include major illnesses like liver disease, loss of memory after drinking a large amount of alcohol, shaking in the morning and other symptoms of withdrawal, and the need to continue to drink in order to feel better.

Questions you need to ask yourself or others

If you feel you have a drinking problem, or if you are concerned about someone else in your life, you can visit a health care professional or substance abuse counsellor to discuss the matter and go over some serious questions. It will help to know a bit about the family history in regards to medical issues, as well as any problems with alcohol.

Some questions that will be asked and matters that may be discussed include whether you drink and drive, if you cannot stop with just one drink, if you ever experience blackouts or memory loss, if you or a family member have expressed worries and concern about drinking, and if you often miss days at work or cannot go to other events or activities because of alcohol.

Additionally, certain tests may be performed to judge your health, such as a liver function test, a magnesium blood test, and a complete blood count.

Questions you need to ask yourself or others

There is a fine line between alcohol abuse and dependency.If you feel you have a drinking problem, or if you are concerned about someone else in your life, you can visit a health care professional or substance abuse counsellor to discuss the matter and go over some serious questions. It will help to know a bit about the family history in regards to medical issues, as well as any problems with alcohol.

Some questions that will be asked and matters that may be discussed include whether you drink and drive, if you cannot stop with just one drink, if you ever experience blackouts or memory loss, if you or a family member have expressed worries and concern about drinking, and if you often miss days at work or cannot go to other events or activities because of alcohol.

Additionally, certain tests may be performed to judge your health, such as a liver function test, a magnesium blood test, and a complete blood count.

Treating Alcoholism and The Decision To Stop Drinking

Many people, even when dependent on alcohol, believe they can stop anytime, or cut down to "normal" levels of drinking. The truth is, when someone is suffering from alcohol dependency or alcohol abuse, the best decision in regards to treatment is to quit drinking altogether. This is difficult to do, and it is important for an individual to receive encouragement and support from friends and family. If a person can stop drinking, then they significantly increase the chances of putting their life back together and mending relationships with those they may have hurt or affected.

One of the most important steps in the treatment process is to impart the realization that a person's drinking problem has severe negative consequences not just for themselves, but also for their friends and loved ones. Because individuals often find it hard to be honest with themselves about their own drinking problem, they often don't realize they need to seek help until those that are close to them are able to show them how much the alcohol abuse or dependency has affected their lives and the lives of those around them.

The best way to abstain from alcohol is to seek treatment in a controlled environment where the individual can be supervised. This is especially important because withdrawal symptoms can sometimes lead to medical complications, and/or depression and anxiety.

When seeking treatment at a rehabilitation center, individuals will receive support, supervision, counseling, and medical treatment if necessary. Depending on a person's particular case, it may be possible to get rehabilitation treatment as an outpatient.

In some situations, medical professionals may find it necessary to prescribe medication in order to help an individual to keep from drinking. These drugs can include Naltrexone (Vivitrol), which can help diminish cravings for alcohol, and Acamprosate, which will help to lower the chances of a patient relapsing after treatment. Another drug that might be prescribed is Disulfiram (Antabuse)*. If a patient indulges in alcohol shortly after taking the drug, there can be side effects that dissuade the person from wanting to drink again.

*not available in Canada

Support Groups
In addition to rehabilitation centres, there are also many support groups that a person can choose to join in order to receive additional help in conquering their drinking problems. Many individuals who go for treatment often relapse. Relapses are especially common if a person does not have support.

The following are reputable support groups that have helped thousands of people quit drinking or better control their alcohol problems. If an individual does not have a supportive environment or people they can turn to, these support groups offer much-needed support, encouragement and understanding.

SMART Recovery (Self Management and Recovery Training)
SMART is an international non-profit organization which provides assistance to individuals seeking abstinence from addictive behaviours.  The approach used is secular and science-based using non-confrontational motivational, behavioral and cognitive methods. Meeting participants learn recovery methods derived from evidence-based addiction treatments. It aims to show individuals how they can better help themselves with alcohol problems and the steps they can take in their lives to control and eliminate their alcoholism. 

ALCOHOLICS ANONYMOUS (AA)
Its members are made up of recovering alcoholics. AA provides support to those who need it 24/7, and offers members a way to handle their alcohol abuse or dependency through the use of a 12-step program. There are plenty of AA groups all across the US.

LifeRing and SOS
These two recovery groups also provide help and support for individuals coping with alcohol abuse.

Women for Sobriety
This group provides help for women only.

Moderation Management
In some cases, those who cannot quit drinking completely can still manage to drink in moderation and eliminate their problems with alcohol abuse. This program aims to help be learn how to drink in moderation, but will recommend those that cannot manage it to go for complete abstinence.

Health Problems Related to Alcoholism

Many health problems and diseases are directly associated to alcoholism and alcohol abuse. In addition to memory loss, increased risk of STDs, poor eating habits, and problems getting to sleep, there are many serious illnesses that may be life threatening. These include damage to brain cells, high blood pressure, liver disease, dementia, and various types of cancer.

Alcoholism can also lead to problems with a woman's menstrual cycle, nerve damage, problems with depression and suicidal thoughts, heart complications, pancreatitis, and internal bleeding and ulcers. It is also detrimental to a woman's health and the health of her baby if she drinks while pregnant. Severe birth defects can occur.

When to Contact Emergency Services

If you know someone who is suffering from an alcohol dependency and is showing symptoms such as confusion, or more serious concerns such as bleeding and/or seizures, then you should contact emergency services immediately.

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