Alcohol abuse is a disease characterized by a desire for alcohol and by the continuation of drinking even when there are alcohol-related occupational, legal, health, and family problems. Alcohol abuse can progress to alcoholism. Alcoholism is a condition in which a person becomes physically dependent on the effects of alcohol and drinks to avoid withdrawal symptoms.
Several factors contribute to alcohol abuse and alcoholism, including:
- Brain chemicals that may be different than those normally found in the brain
- Social pressure
- Emotional stress
- Depression and other mental health problems
- Problem drinking behaviors learned from family and friends
It’s estimated that nearly 17.6 million people in the United States abuse alcohol or are considered to be alcoholics. More men than women are alcohol dependent or have alcohol problems. Alcohol problems are highest among young adults, age 18 to 29, and lowest among adults age 65 and older.
Risks Associated With Alcoholism
Organs That Can Be Damaged by Alcoholism
© 2009 Nucleus Medical Media, Inc.
Alcoholism can increase your risk of the following:
- Accidents and injury, including motor vehicle accidents and falls
- Violence, murder, and suicide
- Domestic violence
- Family dysfunction
- Failed relationships
- Lost jobs
- Problems with the law, including drunk driving
- Drug interactions
- Certain cancers, especially cancer of the liver , esophagus , throat , and larynx
- Gastrointestinal problems (eg, bleeding, diarrhea , hemorrhoids , ulcers , and inflammation of the esophagus)
- Nerve damage
- Sexual disorders, including impotence
- Reproductive problems
- Postoperative complications (eg, infections, bleeding, and delayed healing)
- Other addictions
- Neurological problems and brain damage (in long-term use)
- Liver damage, including cirrhosis
- Heart and circulatory problems
- High blood pressure
- Pneumonia and acute respiratory distress syndrome
- Peripheral neuropathy
- Hormonal problems in both sexes
- Fetal alcohol syndrome (in the babies of women who drank during their pregnancy)
- MalnutritionIt may not be easy for you to accept the fact that you need help for an alcohol problem. But keep in mind that the sooner you get help, the better your chances are for a successful recovery.You may have concerns about discussing drinking-related problems with your doctor. This may stem from common misconceptions about alcoholism and people who have alcoholism. In our society, the myth prevails that an alcohol problem is a sign of moral weakness. As a result, you may feel that to seek help is to admit some type of shameful defect in yourself. In fact, alcoholism is a disease that is no more a sign of weakness than is asthma. Moreover, taking steps to identify a possible drinking problem has an enormous payoff: a chance for a healthier, more rewarding life.
A diagnosis of alcohol abuse or alcoholism is often based on an initial assessment, physical examination, and psychological evaluation.
When you visit your doctor, she will ask you a number of questions about your alcohol use to determine whether you are having problems related to your drinking. Try to answer these questions as fully and honestly as you can. These are some of the questions you may be asked:
- Have you tried to reduce your drinking?
- Have you felt bad about your drinking?
- Have you been annoyed by another personâ€™s criticism of your drinking?
- Do you drink in the morning to steady your nerves or cure a hangover?
- Do you have problems with a job, your family, or the law?
- Do you drive under the influence of alcohol?
Physical Examination and Tests
You also will be given a physical examination, which may include the following tests:
- Blood tests to look at the size of your red blood cells and to check for a substance called carbohydrate-deficient transferrin (CDT), a measure of alcohol consumption
- Blood tests to check for alcohol-related liver disease and other health problems, such as gamma-glutamyltransferase (GGT)
If your doctor concludes that you may be dependent on alcohol, she may recommend that you see a specialist in alcoholism. You should be involved in any referral decisions and have all treatment choices explained to you.
If you know anyone with an alcohol problem, especially a young person, please make sure to get some help, before it’s too late.
I publish today’s blog in memory of the friends and family members lost in 2011.