What is Alcoholism? Part 2
by Ned Wicker
Must Drink MORE!
Alcoholics develop a tremendous tolerance to the effects of alcohol. Because of that, in order to experience the same effect they had before, they need to drink more.
They have no control over how much they drink, because they “need” more to feel good. Regardless of what the drinking is doing to them physically, they continue to drink. Regardless of any personal and social consequences, they drink. They have to drink. In order to help them realize that they have choices, you first need to remove the access to alcohol.
Take away access to alcohol and the alcoholic may experience nausea, vomiting, sweating, the “shakes,” and convulsions. A person who does not have the physical dependency on alcohol, may or may not suffer these types of withdrawal symptoms.
They do not experience the same kind of craving for alcohol and the compulsion to drink.
Line between Abuse varies
Where the line is between Abuse Abuse varies. It is crossed when, in many cases, a person needs a drink as soon as they get up in the morning. They may be aware of their drinking and feel guilty about it, so they keep their drinking a secret.
They may be aware that they need to cut back or stop altogether, but they don’t. When told they may be having a with alcohol, they get angry. Any of these situations is a sign that a person might be abusing or already addicted.
One person can enjoy alcoholic beverages and never become addicted, while another has one drink and is already in trouble. How is this so? What causes alcoholism?
Alcoholism, like other forms of drug addiction, is a disease of the brain. The Mayo Clinic explains that Alcohol use causes a gradual alteration in brain chemistry.
For example, the gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA), which controls impulsiveness, and glutamate, which stimulates the nervous system, are altered by alcohol.
You can see how a person can lose control over their drinking because the brain’s reward system is changed. The brain is literally tricked into thinking it needs alcohol to function.
There is also a genetic component to alcohol addiction. If your parents abused alcohol or were alcoholics, the chances are good that you are genetically predisposed to the same condition. The child of an alcoholic is more prone to using other drugs and becoming addicted.
If you look at the family histories of alcoholics, you’ll probably find generations of the disease.
Low self-esteem may cause alcohol abuse
People with low self esteem or depression have a higher chance of becoming alcoholic. If they are in an environment where their friends drink, or their significant other drinks, they may be at risk for developing addiction.
The person susceptible to alcoholism may be impacted by the “enablers” in their life. The enablers aren’t necessarily addicted or in trouble, but the “hurting” person might be swept along and the disease progresses as a result of that action.
Anxiety and stress play a role in the onset of alcoholism. People may feel the need to numb their emotional pain and turn to alcohol for the solution. There is evidence that stress hormones play a part in the development of alcoholism. There is a void in the life of the alcoholic and alcohol fills that void.
There are social factors at play. Drinking is glamorized in America. Every sporting event has beer commercials. Drinking the right kind of vodka makes you sexy and sophisticated. People drink at parties, at ball games, at social events, and even at church festivals. Drinking is socially acceptable, but as I stated, in Wisconsin, it’s a big problem.
Drinking more than 15 drinks a week for men, or 12 drinks a week for women, can contribute to the development of alcoholism.
But there are more risk factors involved, such as drinking at an early age. If parents allow their children under 16 to drink, those children are at greater risk of developing a problem. Men are more likely to become alcoholics than women.
When should I seek help?
People who are in need of help because of alcohol abuse are not likely going to ask for it. They are not likely going to admit that they have a problem. As a friend of family member, you are the one to take action.
One of the first calls you can make is to your doctor for his/her perspective, but you may also consider calling a local drug and alcohol treatment center. We are body, mind and spirit, so another source of support would be your pastor or rabbi. Hospital chaplains are also good resources.
If a person agrees to treatment, either willingly or as a result of an intervention, it will be important for them to receive a physical examination to determine if other medical issues need to be addressed.
There may be medical problems unrelated to alcohol, but often people have problems and do not reveal that alcohol is a contributing factor. If a doctor suspects that alcohol is a contributing factor, he/she will probably ask a series of questions to get a more complete picture.
The doctor will do screening to determine if it is addiction or abuse.
It’s not my problem, it’s your problem
Getting a person with into treatment is not an easy task. The person abusing alcohol or already addicted to alcohol will deny any problem, or if they do acknowledge a problem, they will minimize the concern.
It might take a group effort to get a recovery plan moving in the right direction. If your doctor is your first consultant, he/she may ask the person for permission to speak to family members.
Confidentiality laws prevent the doctor from having that discussion without consent. That might make matters more difficult.
Another route to consider is an intervention. As the concerned person, you call a treatment center for consultation. They will do an assessment of the situation and are best equipped to take the appropriate action. In another section we will discuss interventions in greater detail.
In summary, the first Step of the AA 12-Step process is a good definition for having an alcohol problem. “We admitted that we were powerless over alcohol--that our lives had become unmanageable.”
Does alcohol get in the way? Can a person function without a drink?
Do they exhibit any of the signs and symptoms we presented?
If so, we encourage you to seek help. Call a drug and alcohol treatment center and help your friend of loved one, or yourself, get on the road to recovery.