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What is Alcoholism?

What is alcoholism and how can it be defined? Dipsomania, alcohol dependence, habitual intoxication, or alcohol addiction are all terms frequently used to describe someone who has a problem with alcohol. But no matter which name this particular condition hides behind, the answer to the question ‘what is alcoholism?’ remains the same.

Alcoholism is an illness characterized by the sufferer’s persistent urge to consume alcohol irrespective of the physical and psychological harm that it may be causing them or the people around them. Like any illness, alcoholism can be treated. An alcoholic is neither a lost cause nor a case without hope. Recovery from alcoholism is possible.

If you, or someone you care about, are suffering from alcoholism you need to seek professional help. The path to recovery from alcoholism is challenging, but there are experts who are willing and able to help you clean up and put it behind you.

The Causes of Alcoholism

Nobody suffers from alcoholism of their own free choice. It has gradually become a way of life from which they cannot escape without external help, and which controls their actions. So what is alcoholism caused by? There is no single clear answer to this question. Alcoholism afflicts different people for different reasons, but the commonest factors which contribute to a sufferer’s alcoholism are:

  • An emotional shock, such as the unexpected death of a loved one
  • Sustained stress or pressure in everyday life from which alcohol offers an escape
  • A natural disposition for depression or low self-esteem
  • Social influences, such as a friend, relative, partner or group with whom you drink on a regular basis
  • An inherited susceptibility to alcoholism

If an individual has succumbed to alcoholism as a result of one or more of these contributory factors, it does not mean that the person is weak or worthless. It means that they are human, and like any other human they are vulnerable to illness. An alcoholic has the right to unprejudiced help and support, to assistance in overcoming the illness. Nobody can criticize an alcoholic for showing the courage to face up to alcoholism and asserting the will and desire to overcome it.

How Alcoholism affects Health

Left untreated, the effects of alcoholism on personal health and wellbeing are devastating. A sustained intake of excess alcohol inhibits the way in which the body digests nutrients and vitamins which are vital for maintaining health. As the disease progresses, the toll upon the mind and body becomes more severe. The harmful physical effects of alcoholism are likely to include:

  • Cirrhosis of the liver
    Unable to adequately process the quantities of alcohol consumed, the liver becomes increasingly damaged, and eventually irreparable. Yes, the liver is remarkable in the amount of abuse it is able to heal from, but ultimately the consequences will be cirrhosis, liver failure and possible death.
  • Delirium Tremens
    Commonly abbreviated to ‘DTs’, delirium tremens is usually associated with uncontrollable trembling, the sufferer may also experience hallucinations, anxiety and confusion.
  • Cardiac problems and hypertension
    Heart and associated systems are affected by consumption of alcohol. Alcoholism significantly increases the likelihood of heart failure, and elevated blood pressure which in turn increases the risk of strokes.
  • Diabetes
    Alcoholism increases blood sugar and may impair the natural production of insulin; once the pancreas is compromised and unable to function properly diabetes will follow.
  • Brain damage
    Excessive alcohol intake gradually causes brain cells to ‘die’. The effects of this type of brain damage are varied, but are known to impair the senses, sometimes leading to a loss of the sense of smell, or blindness. Balance may also be affected, and numbness of limbs may be experienced.
  • Cancer
    Alcoholism has been linked to the onset of a number of cancers, despite its usual association with cancer of the liver.

In addition to the physical deterioration caused by alcoholism, the sufferer may also be prone to psychological disorders. Typically these may include:

  • Memory loss
  • Anxiety
  • Depression, accompanied in extreme cases by suicidal tendencies
  • Insomnia
  • Lack of concentration, or confusion
  • Low self-esteem or exaggerated self-pity
  • Aggressiveness

The Negative Social Impact of Alcoholism

While the damage inflicted on the sufferer’s own health by alcoholism cannot be underestimated, the harm caused to friends, colleagues, relatives and partners cannot be ignored. Since alcoholism is a controlling and compulsive influence, the sufferer may focus upon alcohol to the exclusion of everything else in their life. Personal relationships become secondary to the need for alcohol, with the result that loved ones and friends become alienated and distressed. Lack of focus or concentration brought on by alcoholism may adversely affect the sufferer’s performance in their job, ultimately resulting in the loss of employment and possible financial hardship. In many cases, alcoholism can provoke feelings of aggression which at their worst may be vented in acts of domestic or criminal violence.

However dangerous, distressing or hurtful the actions of someone suffering from alcoholism may be, it is vital to remember that their actions are beyond their conscious control. They are not to blame for the actions of the person that the disease has made them become. They need help. They need support. They need compassion and forgiveness. With these things, alcoholism can be beaten.

Recovering from Alcoholism

Recovery from alcoholism is a lifelong challenge. It is truly ‘all or nothing’. Once clean, there can be no going back for ‘just one small drink’. If that seems harsh or unreasonable, it is worth considering that the rewards of abstinence from alcohol far outweigh the rewards of continued alcoholism.

By turning away from alcoholism and seeking professional help to get clean, dry and sober an alcohol is given a second chance at life. Once in control again, the person can learn the strategies and methods to deal with or avoid the situations and temptations that led them into alcoholism. The alcoholic can live, breathe, walk tall and be free again.

If you know that you have a problem with alcoholism, and are courageous enough to admit it to yourself and to others, then help yourself to a better life by seeking professional help as soon as possible. As with any disease, the sooner that alcoholism is recognized and treated the less permanent harm it can cause.

Getting Help for Alcoholism

Taking the step of facing up to alcoholism and committing to beat it takes tremendous inner-strength. If someone has taken that step they deserve congratulations and applause. That individual has already conquered one of the most difficult challenges of recovery – that of denial. The news gets better from now on; there are literally thousands of groups, counselors’ and professional organizations whose only wish is to help crush the affliction of alcoholism. Friendly, supportive and non-judgmental help is there for the taking. So why wait? Make the call. Take it now.

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