Alcoholism is a powerful craving for alcohol which often results in the compulsive consumption of alcohol. The cause of this craving is heavily debated, but the most popular beliefs are that it is a chemical or nutrional imbalance, a genetic predisposition, a neurological effect caused by runaway learning mechanisms or an inability to curb one’s own desire for enjoyment.
Alcoholism is often a controversial subject. Some believe it to be a biological disease, but the inability to tie it to a specific biological causation makes this is a political debate and not a medical one.
Alcohol addiction has been identified as having various components.
Psychological addiction involves those things which convince a person that they gain benefit from the use of the substance. For instance, if they feel that they are more socially adept while drunk or that it allows them to better handle stress, then they might feel that any problems caused were worth the benefits.
Physical addiction (a.k.a., dependence) involves the physical adaptation of a person’s biological systems to the continued presence of alcohol in their system. The person’s systems become more comfortable when they have the “normal” level of alcohol, and higher doses are required to maintain an equivalent effect. A decrease in the level of alcohol causes reverse imbalances resulting in withdrawal symptoms, which for alcohol can be deadly.
Neurochemical addiction involves the hijacking of existing learning mechanisms in order to convince the system that an addictive behavior is good for it, despite all evidence to the contrary. Endorphin is the body’s way of telling the mind that a behavior is good for it. We release endorphin into the blood stream during sex, exercise and consumption of some foods for instance, and this is responsible for “runner’s high” and “afterglow”. This is more than just a good feeling, it is teaching our brain that these are the behaviors that it should repeat.
It has been demonstrated in various clinical tests that mammals with more active endorphin systems are more prone to alcohol addiction. This is because alcohol triggers the release of endorphins into our system, and we learn that alcohol drinking is a behavior that we should repeat. This effect is also visible in the use of opiates, and in various risk-taking behaviors such as skydiving and gambling.
The social problems arising from alcohol abuse often include loss of employment, financial problems, marital conflict and divorce, convictions for crimes such as drunk driving or public disorder, loss of accommodation, and loss of respect from others who may see the problem as self-inflicted and easily avoided.
Alcohol dependence affects not only the addicted but can profoundly impact the family members around them. Children of alcohol dependents can be affected even after they are grown; the behaviors commonly exhibited by such children are collectively known as Adult Children of Alcoholics Syndrome.
Although there is no specific diagnosis for alcoholism, there have been many efforts at diagnostic approaches to alcohol dependence, abuse and complications associated with chronic alcohol consumption.
Several tools may be used to determine if you are an alcoholic.
The CAGE questionnaire can be used to screen patients quickly in a doctor’s office.
Another screening questionnaire is the Alcohol Use Disorders Identification Test (AUDIT).
The Alcohol Dependence Data Questionnaire is another sensitive diagnostic test.
Although there is no blood test specific for alcohol abuse or alcohol dependence (alcoholism), prolonged heavy alcohol consumption may lead to several abnormalities in the body.
Alcohol addiction is a treatable disease that can end in the death of innocent people. If you are an alcoholic or are a family member of an alcoholic, contact your physician for the most current treatments available.
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