What is alcoholism?

Alcoholism combines all the behavioural symptoms of alcohol abuse with a physiological dependence. An alcoholic becomes physically dependent on alcohol. If someone needs alcohol to function or is physically compelled to drink then they could be described as being an alcoholic.

Alcoholism is characterised by an incessant craving for, increased tolerance of, physical dependence upon, and loss of control over drinking alcohol. Alcoholism is a progressive disease and, in some cases, has the potential to be fatal.

Physical dependency on alcohol may or may not be obvious to other people. While some chronic alcoholics exhibit physical drunkeness, others have learned to control and hide symptoms enough to be able to cope with everyday life in a near-normal way.

If not treated, longer term alcoholism often leads to a number of physical ailments such as: serious liver damage, brain & heart damage, high blood pressure, pneumonia, hypoglycemia, chronic gastritis, recurrent pancreatitis and tuberculosis.

The warning signs of alcoholism:

1) Tolerance

If someone feels the need to drink more and more over time to get the same affect – this is a warning sign. If they find themselves able to drink substantially more than their peers, and don’t appear intoxicated, this is also sign that their tolerance is increasing.

2) Withdrawal

Drinking to relieve any of the following symptoms brought on by withdrawal from alcohol (particularly the morning after) is a clear warning sign;

  • Anxiety and Depression

  • Headache, Sweating and Shakes

  • Diarrea, Nausea and Vomiting

  • Insomnia

In More Severe Cases:

  • Hallucinations and Fever

  • Seizures

3) Loss of control.

4) A desire to quit drinking, but attempts have been unsuccessful.

5) They spend majority of their day either planning a drink, recovering from a drink or taking a drink.

The Basics of Alcohol Withdrawal:

‘Social’ drinkers will rarely suffer any major symptoms of withdrawal. Drinkers who tend to suffer severe adverse symptoms are typically those who have spent many years recovering on a daily basis from excessive use. In some subgroups of these drinkers, they may be at some level of intoxication for the whole time.

Prolonged exposure to alcohol alters the cells in the brain. Whilst under the influence, many of these cells will be sedated. When a person stops drinking, and in effect stops the sedation, then alcohol withdrawal symptoms occur. The process of withdrawal is often very emotional as well as physical. People can feel extremely anxious and depressed. Symptoms of alcohol withdrawal can be unpredictable and very dangerous.

Treatment for Withdrawal

Studies have shown that symptoms of withdrawal tend to get worse for those that have been through a detox regime before. “Researchers report that people who had seizures during alcohol detox were much more likely to have been through detox in the past, when compared to people who didn’t have seizures. In fact, 53 percent of people who had prior experiences had seizures, compared to only 27 percent who didn’t have a prior experience”

Withdrawal Symptoms

If someone has been consuming a high amount of units of alcohol each day for a prolonged period, then it can be very dangerous for them to stop immediately. However, many people do try it and the consequences can be fatal.

Severe symptoms can include:

  • Seizures

  • Sweating, Shaking and Vomiting

  • Hallucinations

Alcohol detoxification, also known as Alcohol Withdrawal Syndrome, can be a dangerous and life-threatening process. The actual of severity of withdrawal is based on a variety of different factors. Factors such as quantity and the length of time the person has been drinking, their general health and any pre-existing health conditions play into the outcome. Another factor is the number of detox processes the person has been through previously. It is absolutely vital that any drug or alcohol detox is medically supported and the individual is monitored. This is not something to “tough out” alone.