While the majority of adults around the world consume alcohol, only a small percentage will struggle with alcohol abuse and addiction. Alcoholism is a disease, and it can be devastating for physical health, personal relationships, finances and mental health. Identifying, understanding and treating alcoholism are key to combating the illness and enjoying sobriety for a lifetime.
The term alcoholic is thrown around loosely in modern society, but the casual phrase can be damaging to those who suffer from an addiction to alcohol. Alcoholism is a long-term, often chronic disease where patients are chemically, physically and psychologically dependent on alcohol.
In years past, alcoholism was viewed not as a disease but instead as a defect. Those who were victims of alcohol addiction were considered to be morally bankrupt or lacking self discipline.
In reality, this could not be further from the truth. Alcoholism is not a choice, nor it is something that people can simply decide to end. Just like any other disease, alcoholism needs to be properly treated in order for patients to recover and begin healthy, sober lives.
Causes of Alcohol Addiction
It can be difficult to pin down the exact causes of an addiction to alcohol. For many individuals, alcoholism is a result of several factors that come together. Some of the leading causes of alcoholism include stress, trauma, genetic predisposition, isolation or mental health disorders.
There is a substantial amount of addiction research that points to genetic predisposition as the leading cause of alcoholism. Essentially, this means that some individuals are physically more likely to become addicted than others. While one person may drink alcohol regularly without problems, someone predisposed to alcoholism might become addicted.
It is also important not to ignore the tremendous impact that mental health can have on addiction. There is a significant correlation between alcoholism and mental health disorders, although it is not proven which causes the other. There is no denying that those who struggle with mental health conditions are more likely to become addicted to alcohol.
Some people are drawn to consuming alcohol in large amounts because of personal trauma. They might also drink frequently because of stress, because of feelings of loneliness or because of environmental and social factors that encourage excessive consumption. Over time, drinking alcohol for any of these reasons can lead to alcoholism.
Many adults are able to consume alcohol without suffering from alcohol abuse or addiction. However, because alcohol is so frequently consumed by adults, it can be difficult to tell when consumption becomes addiction.
It is important to understand the key ways to identify alcoholism. When the common signs of alcoholism appear, loved ones can take action and help individuals struggling with addiction to get the right help for recovery. A few of the most common ways to identify alcoholism include the following:
- Increased tolerance and the consumption of greater amounts of alcohol
- Drinking alcohol in inappropriate settings
- Inability to avoid alcohol or cut back on quantity
- Inability to stop drinking once starting
- Drastic changes to behavior after drinking alcohol
- Depression or irritability, particularly when not drinking alcohol
- Withdrawal from family and social events
- Failures or problems in career or education
Side Effects of Alcoholism
Alcoholism is not a disease without symptoms. For those addicted to alcohol, the side effects can be devastating. Alcoholism can empty out bank accounts, ruin careers, break up relationships, tear apart families and cause untold physical damage.
Alcoholism can lead to the deterioration of health. Excessive alcohol consumption can reduce the effectiveness of the immune system, causing alcoholics to catch communicable diseases more often and have a harder time getting over them. Alcoholism can also cause liver damage, kidney damage, inflammation of the pancreas and even an irregular heartbeat. Alcohol addictions can lead to decreased fertility for both men and women, and it can cause development problems for babies of women who drink excessively during pregnancy.
Alcohol can also cause or exacerbate mental health problems. Things like depression, anxiety and paranoia are likely to develop or worsen among those who are struggling with an addiction to alcohol.
An addiction to alcohol will mean obsessive thoughts about the procurement and consumption of alcohol, sometimes to the detriment of all else. Personal relationships and family gatherings won’t get the attention they deserve, and careers or ambitions can fall to the wayside. In addition, alcoholism can lead to impaired judgment and risky behavior, potentially causing things like incarceration, sexually transmitted diseases, violence or drunk driving accidents.
Essential Elements of Alcohol Addiction Treatment
By defining alcoholism as an illness, it can be easier to understand the treatment. To effectively treat an addiction to alcohol, a comprehensive approach with a bedrock in evidence-based therapy is necessary.
A detox is often the place where patients begin their journey to sobriety. However, that initial phase is just the first step. Following detox, rehab is where patients can truly begin to make progress toward lifelong sobriety.
Behavioral therapy may be the key to addiction treatment. Individual therapy sessions can treat mental health conditions, reveal underlying trauma and help patients to understand how to prevent relapse from occurring in the future. Holistic therapies can complement evidence-based treatment and may include things like yoga or fitness therapy.
Ongoing Care for Alcoholism
Just like other chronic diseases, alcoholism isn’t something that can be eliminated entirely in a matter of days or weeks. Just as diabetes patients have to monitor their blood sugar levels, so too do alcoholics need to monitor their own sobriety and cravings.
Ongoing care may be necessary for those struggling with alcoholism. This may entail group therapy sessions, 12-step meetings or transitional care. Moderation will likely never be an option, so a commitment to abstaining from alcohol will be vital for lasting sobriety and a healthy life.
Alcoholism is a complex disease that impacts millions. While an addiction to alcohol can be disastrous, there is help. Through alcohol addiction treatment, sobriety and a renewed sense of health and purpose is entirely possible.