For most of us, alcohol is relatively harmless: it’s legal, it’s socially accepted and, when consumed safely and in moderation, it doesn’t present many long-term risks or complications. However, for some people, a seemingly innocent drink is like a loaded gun. Indeed, to an alcoholic, drinking can result in life-threatening complications and an overall decline in physical and psychological health.
Keep reading to learn more about alcoholism, including its causes, symptoms and available treatment options.
Alcoholism: Causes and Risk Factors
Like other forms of substance abuse and addiction, the causes of alcoholism aren’t always clear. We do know that several factors can contribute to the development of this disease, including those relating to genetics, mental health, culture and more. For example, risk factors like the following are often associated with alcoholism:
- Poor mental health. Mental illnesses like depression, schizophrenia, bipolar disorder and PTSD often play a role in the development of alcoholism. Instead of seeking professional treatment, individuals with these conditions may use alcohol to alleviate the symptoms of mental illness. Over time, the self-medicating of symptoms can result in physical and psychological dependence.
- Family history. Whether it’s genetics or social influence, people who have a family member with alcoholism are at an increased risk of developing this disease. The same goes for individuals with partners, close friends, etc. who suffer from alcoholism.
The Symptoms of Alcoholism
The symptoms of alcoholism can vary, but typically include the following:
- Strong cravings for alcohol.
- Drinking to feel comfortable or “normal.”
- The inability to limit alcohol consumption.
- Drinking alone or at odd hours.
- Hiding or stashing alcohol in unlikely places, such as at work or in your car.
- Drinking to the point of blacking out.
- Continued drinking despite relationships problems, legal issues, financial difficulties or other complications resulting from alcoholism.
- The onset of withdrawal symptoms when alcohol use is discontinued. These often include shakiness, nausea, vomiting, sweating, severe anxiety, insomnia, etc.
The Effects of Alcoholism
Alcoholism is associated with a host of complications, including those relating to physical, psychological and emotional health. Without the proper treatment, this disease can have effects like the following:
- Poor judgment. Because it lowers inhibitions and affects impulse control, alcohol can increase the risks associated with accidents, unwanted pregnancies, the transmission of STD’s, violent behaviors and more.
- Neurological damage. Long-term alcoholism can result in memory loss, dementia, speech problems and poor motor skills.
- Liver damage. Alcoholism is often associated with inflammation of the liver; over time, this can result in diseases like hepatitis, fatty liver disease and cirrhosis.
- Heart problems. Excessive or long-term drinking can lead to high blood pressure, heart disease and other types of cardiovascular dysfunction.
- Digestive problems. Alcoholism can result in a number of digestive problems, including those relating to the stomach, intestines, colon and esophagus.
- Increased risk of cancer. Long-term drinking is linked to breast, pancreatic, throat, mouth and liver cancers.
- Declining mental health. Alcoholism exacerbates mental illnesses like depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia and PTSD. In turn, worsened symptoms lead to an increased risk of suicide, self-harm, aggression and other complications.
Effective treatment for alcoholism typically includes methods like the following:
- Detoxification. Because alcohol withdrawal can result in potentially-harmful symptoms, a supervised detox is essential to recovery. According to experts at Black Bear Rehab, certain medications can be used to ease withdrawal symptoms and reduce the risks associated with seizures, hallucinations, stroke and other complications. For more info on treating withdrawal symptoms, go to http://blackbearrehab.com/drug-alcohol-withdrawal/treat-withdrawal-symptoms/.
- Counseling. One-on-one therapy can help patients explore their problems with alcohol, as well as formulate coping skills in the interest of sobriety. Family counseling and group therapy can also be helpful.
- Medications. Prescription drugs can be used to combat cravings and reduce the euphoria associated with drinking.
- Continued support. Followup counseling, treatment for mental illness and support groups can significantly reduce the risk of relapse, and can also enhance psychological health and overall quality of life.
Although alcohol is legal, it can be extremely dangerous. If you or someone you know is suffering the effects of alcoholism, get help now, and start laying the groundwork for a sober, healthier and happier future.