In purely economic terms, alcohol-related problems cost society approximately $185 billion per year. In human terms, the costs cannot be calculated.
What Is Alcoholism?
Alcoholism, also known as "alcohol dependence," is a disease that includes four symptoms:
- Craving: A strong need, or compulsion, to drink.
- Loss of control: The inability to limit one's drinking on any given occasion.
- Physical dependence: Withdrawal symptoms, such as nausea, sweating, shakiness, and anxiety, occur when alcohol use is stopped after a period of heavy drinking.
- Tolerance: The need to drink greater amounts of alcohol in order to "get high."
Although some people are able to recover from alcoholism without help, the majority of alcoholics need assistance. With treatment and support, many individuals are able to stop drinking and rebuild their lives.
Many people wonder why some individuals can use alcohol without problems but others cannot. One important reason has to do with genetics. Scientists have found that having an alcoholic family member makes it more likely that if you choose to drink you too may develop alcoholism. Genes, however, are not the whole story. In fact, scientists now believe that certain factors in a person's environment influence whether a person with a genetic risk for alcoholism ever develops the disease. A person's risk for developing alcoholism can increase based on the person's environment, including where and how he or she lives; family, friends, and culture; peer pressure; and even how easy it is to get alcohol.
What is Alcohol Abuse?
Alcohol abuse differs from alcoholism in that it does not include an extremely strong craving for alcohol, loss of control over drinking, or physical dependence. Alcohol abuse is defined as a pattern of drinking that results in one or more of the following situations within a 12-month period:
- Failure to fulfill major work, school, or home responsibilities
- Drinking in situations that are physically dangerous, such as while driving a car or operating machinery
- Having recurring alcohol-related legal problems, such as being arrested for driving under the influence of alcohol or for physically hurting someone while drunk
- Continued drinking despite having ongoing relationship problems that are caused or worsened by the drinking. Although alcohol abuse is basically different from alcoholism, many effects of alcohol abuse are
How can you tell whether you may have a drinking problem? Answering the following four questions can help you find out:
- Have you ever felt you should cut down on your drinking?
- Have people annoyed you by criticizing your drinking?
- Have you ever felt bad or guilty about your drinking?
- Have you ever had a drink first thing in the morning (as an "eye opener") to steady your nerves or get rid of a hangover?
Even if you answered "no" to all of the above questions, if you encounter drinking-related problems with your job, relationships, health, or the law, you should seek professional help. The effects of alcohol abuse can be extremely serious-even fatal-both to you and to others.
Can Alcoholism be Cured?
Although alcoholism can be treated, a cure is not yet available. In other words, even if an alcoholic has been sober for a long time and has regained health, he or she remains susceptible to relapse and must continue to avoid all alcoholic beverages. "Cutting down" on drinking doesn't work; cutting out alcohol is necessary for a successful recovery.
However, even individuals who are determined to stay sober may suffer one or several "slips," or relapses, before achieving long-term sobriety. Relapses are very common and do not mean that a person has failed or cannot recover from alcoholism. Keep in mind, too, that every day that a recovering alcoholic has stayed sober prior to a relapse is extremely valuable time, both to the individual and to his or her family. If a relapse occurs, it is very important to try to stop drinking once again and to get whatever additional support you need to abstain from drinking.
Help for Alcohol Abuse
If your health care provider determines that you are not alcohol dependent but are nonetheless involved in a pattern of alcohol abuse, he or she can help you to:
- Examine the benefits of stopping an unhealthy drinking pattern.
- Set a drinking goal for yourself. Some people choose to abstain from alcohol. Others prefer to limit the amount they drink.
- Examine the situations that trigger your unhealthy drinking patterns, and develop new ways of handling those situations so that you can maintain your drinking goal.
Genetics: Alcoholism is a complex disease. Therefore, there are likely to be many genes involved in increasing a person's risk for alcoholism. Scientists are searching for these genes, and have found areas on chromosomes where they are probably located. Powerful new techniques may permit researchers to identify and measure the specific contribution of each gene to the complex behaviors associated with heavy drinking. This research will provide the basis for new medications to treat alcohol-related problems.
My son & I have talked about alcoholism & I've told him that alcohol makes some people do stupid things when they've had too much to drink, and that it's not always a good thing. I've told him alcoholism runs in my family & as I was telling him this morning, my Dad was an alcholic & I have to be careful b/c I tend to do stupid things when I drink too much too so Mommy really has a problem with it too. He said he's not going to drink when he grows up, he doesn't like the taste of beer. His Dad has let him try his before apparently...My Dad did the same when i was little. Must be a Dad thing...My ex husbands father drank too much, but I never saw him drunk I don't think I'd say. It was weird, like he had a very high tolerance. I only saw him drink beer or coffee, not really anything other than that. My ex husband's face get flushed, he's alergic to something in beer he's said. I don't know...anyways, my ex husband is bashing my boyfriend for his drinking to my son. I had already gone into that with him & explained that he was getting help for his drinking and that we never wish anything but the best for people in life and we hope that he gets the help that he needs to stop drinking. He can't be in our lives if he's drinking b/c he is a different person, I am a different person too when I drink! I don't like that person, and sometimes I'm not able to stop myself.