For most people who drink, alcohol is a pleasant accompaniment to social activities. Moderate alcohol use””up to two drinks per day for men and one drink per day for women and older people””is not harmful for most adults. (A standard drink is one 12oz bottle or can of either beer or wine cooler, one 5oz glass of wine, or 1.5oz of 80-proof distilled spirits.) Nonetheless, a large number of people get into serious trouble because of their drinking. Currently, 14 million Americans””1 in every 13 adults””abuse alcohol or are alcoholic. Several million more adults engage in risky drinking that could lead to alcohol problems. These patterns include binge drinking and heavy drinking on a regular basis. In addition, 53% of men and women in the United States report that one or more of their close relatives have a drinking problem.
What is Alcoholism?
For many people, the facts about alcoholism are not clear. What exactly is alcoholism? Alcoholism is a disease that includes four primary symptoms:
- Craving: A strong need, or compulsion, to drink.
- Loss of control: The inability to limit one’s drinking on any given occasion.
- Physical dependence: Withdrawal symptoms, such as nausea, sweating, shakiness, and anxiety, occur when alcohol use is stopped after a period of heavy drinking.
- Tolerance: The need to drink greater amounts of alcohol in order to “get high.”
Common questions are:
- Is my husband an alcoholic?
- Is my wife an alcoholic?
- Is my teen an alcoholic?
- How do I know if I am an alcoholic?
People who are not alcoholic sometimes do not understand why an alcoholic can’t just “use a little willpower” to stop drinking. However, alcoholism has nothing to do with willpower. Alcoholics are in the grip of a powerful “craving,” or uncontrollable need, for alcohol that overrides their ability to stop drinking. This need can be as strong as the need for food or water.
Many people wonder why some individuals can use alcohol without problems but others cannot. One important reason has to do with genetics. Scientists have found that having an alcoholic family member makes it more likely that if you choose to drink you too may develop alcoholism. Genes, however, are not the whole story. In fact, scientists now believe that certain factors in a person’s environment influence whether a person with a genetic risk for alcoholism ever develops the disease. A person’s risk for developing alcoholism can increase based on the person’s environment, including where and how he or she lives; family, friends, and culture; peer pressure; and even how easy it is to get alcohol.
How does addiction affect the body?
Addiction is a complex brain disease characterized by compulsive, at times uncontrollable, craving, seeking, and use that persist even in the face of extremely negative consequences. Not only will the addicted person miss the habit terribly, but he or she will also experience disagreeable withdrawal symptoms, which vary from habit to habit. Examples of common addictions are alcoholism, drug addiction, problem gambling, eating disorders, obsessive-compulsive disorders, smoking and shopping.
Scientific research has led experts to conclude that addiction is a disease, a chronic illness like diabetes or hypertension. In 1956 the American Medical Association declared alcoholism to be a disease and in 2001, Alan I. Leshner, the director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse at the NIH, defined addiction as a “chronic relapsing brain disorder characterized by compulsive drug seeking and use.”
Today, scientists and physicians overwhelmingly agree that while use and even abuse of drugs such as alcohol and cocaine are behaviors over which the individual initially exerts control, addiction to these substances is different. Scientists have begun to understand why addicted people may sacrifice everything that’s important to them — their jobs, their families, their homes — in the quest for a fix.
Signs and symptoms of alcohol and drug abuse include:
- Tendency to isolate.
- Preference for working alone to avoid being caught.
- Irritability with peers, making mountains out of molehills.
- Decrease in productivity as the disease progresses. (Once noted for doing incredible amounts of work in a short period of time, they now are taking more time in performing simple tasks.)
- Tardiness for work or scheduled events.
- Odor of alcohol on breath.
- Frequent intoxication at social functions.
- Isolation from social functions to drink alone.
- Slurred speech.
- Illegible writing.
- Falling asleep or exhibiting severe fatigue.
- Rapid mood swings.
- Frequent trips to the bathroom.
- Experience frequent job changes in past 5 years.
- Have unexplained lapses between jobs.
- Choose positions where supervision is less likely.
- Exhibit dilated or constricted pupils.