Alcoholism, or alcohol addiction or dependency, means you’ve developed tolerance to the substance, experience withdrawal when it’s taken away, and you are unable to reduce its use of use it in moderation.
Alcoholism, just like any other substance addiction is a disease, not a weakness of character or the result of a lack of willpower. In fact, it is the third most common lifestyle-related cause of death in the United States. Some of the signs and symptoms of alcoholism include: drinking in risky situations, having trouble at work, school or with your family because of your drinking, experiencing blackouts and not being able to quit even though you’re aware of the consequences.
Even though alcohol is the most commonly addictive substance used in the United States, there are many facts about it you may still don’t know or be confused about. For example, have you ever asked yourself how long does alcohol stay in your system? Did you know alcohol abuse and alcohol addiction are different things?
If you think either you or a loved one may have an alcohol problem, or even just for common knowledge, it is important to learn the basics of alcoholism. To help you understand this disease better, here are 7 facts on alcoholism everyone should know.
1. Alcohol affects your brain
Alcohol affects your brain’s chemistry by altering the neurotransmitters, which are the chemicals your brain uses to communicate and control processes throughout the body. More specifically, alcohol suppresses the “excitatory” neurotransmitters -which should increase brain activity and energy- and increases “inhibitory” neurotransmitters -which reduces energy and calms you down-.
So, as a result, your thought, speech and movements are slowed down. In addition, alcohol also increases your brain’s dopamine levels, tricking you into thinking you’re actually feeling good.
2. Alcohol affects men and women differently
Men and women process alcohol differently due to several physiological factors. Even a man and a woman of almost the same height and weight will process the same amount of alcohol in a different way, because of physiological factors such as stomach enzymes, hormones, the ratio of muscle to fat, and water concentration in the body.
Studies show that women are more vulnerable to the adverse effects of alcohol than men, such as organ damage, accidents and trauma, and legal and interpersonal issues.
3. Alcohol abuse is not the same as alcoholism
The criteria for alcohol dependence and alcohol abuse are similar, but they are not the same. The main difference rests in the control you have over yourself and your drinking. When you’re abusing alcohol you may be neglecting responsibilities so you can drink, your drinking is probably attached to coping with emotions such as stress or sadness and you may be putting yourself in risky situations while drinking.
Nevertheless, you’re able to quit drinking at your wish, without professional help and don’t experience withdrawal. Alcoholism means you’re not able to quit on your own even if you’re aware of the consequences.
4. Alcoholism is progressive
Though alcohol abuse may not always lead to alcohol dependence, alcoholism is mostly preceded by abuse. You don’t become an alcoholic after having one drink; it takes time to build tolerance to the substance, in which you progressively lose control of your ability to decide when to stop drinking.
5. Alcoholism can trigger depression and anxiety (and vice versa)
Some people who suffer from anxiety and depression disorders often use alcohol as a way to unwind and relax given that alcohol has a sedative effect. However, this may be actually backfiring on them.
While alcohol can temporarily reduce symptoms of depression and anxiety, it can increase them a few hours after consumption, making the person want to drink again to alleviate these symptoms, thus creating a vicious cycle. Also, studies show that excessive alcohol consumption can “rewire” the brain, making a person more susceptible to developing mental illnesses such as depression and anxiety.
According to this addiction and dual diagnosis treatment center in Seattle having a mental and/or behavioral disorder along with substance abuse disorder is called a co-occuring disorder. Co-occurring disorders should be treated as well as addiction.
6. It has a genetic component
Between 50 and 60 percent of the chances of developing alcoholism are determined by genetics. However, this doesn’t mean that genes alone will preordain whether you become an alcoholic or not, it also has to do with features in the environment.
Research has shown that both drug and alcohol addiction run in families, which is due partially to the genetic component of addiction and the experience of witnessing substance abuse first hand.
7. Recovery from alcoholism is possible
Nowadays there is a wide variety of treatment and support options for alcoholics that make recovery from this disease an attainable goal. Some of the most popular methods include: support groups, 12 steps programs, inpatient and outpatient rehab programs and detoxification. Depending on the severity of the disease, choosing the right kind of help is essential to properly recover and make the process easier and more comfortable.
Now that you know these facts on alcoholism you may be able to understand better how this disease works. Hopefully this article has clarified some doubts you may have had about alcoholism and dismantled stereotypes about it, helping you get some perspective. Remember, if you or a loved one shows signs of alcoholism or alcohol abuse, you should reach out for help.
Do you know any more facts about alcoholism? If you have any questions or suggestions, please leave a comment below.
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