What is Alcoholism?

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On any given day, either in the newspaper or on the evening news, something is usually said about alcoholism or the effects of this disease.

Consequently, it seems relevant to ask the following question: "what is alcoholism"?

Also known as alcohol addiction and alcohol dependence, alcoholism is a progressive degenerative disease that includes the following four components: tolerance, physical dependence, craving, and the loss of control.

Drinking Alcohol is A Pleasant Experience For Most People

For most individuals who drink, alcohol is a positive and enjoyable experience, particularly when they are participating in social gatherings or recreational activities.

Not only this, but in most circumstances drinking in moderation is not harmful for most adults.

A relatively large group of people, however, simply cannot consume any drink containing alcohol because of the problems they experience when they ingest alcohol.

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How large is this group of individuals who cannot or should not drink alcohol?

According to a number of scientific research studies on alcoholism, it has been determined that almost 14 million Americans abuse alcohol or are alcoholic.

This information and these statistics, therefore, demonstrate that "problem drinking" defines a fairly sizeable group of people in American society.

A Definition of Alcoholism

Also known as alcohol addiction and alcohol dependence, alcoholism is a progressive degenerative disease that includes the following symptoms:

  • Loss of control: The inability to limit one's drinking over time or on any given occasion.

  • Craving: A strong and continuing compulsion or need to drink.

  • Physical dependence: Withdrawal symptoms when a person stops drinking after a period of excessive drinking. Such symptoms include: anxiety, sweating, nausea, and "the shakes."

  • Tolerance: The need to drink increasing amounts of alcohol in order to "feel a buzz" or to "get high."

Alcoholism and Alcohol Abuse

Many individuals think that alcoholism and alcohol abuse are identical concepts. This is incorrect.

Alcohol abuse, unlike alcoholism, does not include an extremely strong desire for alcohol, physical dependence, and the loss of control due to drinking.

Alcohol abuse is defined as a pattern of drinking that results in one or more of the following circumstances in a twelve-month period of time:

  • Experiencing recurring alcohol-related legal problems. Examples include getting arrested for driving under the influence of alcohol, for damaging someone's property, or for physically hurting someone while drunk.

  • Continued drinking in spite of ongoing relationship problems that are the result of drinking.

  • Drinking in situations that can result in physical injury. Examples include driving a vehicle or operating machinery.

  • Failure to attend to important responsibilities at work, home, or school.

Damaging Alcoholism Consequences

The consequences of alcoholism are not only serious, but in many circumstances, fatal.

For instance, excessive drinking can directly or indirectly lead to certain cancers, such as cancer of the throat, esophagus, kidneys, larynx, liver, and of the rectum.

Additionally, alcoholism can lead to harm to the fetus while the mother is pregnant, brain damage, problems with the immune system, and cirrhosis of the liver.

Furthermore, heavy drinking increases the risk of death from motor vehicle accidents as well as work-related and recreational injuries.

If this weren't enough, suicides and homicides are more likely to be committed by individuals who have been drinking alcohol.

In simple economic terms, alcohol-related issues and problems in the United States cost society nearly $200 billion each year.

In human terms, moreover, the cost of the following alcohol-related issues cannot be calculated: injuries, child abuse, fatalities, wife battering, broken homes, illnesses, destroyed lives, and failed health.

Information About Teenage Alcoholism

Due to some shocking statistics on the widespread use and the negative effects of teenage alcoholism, it can be concluded that learning about alcoholism is particularly important for our teens.

Stated differently, if, however, a teenager can read, comprehend, and internalize some of the information regarding the key issues and problems associated with alcoholism, he or she will certainly be in a better position to avoid the negative consequences that are associated with teenage alcoholism in school, college, or in the workplace.

Indeed, it is "alcohol awareness" and alcoholism information such as this that go a long way towards alcoholism prevention in our youth.

Alcoholism Statistics

Regrettably, the full impact of the destructive and unhealthy consequences of alcoholism are not typically understood until relevant alcoholism-related statistics are overtly discussed.

As a result, the following alcoholism statistics, obtained via various research studies and surveys on the Internet, will be offered below:

  • The damage caused by alcohol impaired drivers compares to a Boeing 747 with more than 500 passengers crashing every eight days killing everyone on board.

  • Individuals in stable marriages have the lowest incidence of lifetime prevalence of alcoholism (8.9%) as opposed to co-habiting adults who have never been married (29.2%).

  • In the United States, almost three times as many men (9.8 million) as women (3.9 million) are problem drinkers.

  • Long-term, heavy alcohol use is the leading cause of illness and death from liver disease in the U.S.

  • The 25.9% of underage drinkers who are alcohol abusers and alcohol dependent drink 47.3% of the alcohol that is consumed by all underage drinkers.

  • Most individuals who use alcohol stop at the "experimental or recreational" stage. For a variety of complex reasons, some users progress to dependency. Without intervention that use becomes habitual and evolves into physical and psychological addiction.

  • American youth who drinking before the of age 15 are four times more likely to become alcoholics than young people who do not drink before the age of 21.

  • Although there are fewer deaths from alcohol related causes than from heart disease or cancer, alcohol-related fatalities tend to occur at much younger ages.

  • 20% of suicide victims in the United States are alcoholic.

  • Alcohol dependence and alcohol abuse cost the United States an estimated $220 billion in 2005. This dollar amount was more than the cost associated with cancer ($196 billion) and obesity ($133 billion).

  • Every year, 1,400 American college students between the ages of 18 and 24 die from inadvertent alcohol-related injuries, including motor vehicle accidents.

  • The 9.6% of adult alcoholics drink 25% of the alcohol that is consumed by all adult drinkers.

  • More alcoholism is being found in the elderly now that more baby boomers are retiring.

Alcoholism Treatment

It is important to point out that if you observe your friends or family members exhibiting any of the above symptoms or behaviors, consider talking to them about seeing their doctor about their drinking behavior.

Indeed, your family members or friends may need alcoholism counseling or they may need to enter a hospital or treatment facility for alcoholism rehab if they are to recover from their "drinking problem."

Frequently, people who are not alcoholic do not realize why an alcoholic can't simply use willpower or self-control to refrain from drinking.

In most circumstances, however, alcoholism has little to do with willpower or self-discipline.

Why? Because alcoholics are caught in the powerful grip of an uncontrollable need for alcohol that takes precedence over their capability to quit drinking.

In fact, this need to drink for the alcoholic can be as strong as his or her need for food, shelter, or water.

While there is no known cure for alcoholism, recovery from alcoholism is, however, possible.

Although some individuals are able to recover from alcoholism without professional treatment, many, if not most, alcoholics need clinical or medical assistance for their alcoholism.

Fortunately, with support and through treatment, counseling, and rehab, many people who are addicted to alcohol are able to stay sober and rebuild their lives.

Alcoholism Causes

Why is it that some people can drink alcoholic beverages without experiencing any negative effects while others cannot? One answer to this question involves genetics.

In fact, alcoholism researchers have found that having an alcoholic family member increases the risk of developing alcohol dependency.

Stated differently, there may be a genetic predisposition that helps cause a person to become dependent on alcohol.

Not only this, but researchers have also discovered that different environmental factors can interact with one's genetics, with both factors playing a major role in the development of alcoholism in particular individuals.

Some example of these environmental influences include the relative ease of obtaining alcohol, peer influence, a person's culture, where and how a person lives, and one's family and friends.

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Conclusion: What is Alcoholism?

Due to the fact that so many people in the United States and in other countries in the world have so many individuals who are alcohol dependent, it is worth asking the following question: what is alcoholism?

Alcoholism is a progressive degenerative disease that includes the following four symptoms: the loss of control, craving, tolerance, and physical dependence.

When these four characteristics of alcoholism are examined more closely, however, it becomes more clear why alcoholism is so widespread and why it results in so many destructive, dangerous, and unhealthy personal and social consequences.

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