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Alcoholism is defined as a chronic disease involving the inability to control drinking or the preoccupation with drinking. People who are suffering from alcoholism regularly continue to abuse alcohol even when they realize that it is causing problems both physically and socially. Additionally, people suffering from it often have to drink alcohol in increasing amounts in order to obtain the same physical effect. This is because of a physical dependency and a tolerance to the substance. Those who have an alcohol problem have not developed true alcoholism yet, but they are nearing that conclusion. Although problem drinking is not the same as alcoholism, many people suffering from it do end up developing it over time because it is a progressive disease.

Causes, Risk Factors and Complications of Alcoholism

There are a number of factors that can influence alcoholism including psychological, social, genetic and environmental factors. They can all come together to impact how alcohol affects one's behavior and body. The addiction process for alcohol occurs gradually, though some people become abnormally addicted much sooner than others. Over time, it is possible for alcohol abuse to change the way the brain processes chemicals, and so people abusing alcohol can lose the ability to control their behavior. This can lead to a stronger craving for alcohol in order to remove bad feelings in favor of positive ones.

There are a number of very serious complications associated with alcoholism. Alcohol can depress the nervous system, lower inhibitions and judgment. Too much alcohol in the system can affect muscle coordination, speech and other vital brain centers. Binge drinking can cause death or coma. Excessive drinking can cause domestic problems, poor school or work performance, motor vehicle accidents and other serious health problems. Common complications of alcoholism include: liver disease, heart problems, digestive problems, diabetes complications, sexual function issues, eye problems, pregnancy issues and birth defects, neurological complications, increased risk of developing cancer and bone loss. Because there are so many serious side effects and complications associated with alcoholism, seeking medical help is absolutely essential.

Signs, Symptoms and Tests of Alcoholism

There are many symptoms associated with alcoholism, and so seeking professional help is often required to determine whether or not a patient has a drinking problem or outright alcoholism. Examples of symptoms include: an inability to limit the amount of alcohol consumption, a strong urge to drink, drinking alone or hiding ones drinking, blacking out or otherwise forgetting what happens while drinking, creating a drinking ritual and becoming annoyed when the ritual is interrupted, hiding alcohol and becoming drunk intentionally in order to feel better.

Because alcoholism is categorized as a mental disease, there are specific criteria for diagnosis that must be met. A doctor will want to ensure that a patient meets all of the criteria before diagnosing alcoholism or a drinking problem including drinking more alcohol than intended, withdrawal symptoms, tolerance, not being able to cut down on drinking and spending too much time drinking.

Treatment, Drugs and Prevention of Alcoholism

Treatment is absolutely essential when it comes to a problem with alcoholism. While many alcohol problems can be remedied, once it becomes alcoholism, it can be much more difficult to overcome. Treatment can include detoxification where the alcohol is removed from the body and the subsequent withdrawal followed by the establishment of a treatment plan. Learning skills and psychological counseling are just as essential as the physical aspects of recovery. Oral and injected medications may also be used such as Vivitrol and Disulfiram, which help to prevent drinking, but they cannot be used without mental aspects of recovery such as therapy and counseling.