Alcoholism is a type of drug dependence. It is chronic illness characterised by uncontrolled consumption of alcoholic beverages that interferes with physical or mental health,and social, family, or occupational responsibilities.
There is physical as well as psychological dependence with alcoholism. Physical dependence is seen when withdrawal symptoms start showing when alcohol intake is interrupted, when tolerance to the effects of alcohol develops, and there is evidence of alcohol-associated illnesses. Alcohol affects the central nervous system as a depressant resulting in a decrease of activity, anxiety, tension, and inhibitions. Even a low level of alcohol within the body slows the reactions. Concentration and judgment become impaired. In excessive amounts, intoxication or poisoning may occur. Alcohol also affects other body systems. It can cause irritation of the gastrointestinal tract with erosion of the lining of the stomach, with nausea & vomiting. The long-term use of alcohol can lead to nutritional deficiences as Vitamins are not absorbed properly. Liver disease, called hepatic cirrhosis, may also develop. The cardiovascular system may be affected by cardiomyopathy. Sexual dysfunction can also occur, causing erectile dysfunction in men and cessation of menses in women. Alcohol consumption during pregnancy can cause problems in the developing fetus known as fetal alcohol syndrome.The development of dependence upon alcohol may occur over 5 to 25 years, following a relatively consistent pattern of progression. At first, a tolerance of alcohol develops. This results in a person being able to consume a greater quantity of alcohol before its adverse effects are noticed. Memory lapses relating to drinking episodes may follow tolerance. Then a lack ofcontrol over drinking occurs, and the affected person can no longer discontinue drinking whenever desired. The most severe drinking behavior includes prolonged binges of drinking with associated mental or physical complications.
Some people areable to gain control over their dependence in earlier phases before a total lack of control occurs.
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There is no definite cause of alcoholism; however, several factors may play a role in its development. In a family with an alcoholic parent, the offspring is more likely to become an alcoholic than someone without an alcoholic parent. The reason for this is unknown, but genetic or biochemical abnormalities may be present. Psychological factors may include a need for relief of anxiety, unresolved conflict within relationships, or low self-esteem. Social factors include availability ofalcohol, social acceptance of the use of alcohol, peer pressure, and stressful lifestyles. Incidence of alcohol dependence has increased over the past few decades.
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Tolerance to the effects of alcohol is the main symptom of the condition. A need for daily or frequent use of alcohol for adequate function, lack of control over drinking, with an inability to discontinue or reduce alcohol intake, solitary drinking and making excuses to drink are also seen. Episodes of memory loss associated with drinking like black outs, violence, interference with social and family relationships or occupational responsibilities, behavioral problems like work absebteeism are some other signs of alcoholics. They may have unexplained mood swings, secretive behavior to hide alcohol related behavior, show hostility when confronted about drinking and neglect their food intake and physical appearance.
Until the primary causes of alcoholism are understood, the disease cannot be prevented. However, educational programs about alcohol meant for children, teenagers and parents,can be a good source of information for them. Developing appropriate attitudes towards alcohol use within the home may help to prevent its abuse.
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Though there is no sure shot pill that can cure alcoholism completely, but some medications can help to reduce its withdrawl and tolerance symptoms. Three oral medications—disulfiram, naltrexone and acamprosate are currently approved to treat alcohol dependence. In addition, an injectable, long-acting form of naltrexone is also available. These medications have been shown to reduce drinking, avoid relapse to heavy drinking, and achieve and maintain abstinence. Naltrexone acts on the brain and reduces the craving for alcohol after drinking is stopped. Acamprosate is said to work by reducing symptoms that follow lengthy abstinence, such as anxiety and insomnia. Disulfiram discourages drinking by making the person taking it feel sick after drinking alcohol.
Psychological counselling can also help alcoholics overcome their addiction. There are many rehabiliation and de-addiction centers that help alcohol abuse patients to stop or reduce their intake of alcohol. Societies like Alcoholics Anonymous have been started in many cities, where groups of alcholics come together with an aim to quit drinking.
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