ALCOHOLISM: Causes, Problems and Treatments

September 7th, 2009 by admin

What is alcohol abuse??

Alcohol has been brewed, fermented  and consumed since the dawn of civilization. Nearly 100,000 Americans die every year from alcoholism.  When consumed in moderate amounts, alcohol can be relaxing and may even be beneficial to health but when alcohol is abused it can be detrimental to health, relationships and society.  Alcoholism is responsible for crime, job absenteeism, child and spousal abuse.

Large amounts of alcohol in the blood can lead to mood changes, loss of coordination, vision, balance and speech.  The physical effects are felt immediately and become more severe as consumption increases. Large amounts can impair brain function and cause unconsciousness  and can even be fatal.

Chronic alcoholism is characterized by incessant craving for, increased tolerance of, physical dependence upon and loss of control over drinking alcohol.  It can lead to many physical ills including hypoglycemia, heart and brain damage, chronic gastritis,  pancreatitis.  Also, impotence in men, damage to a fetus, cancers of the throat, larynx, esophagus, stomach, pancreas,  and upper gastrointestinal tract.  Most alcoholics don’t eat properly and therefore have nutritional deficiencies. Heavy drinkers have impaired liver function and at least one in five develops cirrhosis.

Abstinence (which is crucial to recovery) is extremely difficult due to continual cravings and complicated by denial.  Alcoholics create barriers to recovery, blaming their problems on something other than drinking.  It was once thought that alcoholism was simply a weakness of will or character flaw but is now recognized as a disease that anyone can become afflicted with.

What causes alcohol abuse??

The cause of  alcohol abuse is a combination of genetic, physical, psychological, environmental and social factors that vary among people.   Genetics factors are considered crucial:  a person’s risk is 4 to 5 times greater if a parent is alcoholic but some children of alcoholics do manage to break the hereditary pattern.

Symptoms of Alcoholism:

·    Temporary blackouts or memory loss
·    Recurrent arguments with family and friends
·    Continuing use of alcohol to “relax”, cheer up, sleep, deal with problems or to feel normal.
·    Headache, anxiety, insomnia, nausea, or other unpleasant symptoms when you stop drinking
·    Flushed skin and broken capillaries on the face, a husky voice, trembling hands, chronic diarrhea, drinking in the mornings, alone or in secret.

Alcoholism needs to be treated with medical intervention or a treatment center.  Alcoholics are susceptible to cirrhosis, alcoholic hepatitis and heart disease.  Alcoholics can experience chronic or periodic depression and be at risk of suicide.


One of the key factors in a successful recovery is a strong support network of family, friends and professional.  The recovery rate after one year can be as high as 50% – 60% with this support.  Those who do not have this important support or have poor motivation or even psychiatric problems have less success and tend to relapse within a few years. This group struggles with trying to maintain longer periods of abstinence, reducing use of alcohol, maintaining good physical health and social interactions.

Treatment can only begin with a motivation to change and  accepting and admitting that there is an alcohol abuse problem.  There are two stages to treatment:  detoxification and recovery.  Detox is the period when the alcohol consumption stops but it does not stop the cravings and results in difficulty maintaining recovery.  Withdrawal symptoms can be severe to moderate depending upon the level of alcoholism.  Symptoms can range from anxiety and poor sleep to uncontrollable shaking, spasms, panic, hallucinations to  delirium tremors (DTs).   Mortality rate of those in advanced stages of alcoholism who get DTs is 10%.  These people must be under professional care and may require a hospital stay to get through this detox stage.

Treatment may include medications to help with the withdrawal symptoms.  Benzodiazepines help with delirium, sleep disorders, anxiety and help prevent seizures.  They can be addictive and are usually only used during the detox phase and the tapered and discontinued. Disulfirum is used in the next phase to repel the alcoholic from drinking because it causes nausea, vomiting, confusion and breathing difficulty if the person drinks.  It acts as a deterrent.  Alcoholics can be susceptible to becoming dependent again and the best way to prevent that is  total abstinence from alcohol.  Abstinence is the best treatment.

Recovery may include treatments such as education programs, group therapy, family involvement, self-help groups of which AA (Anonymous) Alcoholics is the most popular.

Diet and proper nutrition can play an important part in recovery.  Alcoholics do not consume enough nutrients because the alcohol provides a lot of calories and tells the body not to eat anymore therefore they are depriving the body of nutritious calories required for good health.  A good multi-vitamin and B-1 (Thiamine) are an important part of the detox program.

The following remedies will aid in recovery:
·    Avoid people and places where alcohol is consumed readily
·    Join a self-help group
·    Ask family and friends for help and support
·    Get involved in positive activities: church, volunteer, new hobby, etc.
·    Exercise!  This promotes positive “feel good” brain chemicals


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