We explain what alcoholism is and what its causes and consequences are. In addition, its characteristics, symptoms, and treatments.
What is alcoholism?
Alcoholism is a disease caused by excessive alcohol consumption and is considered an addiction because it produces in the individual a dependency and a desire or need to consume alcohol constantly or in large quantities.
It is a chronic disease that has no cure and affects a large portion of the world's population. In addition, it is progressive and degenerative and generates the inability on the part of the person to limit or eliminate alcohol consumption. Despite having no cure, there are treatments that help the individual to reduce or suppress alcohol intake.
Alcohol abuse is understood as alcoholism when it generates a physical and psychological dependence and manifests consequences both in the health of the individual and in other social or work aspects. Alcoholism can affect the individual at any age and can begin to manifest itself during adolescence and the effects can appear during adulthood.
Some consequences of alcoholism are the risk of heart disease, the risk of liver disease and cancer, loss of intellectual abilities (such as memory and concentration), anxiety, social problems, among others.
What is alcohol?
Alcohol is a colorless liquid that is present in different strengths in many drinks, called alcoholic beverages, and that affects the central nervous system of human beings. It is a legal drug in most countries of the world.
Alcoholic beverages can be fermented when sugars are naturally transformed into alcohol, or distilled, which are drinks that usually have a high alcohol content because the process involves distilling already fermented beverages.
Alcohol generates immediate changes in the body, such as decreased reflexes and reactions, decreased or altered motor skills, disinhibition, euphoria, impulsive behaviors, among others. Consumed excessively, it can harm the health and social development of the individual and is one of the main causes of road deaths and poisoning.
The consumption of alcohol in persons under 18 or 21 years of age is prohibited (according to the legislation of each territory). Its use must be regulated and it is a substance that must be consumed in a responsible way due to the great amount of damage that it generates in the health and development of the individual.
Characteristics of alcoholism
Some of the main characteristics of alcoholism are:
- Excessive alcohol consumption. The person diagnosed with alcoholism consumes a large amount of alcohol, which interferes with their health and their individual and social life.
- Loss of control. There is an inability on the part of the alcoholic person to limit alcohol consumption, regardless of the context in which they find themselves. Loss of control manifests itself in excessive consumption of alcoholic beverages and in the immediate physical symptoms that alcohol produces, such as decreased visual and auditory senses and decreased reactions or reflexes.
- Physical dependency. Alcoholism generates a physical and psychological dependence in the individual and becomes an addiction that is very difficult to quit.
- Tolerance. The person develops higher levels of tolerance to alcohol in their body, that is, they quickly get used to certain levels of alcohol consumption, so they then need to consume a greater amount of alcohol to achieve the same effects.
- Chronicity. The person who suffers from this addiction and is looking to quit it must abstain from alcohol for life since, otherwise, it will be enough to ingest a little of this substance to awaken the desire and for the dependence to return.
- Withdrawal. Alcoholism causes the individual to feel physical or psychological discomfort when they stop consuming alcohol. This is known as withdrawal syndrome (it is caused by most drugs) and some of its symptoms are anxiety, fatigue, and vomiting.
- Degenerative diseases. Alcoholism is the cause of diseases of the nervous system, cardiovascular, brain, digestive system (mainly affects the mucous membranes of the stomach and forces the function of the liver producing cirrhosis), cancer, anemia, among others.
Symptoms of alcoholism
The main symptoms of alcoholism in an individual are:
- Excessive alcohol consumption.
- Difficulty controlling alcohol consumption.
- Withdrawal syndrome due to not consuming alcohol regularly.
- Increased tolerance and need to incorporate more alcohol to achieve the same effect.
- Unmanageable desire to consume alcohol.
- Desire to consume alcohol in situations in which you have another commitment or are carrying out another activity.
- Deterioration of social or work activity.
- Deterioration of the personal or family economy.
Causes of alcoholism
Excessive alcohol consumption is the main cause of alcoholism. For a person who regularly consumes large amounts of alcohol to be diagnosed with alcoholism, a dependency must be generated that affects their individual and social life.
It has not been possible to establish a clear cause that explains the propensity of an individual to alcohol since different individuals react differently to the effects caused by this substance. However, it is believed that there are genetic, social, and psychological causes that can lead a person to excessive alcohol consumption or the generation of a dependency.
In some cases, there is talk of the influence of social and mental-emotional factors that can awaken in the individual a predisposition for alcohol addiction. In relation to this, alcoholism is linked to the need to relieve anxiety, depression, or stress.
Consequences of alcoholism
As a result of the effects that alcohol causes on people's behavior, excessive consumption of this substance can have various consequences, both on an individual level (at a physical and/or intellectual level) and on a social level.
- Individual consequences. They are those that occur when excessive alcohol consumption causes damage to the health of the individual or alterations in their behavior. For example:
- Disinhibition when speaking
- Partial loss of consciousness
- Total loss of consciousness
- Delirium tremens
- Sleep disorder
- Social isolation
- Waste of time or money
- Chronic diseases
- Liver disease
- Digestive problems
- Eat alcoholic
- Death from alcohol
- Social consequences. They are those that affect society as a result of excessive alcohol consumption by an individual. For example:
- Relationship or family conflicts
- Family or social physical or verbal aggression
- Conflicts in areas such as work or school
- Destructions on public roads
- Assault on other people
- Death to third parties due to drunk driving
Types of alcoholism
In the eighties, a study carried out in Stockholm by the American psychiatrist Claude Robert Cloninger revealed the existence of two main types of alcoholism, which were used for many years as a representative. The study was based on cases of adopted children and the genetic and social influence on their predisposition to alcohol.
The two main types of alcoholism raised by Cloninger were:
- Type I alcoholism. It occurs in adults who consume large amounts of alcohol and are often influenced by the environment.
- Type II alcoholism. It occurs mainly early, in the adolescent period. It is usually influenced by hereditary factors and alcohol consumption is progressive. The behavior of the person suffering from this type of alcoholism can be violent.
- Alpha drinker. The drinker uses alcohol to reduce the stress or illness of a certain disease. It is a consumption that does not usually generate dependency.
- Beta drinker. The drinker occasionally consumes excessively, especially in social settings. No dependence is evident in this type of drinker.
- Range drinker. The drinker has an alcohol dependence, consumes regularly, and suffers from withdrawal. Has tolerance to alcohol and loss of control over overconsumption.
- Delta drinker. The drinker has a physical and psychological dependence on alcohol because he drinks constantly, but this is not usually manifested in his behavior.
- Epsilon drinker. The drinker consumes sporadically, but with loss of consciousness and behavior problems.
It is important to mention that not all the types of drinkers proposed by Jellinek are considered types of alcoholism since in some there is no evidence of dependence.
Phases of alcoholism
The American researcher Elvin Morton Jellinek raised a table that has been widely recognized in the study of alcoholism, in which he determined and charted the different stages of the disease.
For Jellinek, alcoholism goes through four main stages :
- Pre-alcoholic stage. The drinker consumes occasionally and seeks in the drink a form of relaxation, relaxation, or relief. At this stage, the individual can begin to develop a greater tolerance to alcohol.
- Aggravating stage. The drinker begins to manifest the first symptoms or effects of constant or excessive alcohol consumption. At this stage, there are situations or attitudes such as denial, guilt, blackouts, among others.
- Critical stage. The drinker begins to manifest a total dependence on alcohol and the development of the disease begins. Symptoms appear such as loss of motion of the level of consumption, aggressive behaviors, consequences in health, and in the social and labor plane.
- Chronic stage. The drinker consumes alcohol at all times and some physical and mental capacities of the individual deteriorate notably. Psychosis, isolation, fears, hospitalization, consumption of any industrial drink with alcohol, among others, are evidenced.
Treatments for alcoholism
The treatment of alcoholism is complex and must be approached by the patient and his immediate environment: family, friends, work colleagues, study colleagues, among others. Any type of treatment that is carried out must be carried out under the supervision of health professionals.
The first step on the part of the patient is the acceptance of the dependence generated by alcohol and from there begin a process of detoxification of the body and abstinence. Different therapies are used and an accompaniment of a self-help group and appropriate medication followed by supervision.
Many treatments include helping group therapies to reintegrate the patient into their social environment without the influence of alcohol in their life. For this, there are associations with a worldwide presence, such as Alcoholics Anonymous.
It is important to mention that information, education, and prevention about the effects of alcohol in all stages of an individual's development are essential to reduce the scope of this disease.
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Luke is passionate about fostering student involvement and connection. He studied psychology for his major and likes learning about the past. Luke aims to specialize in artificial intelligence and cybersecurity. .