Alcoholism is a disease that does not distinguish between gender, race, or income level. It is classified by preoccupation with alcohol and lack of control over consumption. It is a physical dependency. Genetic, psychological, and social factors contribute to the disease.
Alcoholism gets worse over time. If untreated, it can be fatal. Chronic alcohol use and abuse increases the risk for liver disease, high blood pressure, heart disease, stroke, and some cancers. Alcohol abusers continue despite serious adverse health, personal, work-related and financial consequences; they are not in control.
In the United States alone, alcohol abuse and addiction costs $40–$60 billion each year due to lost work production, health and medical care, motor vehicle accidents, violent crime, and social programs. It is a serious problem.
Because of the social stigma—e.g., how they feel they are judged because they are losing control due to alcohol—people with alcohol problems are very good at hiding their condition—even from themselves.
Here are some questions that doctors use to help identify who has an alcohol problem:
- Do you crave alcohol?
- Can you stop after just one drink?
- Do you need more alcohol to get “buzzed” or drunk than you used to?
- Do you feel guilt or shame about your drinking?
- Have you blacked out or forgot what you did when drinking?
- Do you have withdrawal symptoms (nausea, sweating, shakiness, anxiety) when you stop drinking?
- Have friends or family members expressed concern about your drinking?
Talk to your doctor about your condition and see what he or she recommends. Experts today recommend, at most, drinking in moderation only.
- Men 2 drinks per day
- Women 1 drink per day
- More than 14 drinks per week, or 4 per occasion
- More than 7 drinks per week, or 3 per occasion
Young adults from 18 to 29 have the highest cases of alcohol abuse. If you began to drink before the age of 14, you are at greater risk for developing alcohol-related health problems, and/or addiction. Most alcoholics started drinking at an early age
Stigma & Misconceptions
Alcohol addiction is a disease. Many people still believe, however, that it is simply a lack of willpower. But if that were true, anyone could quit at any time, and we know that this is not possible. Further, genetic research shows that certain people are more likely to become alcoholics than others.
Because of this misconception, many people in early recovery face shame and misunderstanding from people who learn of their condition. Compounded with feelings of guilt and shame for hurting those closest to them, these feelings often lead to relapse. While a lack of willpower is not enough to quit, a desire to quit is certainly necessary to start the process of recovery.
You are at greater risk for alcohol addiction if one or both parents or grandparents had the disease. You may also be at risk of co-dependency, a damaging psychological condition that many believe contributes to the cycle of promoting alcoholism in others.
Withdrawal & Recovery
If you or someone you love experiences any of the following symptoms as a result of quitting alcohol, call 9-1-1 or go to an emergency room:
- Severe vomiting
- Confusion and disorientation
- Extreme agitation
- Seizures or convulsions
There are many resources available for alcoholics, including treatment centers and 12-step programs to help you or a loved one with an alcohol problem. The first step is to admit that you have a problem. The second is to determine your path to quit. For many addicts, denial is a major problem. If you suspect a friend or family has an alcohol problem—you are not alone. Those close to addicts are often the first to recognize a problem. You may want to consider an intervention, a process where those close to the addict confront his or her problem in a safe, controlled manner.