What is alcoholism?

Alcoholism, also known as alcohol use disorder, alcohol abuse or alcohol dependency, is a condition that is characterized by the unhealthy drinking habits. Alcohol use disorder can range from mild to severe.

17.6 million people in the United States suffer from alcohol dependency or abuse. Millions of these people binge drink, drink more than five drinks in one day, which can lead to serious long-term complications.

Causes of alcoholism

The cause of alcohol use disorder is not known. The condition develops as you drink more and become addicted to alcohol. In some people as they drink more, chemical changes in the brain occur that can cause pleasurable feelings.

People who suffer from alcohol use disorder want to experience these pleasurable feelings often and continue to drink to feel them.

Risk factors for alcoholism

If you have the following risk factors, you may suffer from alcohol dependency:

  • You drink more than 12 drinks/weekly as a female or 15 as a male
  • You consume more than five drinks in one day
  • You have a parent or close relative who also suffered or suffers from alcoholism
  • You have other conditions such as depression or anxiety
  • You have a high stress job or live a high stress life
  • You have low self-esteem

Symptoms of alcoholism

You may have alcohol use disorder if you have a number of these issues on a regular basis:

  • You can’t quit drinking
  • You can’t control the quantity you drink
  • You experience withdrawal when you do not drink
  • You give up other activities you enjoy so that you can drink
  • Drinking causes physical problems, yet you continue to drink

Diagnosis of alcoholism

If your doctor thinks you have a problem with alcohol, they may ask if you're willing to see a mental health provider. Some of the ways your doctor may decide if you have a problem can include:

  • Asking questions about how much or how often you drink
  • Doing a psychological evaluation to learn more about how you think and feel about drinking
  • Giving you a physical exam, since some diseases or problems happen from too much drinking
  • Performing tests to see if your organs are damaged or you have other health problems

Based on what your doctor finds, they might use guidelines from the American Psychiatric Association to determine that you have an alcohol use disorder.

Treatment for alcoholism

The goal of treatment for alcohol use disorder is to get you to quit drinking. Treatment options may include:

  • Detoxification — involves ridding your body of alcohol
  • Rehabilitation — a quality rehabilitation program can help you learn new behaviors to avoid urges to drink
  • Counseling — may be necessary to help with any other mental health issues that are leading you to drink
  • Support groups — groups like Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) are accountability groups that can help you feel supported by others in a similar situation with similar conditions
  • Medications — medications such as Naltrexone, Acamprosate and Disulfiram are used to help control addiction

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