Alcoholism is a broad term used for most types of problem drinking, including alcohol dependence and severe binge drinking. To receive a diagnosis for alcoholism, a person must present two or more of the following symptoms: drinks large amounts of alcohol for a prolonged period of time, strongly desires alcohol, withdrawal occurs when stopping, has trouble cutting back, a large amount of time is spent seeking out and drinking alcohol, drinking results in not fulfilling responsibilities, drinking results in social problems, drinking results in health problems, drinking results in risky situations, and alcohol tolerance has occurred with use.
Excessive use of alcohol can severely damage one’s body, particularly the brain, heart, liver, pancreas and immune system. Long term misuse can result in an increased risk of cancer and mental health disorders, such as anxiety, panic disorder, major depressive disorder, cognitive problems and dementia. Up to 25 percent of alcoholics are suffering from a psychiatric disorder. Approximately 10 percent of all dementia cases are related to alcohol consumption.
Withdrawal from alcohol dependence can be extremely dangerous, and even fatal, if not handled properly. With long term usage, an alcoholic’s GABA receptors are desensitized and reduced in number, resulting in tolerance and physical dependence. When a person suddenly stops drinking, his nervous system experiences uncontrolled synapse firing which can result in anxiety, shaking, seizures, delirium tremens, hallucinations or even heart failure.
A person’s risk for becoming an alcoholic is based on both environmental and hereditary factors. One study found that alcohol use at an early age may influence the expression of genes which increase the risk of alcohol dependence. However, those with a genetic disposition to alcoholism are also more likely to begin drinking at an earlier age than the average person. Alcoholism tends to run in families.
Example: Blake began drinking in his early twenties to ease his social anxiety. This self-medicating with alcohol seemed to work at first, and so he continued drinking until it became a daily habit. By his late-twenties, he was physically dependent and experienced terrible withdrawal symptoms when he tried to quit.