Alcoholism and Alcohol Abuse

What is Alcoholism?

Alcoholism is a progressive disease that impairs the psychological, emotional, and physical health of both the alcoholic and his or her family. Alcoholism has been labeled as a “family disease” because its effects lead to dysfunctional roles and behaviors of the alcoholic and their family members.

An education and understanding of alcoholism is the key to building a better environment within a substance abusing family. One of the most important things to understand is that alcohol is an addiction known as alcohol dependency.

When a substance abuser drinks, it’s because their body is emotionally and physically dependent on alcohol (Alcoholism, Herma Silverstein 1990).

Classic signs of alcoholism include an increased tolerance to alcohol and withdrawal symptoms when the drinker tries to stop. Increased tolerance means the drinker develops a decreased sensitivity to the effects of alcohol the more they drink.

The person will need to drink more over time to feel the effect of the substance. For the social drinker, this effect is a feeling of euphoria. This is because a social drinker consumes low doses of alcohol on an irregular basis, which is shown to reduce the distress of anxiety. Conversely, the higher the dose of alcohol, the more the body becomes uncoordinated and sedated. This is when alcohol becomes dangerous and greatly affects a person’s ability to think and make clear decisions (Carlson, 2005, p. 512,521).

Signs, Symptoms, and Help for Drinking Problems

Drinking Alcohol is woven into the fabric of many societies We all enjoy sharing beer or wine over a meal, drinking with buddies enjoying that hockey game or other sports.  And because alcohol is such a common, popular element in many activities, it can be difficult to see when your drinking has crossed the line from moderate or social use to problem drinking.

And for some this may develop into a Binge Drinking Behaviour.

If you consume excessive alcohol to feel good or numb the pain, this could lead to a major problem.  Before you know it, Alcoholism could sneak up on you, so please be aware of the warning signals. Awareness of the situation is the first step to overcoming it.

Understanding Alcohol problems

Problems related to alcohol are due to many interconnected factors, including genetics, how you were raised, your social environment, and your emotional health. Some racial groups, such as American Indians and Native Alaskans, are more at risk than others of developing alcohol addiction. People who have a family history of alcoholism or who associate closely with heavy drinkers are more likely to develop drinking problems. Also, those who suffer from mental health problems such as anxiety, depression or bipolar disorder are also particularly at risk, because alcohol may be used to self-medicate and numb the pain.

Since consuming alcohol is very common in many cultures and the effects vary so widely from person to person, it’s not always easy to figure out where the line is between social drinking and problem drinking. The bottom line is how alcohol affects you. If your drinking is causing problems in your life, you have a drinking problem.

Do you have a drinking problem?

You may have a drinking problem if you…
•    Feel guilty or ashamed about your drinking.
•    Lie to others or hide your drinking habits.
•    Have friends or family members who are worried about your drinking.
•    Need to drink in order to relax or feel better.
•    “Black out” or forget what you did while you were drinking.
•    Regularly drink more than you intended to.

Signs and symptoms of alcohol abuse

Substance abuse experts make a distinction between alcohol abuse and alcoholism (also called alcohol dependence). Unlike alcoholics, alcohol abusers have some ability to set limits on their drinking. However, their alcohol use is still self-destructive and dangerous to themselves or others.

Common signs and symptoms of alcohol abuse include:

•    Repeatedly neglecting your responsibilities at home, work, or school because of your drinking. For example, performing poorly at work, flunking classes, neglecting your children or skipping out on commitments because you’re hung over.
•    Using alcohol in situations where it’s physically dangerous, such as drinking and driving, operating machinery while intoxicated, or mixing alcohol with prescription medication against doctor’s orders.
•    Experiencing repeated legal problems on account of your drinking. For example, getting arrested for driving under the influence or for drunk and disorderly conduct.
•    Continuing to drink even though your alcohol use is causing problems in your relationships. Getting drunk with your buddies, for example, even though you know your wife will be very upset or fighting with your family because they dislike how you act when you drink.
•    Drinking as a way to relax or de-stress. Many drinking problems start when people use alcohol to self-soothe and relieve stress. Getting drunk after every stressful day, for example or reaching for a bottle every time you have an argument with your spouse or boss.

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The path from alcohol abuse to alcoholism

Not all alcohol abusers become full-blown alcoholics, but it is a big risk factor. Sometimes alcoholism develops suddenly in response to a stressful change, such as a breakup, retirement or another loss. Other times, it gradually creeps up on you as your tolerance to alcohol increases. If you’re a binge drinker or you drink every day, the risks of developing alcoholism are even greater.

Signs and symptoms of alcoholism (alcohol dependence)

Alcoholism is the most severe form of problem drinking. Alcoholism involves all the symptoms of alcohol abuse, but it also involves another element: physical dependence on alcohol. If you rely on alcohol to function or feel physically compelled to drink, you’re an alcoholic.

Tolerance: The 1st major warning sign of alcoholism

Do you have to drink a lot more than you used to in order to get buzzed or to feel relaxed? Can you drink more than other people without getting drunk? These are signs of tolerance, which can be an early warning sign of alcoholism. Tolerance means that, over time, you need more and more alcohol to feel the same effects.

Withdrawal: The 2nd major warning sign of alcoholism

Do you need a drink to steady the shakes in the morning? Drinking to relieve or avoid withdrawal symptoms is a sign of alcoholism and a huge red flag. When you drink heavily, your body gets used to the alcohol and experiences withdrawal symptoms if it’s taken away. These include:
•    Anxiety or jumpiness
•    Shakiness or trembling
•    Sweating
•    Nausea and vomiting
•    Insomnia
•    Depression
•    Irritability
•    Fatigue
•    Loss of appetite
•    Headaches

In severe cases, withdrawal from alcohol can also involve hallucinations, confusion, seizures, fever, and agitation. These symptoms can be dangerous, so talk to your doctor if you are a heavy drinker and want to quit.

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Other signs and symptoms of alcoholism (alcohol dependence)

•    You’ve lost control over your drinking. You often drink more alcohol than you wanted to, for longer than you intended, or despite telling yourself you wouldn’t.
•    You want to quit drinking, but you can’t. You have a persistent desire to cut down or stop your alcohol use, but your efforts to quit have been unsuccessful.
•    You have given up other activities because of alcohol. You’re spending less time on activities that used to be important to you (hanging out with family and friends, going to the gym, pursuing your hobbies) because of your alcohol use.
•    Alcohol takes up a great deal of your energy and focus. You spend a lot of time drinking, thinking about it, or recovering from its effects. You have few if any interests or social involvements that don’t revolve around drinking.
•    You drink even though you know it’s causing problems. For example, you recognize that your alcohol use is damaging your marriage, making your depression worse, or causing health problems, but you continue to drink anyway.

Drinking problems and denial

Denial is one of the biggest obstacles to getting help for alcohol abuse and alcoholism. The desire to drink is so strong that the mind finds many ways to rationalize drinking, even when the consequences are obvious. By keeping you from looking honestly at your behaviour and its negative effects, denial also exacerbates alcohol-related problems with work, finances, and relationships.

If you have a drinking problem, you may deny it by:
•    Drastically underestimating how much you drink
•    Downplaying the negative consequences of your drinking
•    Complaining that family and friends are exaggerating the problem
•    Blaming your drinking or drinking-related problems on others

For example, you may blame an ‘unfair boss’ for trouble at work or a ‘nagging wife’ for your marital issues, rather than look at how your drinking is contributing to the problem. While work, relationship, and financial stresses happen to everyone, an overall pattern of deterioration and blaming others may be a sign of trouble.

If you find yourself rationalizing your drinking habits, lying about them, or refusing to discuss the subject, take a moment to consider why you’re so defensive. If you truly believe you don’t have a problem, why do you feel the need to cover up your drinking or make excuses? Is it possible that your drinking means more to you than you’re ready to admit?

Alcohol’s Effects on the Body

Drinking too much – on a single occasion or over time – can take a serious toll on your health.  Here’s how alcohol can affect your body:

Brain:
Alcohol interferes with the brain’s communication pathways, and can affect the way the brain looks and works. These disruptions can change mood and behavior, and make it harder to think clearly and move with coordination.

Heart:
Drinking a lot over a long time or too much on a single occasion can damage the heart, causing problems including:

  • Cardiomyopathy – Stretching and drooping of heart muscle
  • Arrhythmias – Irregular heart beat
  • Stroke
  • High blood pressure

Liver:
Heavy drinking takes a toll on the liver, and can lead to a variety of problems and liver inflammations including:

  • Steatosis, or fatty liver
  • Alcoholic hepatitis
  • Fibrosis
  • Cirrhosis

Pancreas:
Alcohol causes the pancreas to produce toxic substances that can eventually lead to pancreatitis, a dangerous inflammation and swelling of the blood vessels in the pancreas that prevents proper digestion.

Cancer:
Drinking too much alcohol can increase your risk of developing certain cancers, including cancers of the:

  • Mouth
  • Esophagus
  • Throat
  • Liver
  • Breast

Immune System:
Drinking too much can weaken your immune system, making your body a much easier target for disease.  Chronic drinkers are more liable to contract diseases like pneumonia and tuberculosis than people who do not drink too much.  Drinking a lot on a single occasion slows your body’s ability to ward off infections – even up to 24 hours after getting drunk.

How Alcohol Affects the Body

Drinking alcohol affects the body in many ways. These effects can lead to physical and mental changes that can put alcohol users and others at risk of injury or death. Possible dangers include falls, household accidents, and car crashes.

How Alcohol Moves Through the Body

When a person drinks beer, wine, or another alcoholic drink, the alcohol is quickly absorbed in the blood and then carried throughout the body. A drink of alcohol stays in the body for about 2 hours after being consumed. This period of time can vary depending on the person’s weight, gender, and other factors. When a person drinks, the concentration of alcohol in the blood builds to a peak, then goes down. At first, alcohol often makes people feel relaxed and happy. Later, it can make them feel sleepy or confused.

The small intestine and the stomach absorb most of the alcohol after drinking. A small amount leaves the body through breath and urine. Eating food, especially fatty food, slows the absorption of alcohol. If people drink more alcohol than their bodies can absorb, they become drunk.

How Alcohol Affects the Live, Brian and Heart

Drinking too much alcohol affects many parts of the body. It can be especially harmful to the liver, the organ that metabolizes (breaks down) alcohol and other harmful substances. People who drink heavily for a long time can develop diseases such as liver inflammation (alcoholic hepatitis) or severe liver scarring (cirrhosis).

Alcohol-related liver disease can cause death. Alcohol not broken down by the liver goes to the rest of the body, including the brain. Alcohol can affect parts of the brain that control movement, speech, judgment, and memory. These effects lead to the familiar signs of drunkenness: difficulty walking, slurred speech, memory lapses, and impulsive behavior. Long-term heavy drinking can shrink the frontal lobes of the brain, which impairs thinking skills.

Drinking alcohol can affect the heart in good and bad ways. On one hand, studies have shown that moderate drinking — up to two drinks a day for men and one drink for women — can lower the chances of developing heart disease. On the other hand, heavy drinking — either all at once or over time — can damage the heart. Long-term alcohol use can also result in high blood pressure, which increases a person’s risk of heart disease. However, blood pressure can go back to normal within a few months after drinking stops if there is not a lot of damage to the heart.

Male and Female Drinkers Compared

Alcohol affects men and women differently. In general, older men are more likely to drink alcohol compared with older women. But women of all ages are often more sensitive than men to the effects of alcohol.

Women’s bodies tend to break alcohol down more slowly. Also, women have less water in their bodies than men, so alcohol becomes more concentrated. As a result, women may become more impaired than men after drinking the same amount. That is why the recommended drinking limit for women is lower than for men. Drinking for a long time is more likely to damage a woman’s heath than a man’s health. Research suggest that as little as one drink per day can slightly raise the risk of breast cancers in some women, especially those who have been through menopause or have a family history of cancer. But it is not possible to predict how alcohol will affect the risk for cancer in any one woman.


Five myths about alcoholism

Myth #1: I can stop drinking anytime I want to.

Maybe you can; more likely, you can’t. Either way, it’s just an excuse to keep drinking. The truth is, you don’t want to stop. Telling yourself you can quit makes you feel in control, despite all evidence to the contrary and no matter the damage it’s doing.

Myth #2: My drinking is my problem. I’m the one it hurts, so no one has the right to tell me to stop.

It’s true that the decision to quit drinking is up to you. But you are deceiving yourself if you think that your drinking hurts no one else but you. Alcoholism affects everyone around you—especially the people closest to you. Your problem is their problem.

Myth #3: I don’t drink every day, so I can’t be an alcoholic OR I only drink wine or beer, so I can’t be an alcoholic.

Alcoholism is NOT defined by what you drink, when you drink it, or even how much you drink. It’s the EFFECTS of your drinking that define a problem. If your drinking is causing problems in your home or work life, you have a drinking problem and may be an alcoholic—whether you drink daily or only on the weekends, down shots of tequila or stick to wine, drink three bottles of beers a day or three bottles of whiskey.

Myth #4: I’m not an alcoholic because I have a job and I’m doing okay.

You don’t have to be homeless and drinking out of a brown paper bag to be an alcoholic. Many alcoholics are able to hold down jobs, get through school, and provide for their families. Some are even able to excel. But just because you’re a high-functioning alcoholic doesn’t mean you’re not putting yourself or others in danger. Over time, the effects will catch up with you.

Myth #5: Drinking is not a “real” addiction like drug abuse.

Alcohol is a drug, and alcoholism is every bit as damaging as drug addiction. Alcohol addiction causes changes in the body and brain, and long-term alcohol abuse can have devastating effects on your health, your career, and your relationships. Alcoholics go through physical withdrawal when they stop drinking, just like drug users do when they quit.

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Disclosure & Disclaimer:

Jackie Maclean, Clinical Hypnotherapist (the practitioner), is not a licensed physician or mental health provider. The information provided on this website is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease. Further, Hypnosis and Hypnotherapy cannot, and should not, stand alone as the sole medical or psychological intervention for any disorder. Hypnosis should not be used instead of appropriate medical, dental, or psychological treatment, and any individual with a medical or psychological problem should first consult a qualified health care provider for diagnosis and professional advice. Hypnosis should only be practiced by those who have been appropriately trained, who practice appropriately, and within the scope of their training. Although many experience good results through my hypnotherapy programs, there are some who do not. For example, even though a large percentage of people quit smoking through my programs, there are some who do not.

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