What is Alcoholism?

Alcoholism is a chronic, progressive disease that can be fatal if left untreated. Alcoholism, or alcohol dependence, is a diagnosable disease characterized by several factors:

  • A strong craving for alcohol
  • Continued use of alcohol despite harm or personal injury to self or others
  • The inability to limit the amount of alcohol consumed
  • Physical illness when drinking stops
  • The need to increase the amount of alcohol consumed in order to feel the affects.

Alcoholism is a progressive disease. What starts out as 2 or 3 drinks becomes 4, 5, 6, 7 or more drinks. The alcoholic finds that it takes more and more alcohol to achieve that “high” that they so desperately crave. Before they know it, the alcoholic finds that they are completely consumed by the need to drink and although they may know they have a problem, they don’t know how to stop.

Alcohol consumption, regardless of the quantity consumed, may cause trouble in the alcoholic’s relationships including school, social activities or how the alcoholic may think or feel. The more they consume, the more problems they have.

  • Short-term effects of alcohol consumption include:
  • Impaired judgment/coordination
  • Increased incidence of aggressive acts
  • Sleep disturbances
  • Hangovers (dizziness, nausea, headache, thirst, fatigue)
  • The long-term effects of alcohol consumption may include:
  • Withdrawal symptoms if the body is deprived of alcohol including tremors, intense anxiety, hallucinations and convulsions
  • Permanent damage to vital organs
  • Cancer
  • Gastrointestinal irritations
  • Malnutrition
  • Sexual dysfunctions
  • Increased blood pressure

Although not every person who consumes alcohol becomes an alcoholic, it is important to know that alcoholism cannot be directed at any one particular person. Alcoholism can hit anyone regardless of age, race or sex at any given time. What may start out as social drinking may turn into alcohol abuse, which then quickly progresses into alcoholism if the individual does not properly monitor the amount of alcohol consumed.

Alcohol abuse, or binge drinking, is a pattern of alcohol consumption that brings the BAC or blood alcohol concentration level to 0.08% or higher. If a man finds himself drinking 4 or more drinks per social outing, they are abusing alcohol. If a woman finds herself consuming more than 3 drinks per social outing, she is abusing alcohol. Excessive intake over a period of time effects every person differently on both a physical and emotional level. There may be a number of changes in the individual’s emotional well being. He/she may become angry or argumentative, quiet, withdrawn and depressed, anxious sad, tense and confused. He/she may seek relief by drinking more in order to numb the pain they feel. The individual may find themselves spending more and more money on alcohol and may even find themselves in legal trouble as a result of their drinking.

Excessive intake/prolonged use of alcohol can cause serious disturbances in the body’s chemistry. Individuals may develop swollen and tender livers or liver damage (such as cirrhosis of the liver). They may experience a loss of muscular control. The individual may also experience DTs or delirium tremens, which include hallucinations and control of muscular functioning. Chronic drinking may potentially harm virtually every organ in the human body. The most common cause of illness for alcoholics is liver disease. Other cardiovascular diseases/illnesses that the alcoholic can expect to incur include hypertension, arrhythmias/stroke, a depressed immune system, pneumonia and tuberculosis.