he topic of alcoholism can be an ambiguous subject. Exactly what is alcoholism? What is the difference between an alcoholic, a problem drinker, or someone who drinks excessively and sometimes abuses alcohol?
At what point or under what circumstances should a person seek help for the effects of alcohol on their life?
For the majority of people, the consumption of alcohol is a social or recreational activity. A standard alcoholic drink is considered to be either a 12 oz bottle of beer or wine cooler beverage, a 5 oz glass of wine, or 1.5 oz of 80 proof distilled hard liquor. Up to two standard drinks per day for men, and up to one standard drink per day for women, is commonly accepted as "moderate use" of alcohol and not harmful for most adults.
In California, there is a substantial number of citizens who drink far beyond moderation in varying amounts, and considered harmful to their physical, emotional, and mental health. According to statistics, 1 in every 13 American adults, or an estimated 14 million U.S. Citizens, reportedly abuse alcohol or suffer from alcoholism. Several million more Americans engage in unhealthy and excessive drinking patterns that could eventually lead to alcoholism. In addition, more than half of all adult men and women in the United States report that at least one, or more, of their close relatives has a drinking problem.
In many cases, a person's alcohol consumption can be dangerous, and even life threatening or deadly. Heavy use of alcohol often increases the risk for various liver and other cancers, including cancer of the esophagus, the throat, and larynx. Alcoholism is also known to cause cirrhosis of the liver, immune system dysfunction, problems to unborn babies during pregnancy, and brain damage.
Drinking increases the risk of death from automobile crashes, recreational accidents, on-the-job accidents, homicide, and suicide. Economically, alcohol-use problems cost our society approximately $100 billion per year. In human terms, the costs are much higher...actually incalculable.
Alcohol Dependence Syndrome, more commonly referred to as Alcoholism, is considered a disease by some experts and schools of thought. Alcoholism is usually diagnosed or characterized by at least one or more of the following elements:
Craving: A strong or compulsive urge to drink alcohol.
Lack of Control: An inability to stop or moderate intake once alcohol consumption has begun.
Physical Dependence: Physical withdrawal symptoms when an alcoholic person attempts to abstain from drinking or is without access to readily available alcohol. Physical withdrawal symptoms often include sweats, nausea, nervousness, shaky hands, and feeling of anxiousness when the use of alcohol is abruptly stopped after a period of heavy consumption. A person who is alcohol dependent will typically seek relief from these symptoms by drinking more alcohol or taking sedative drugs.
Alcohol Tolerance: An increasing need for more alcohol in order to achieve the desired effect.
The answer to what draws the line between a problem drinker and an alcoholic has little to do with the length of time a person has been drinking alcohol, nor the amount of alcohol a person consumes, nor even the type of alcohol they drink. There is a common myth among potential alcoholics that as long as they limit their drinking to beer and wine and abstain from hard liquor, then they cannot possibly be alcoholic.
The misconception that one needs to drink hard alcohol in order to be a real alcoholic is simply untrue. Rather, alcoholism is better defined by the degree of a person's dependence on alcohol and an uncontrollable craving to drink.
For most alcoholics, willpower is not an effective measure for abstinence. Although some alcoholics do recover on their own, most individuals need a supportive self-help group or professional treatment to overcome their drinking problems.
Why is it that some individuals can use alcohol without problems, while others are utterly unable to control their drinking?
Recent research has discovered that for many people, a vulnerability to alcoholism is inherited, or genetic. Other contributing factors are a person's environment, such as peer influence and the availability of alcohol, which can significantly increase a person's susceptibility to alcoholism.
Genetic and environmental influences are called "risk factors". It is important to keep in mind that risk does not mean destiny, and many children born to alcoholic parents do not inherit the scientifically identified gene, or become alcoholics themselves.
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