The facts about alcoholism

Alcoholism affects people of all ages, races and economic classes. With 75 per cent of the population consuming alcohol, it is estimated that 10 per cent of this group will suffer serious problems related to their health, relationships, finances and work as a result of their drinking. The continued consumption of alcohol despite adverse effects to health and well-being is known as alcoholism.

The Mayo Clinic defines alcoholism as “a chronic disease in which your body becomes dependent on alcohol.” Someone suffering from alcoholism loses control over their drinking — when they drink, how much they drink or how long they drink on each occasion.

The exact causes for alcoholism remain unknown but research suggests that certain individuals may be genetically predisposed to developing alcoholism. Also, individuals with family members who suffer from alcoholism are more likely to develop the condition.

There are three different stages of alcoholism — the early stage, the middle level and full-blown alcoholism. In the early stage of alcoholism it can be hard to determine whether or not someone is having a problem with their drinking. If an individual is drinking to escape from problems in their personal life or at work, this may signal they are entering the early stages of alcoholism.

The second stage of alcoholism, the middle level, means a person has begun drinking several times a week with the goal of getting drunk. Other indicators include drinking earlier in the day, carrying alcohol on their person or hiding bottles in places they can frequent, like at work or in their car. At this stage, the individual begins to drink steady and will suffer from medical problems, loss of appetite, mood swings and loss of inhibition. Personal relationships begin to break down as does their emotional and financial well-being.

The third and final stage is full-blown alcoholism. At this stage, drinking can no longer be controlled. It takes over all aspects of the individual’s life; the most important thing is their next drink. A drastic change in personality is accompanied by blackouts, prolonged sickness and stomach problems. Eventually liver failure, heart problems and even death can occur.

If you suspect that you or someone you know is suffering from alcoholism, here some signs to look out for:

  • The inability to limit how much alcohol you drink.
  • Craving a drink the way some people crave cigarettes; only able to think of when you can have the next drink.
  • Developing a tolerance to alcohol and having to increase the amount you drink to get the same effect.
  • Feeling guilty about how much you drink; thinking about cutting back on how much you drink.
  • Drinking alone or in secret.
  • You experience withdrawal symptoms when you don’t drink: such as shakiness, increased anxiety, sweating and nausea.
  • Blacking out.
  • Becoming annoyed when your drinking routine is disturbed or questioned.
  • Denial of a drinking problem is also a common characteristic of alcoholism.

Alcoholism can lead to a number of problems in a person’s life — poor judgment and lowered inhibitions, breakdown of relationships, motor vehicle accidents and poor performance at work or school, amongst others issues. Long-term heavy drinking can lead to a number of health issues including but not limited to liver disorders, diabetes, heart problems, hypertension, eye problems, birth defects, stomach ulcers, problems performing sexually and digestive problems.

A person may not suffer all the symptoms of alcoholism but may still have a problem with alcohol. This is known as alcohol abuse. This means you are not dependent on alcohol but that your drinking habits still cause problems in your life.

If you think that you or someone you know is suffering from alcohol abuse or alcoholism, it is important to seek help right away. Talk with a doctor, a counselor or seek out a support program like your local chapter of Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) or Al-Anon, a support program for families and friends of alcoholics.