All About Alcohol Addiction

What is Alcoholism?

Alcoholism is both a disease and an addiction marked by a persistent use of alcohol despite the negative consequences to the drinker’s family, health, social and legal affairs. The risk of developing alcoholism can run in families. It is caused by a combination of genetic factors and by other factors in the individual’s lifestyle and environment. Alcoholism can take about 15 years to develop in adults, but can occur much more quickly in adolescents and young adults.

It is a common misconception that the majority of murders, traffic accidents, domestic violence, and child abuse crimes are caused by alcoholics. While alcohol is frequently involved in these offenses, they are more commonly conducted by non-alcoholics, often after a bout of heavy drinking.

A strong family history of alcoholism puts you at an increased risk of alcoholism.

Alcoholic's drink frequently and often drink alone or secretively as a way of hiding their addiction. They cannot control how much they drink. They can easily find reasons to drink and make sure that alcohol is always close by. If they don’t have alcohol when they need a drink they may become angry.

How Big a Problem is Alcoholism?

The World Health Organization estimates that about 140 million people throughout the world suffer from alcohol dependence (alcoholism). Between 14.0 and 18.0 million adults in the United States are addicted to alcohol or have serious alcohol problems. In 2005, 2.5 million people in the US were treated for alcohol use. Almost three times as many men as women are problem drinkers.

Alcoholism reduces life expectancy by 10 to 12 years. Next to smoking and obesity, it is one of the most common preventable causes of death in America.

Diagnosis of Alcohol Abuse

It has been generally accepted that alcoholism often goes unrecognized in clinical or health care settings. Different studies show a low recognition of the disease among the medical profession. When combined with patient denial and negative social attitudes towards alcohol abuse it is not surprising that many cases go unidentified.

Alcohol Withdrawal

Just as the effects of alcohol can differ with different people so too the effects of alcohol vary and are often unpredictable. Most people will experience alcohol withdrawal symptoms depending on how dependent they have become on alcohol. On the mild to moderate side, symptoms might include getting the shakes, nausea, headache, vomiting, paleness, heart palpitations, and general anxiety.

Delirium Tremens (DT)

Delirium Tremens is the most severe form of ethanol (alcohol) withdrawal. It occurs when the BAC (blood alcohol content) in those with a history of chronic alcohol dependence falls below a certain level. These individuals have become chemically dependent on alcohol and the removal of alcohol from their system can lead to life-threatening symptoms. The condition is also known as DT’s, the shakes, rum fits and jitterbugs. Early symptoms can include, fever, extreme agitation, convulsions and seizures which may progress to classic DT symptoms including hallucinations, disorientation, hyperactivity, and extreme cardiovascular disturbances. Generally, the DTs occur after 48 to 72 hours of withdrawal from alcohol. The condition is considered life-threatening and a medical emergency requiring immediate attention. Delirium tremens occurs in 5% to 10% of all alcoholic individuals with a 5% mortality rate with treatment and 35% mortality rate without treatment.

Where to get help for an alcohol problem?

As a starting point of contact, The National Drug and Alcohol Treatment Referral Routing Service provides a toll-free telephone number, 1-800-662-HELP (4357), offering helpful information concerning substance abuse treatment and local substance abuse resources in your State.

For More Information

National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism - This site provides data on alcohol topics including: amounts and patterns of alcohol consumption, alcohol dependence or abuse, consequences of alcohol consumption, trends on per capita alcohol consumption, alcohol-related hospital discharges, liver cirrhosis mortality, and...Read More

Craig Ferguson speaks from the heart about his alcoholism and recovery.

Problem Drinking and Alcoholism: Diagnosis and Treatment. MARY-ANNE ENOCH, M.D., M.R.C.G.P., and DAVID GOLDMAN, M.D. National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, Bethesda,Maryland

The Hidden Epidemic of Very Young Alcoholics - Mary Brennan was only 10 years old when she downed her first vodka screwdriver. Her dad, who runs a dental-equipment company, was at work that afternoon...Read More