All major religions prohibit alcohol consumption and yet alcohol is used and consumed all over the world as a socially acceptable drink for socializing. Its use in cooking some recipes and in numerous medicines and perfumes is a common practice. Alcohol is the drug that causes alcoholism when improperly and regularly consumed in excess. It leads to health problems, work difficulties, and social and psychological problems leading to serious mental illness.
Ethyl alcohol (alcohol) is a depressant because it depresses the functions of the brain that control thinking and coordination. In high doses, it can cause drowsiness and sleep. It depresses the central nervous system by acting as a sedative. Alcohol is addictive since it can cause serious withdrawal systems. Alcohol intoxication is responsible for approximately half of the traffic fatalities around the world. When consumed in large quantities, alcohol can produce varied ill effects.
Excessive use of alcohol can cause fatigue, short-term memory loss, as well as weakness and paralysis of eye muscles. It can also have other severe health effects: liver disorders; gastrointestinal and cardiovascular problems; diabetic complications; sexual problems related to malfunction and menstruation; birth defects; neurological complications and increased risk of cancer. When alcohol is present from 50-150mg in 100ml of human blood, it causes a lack of coordination; 150-200mg produces intoxication; 300-400mg causes unconsciousness and the presence of 500mg or more may prove fatal.
Other complications of alcoholism and alcohol abuse may include:
- Domestic abuse and divorce.
- Poor performance at work or school.
- Increased likelihood of motor vehicle fatalities and arrest for drunken driving. Greater susceptibility to accidental injuries from other causes.
- Higher incidence of suicide and murder.
If heavy alcohol dependency continues over an extended period, the alcoholic may be able to contract diseases such as cirrhosis of the liver, pancreatitis, heart disease, hypertension and more. In addition, alcoholism causes severe biophysical reactions in the afflicted.
It is possible to have a problem with alcohol, but one may not display all the characteristics of alcoholism. This is known as ‘alcohol abuse,’ which means one may engage in excessive drinking that results in health or social problems, but then one is not dependent on alcohol and has not fully lost control over the use of alcohol. One may continue to abuse alcohol despite serious adverse health, personal, work-related and financial consequences.
Most alcoholics deny that they have a drinking problem. Other signs of alcoholism and alcohol abuse include:
- Drinking alone or in secret.
- Not remembering conversations or commitments – sometimes referred to as ‘blacking out’. Making a ritual of having drinks before, with or after dinner and becoming annoyed when this ritual is disturbed or questioned.
- Losing interest in activities and hobbies that bring pleasure. Feeling an urgent need to drink.
- Irritability as usual drinking time nears, especially if alcohol isn’t available. Keeping alcohol in unlikely places at home, at work or in the car.
- Gulping drinks, ordering doubles, becoming intoxicated intentionally to feel good or drinking to feel ‘normal’.
- Having legal problems or problems with relationships, employment or finances.
- Building up a tolerance to alcohol so that you need an increasing number of drinks to feel alcohol’s effects.
- Experiencing physical withdrawal symptoms, such as nausea, sweating and shaking, if you don’t drink.
People who abuse alcohol may experience many of the similar signs and symptoms as people who are dependent on alcohol. However, alcohol abusers don’t feel the same compulsion to drink and usually don’t experience physical withdrawal symptoms when they don’t drink. A dependence on alcohol also creates a tolerance to alcohol and the inability to control drinking.
Have you ever wondered if your alcohol consumption crosses the line of abuse or dependence, ask yourself these questions:
- Do you need a drink as soon as you get up? Do you feel guilty about your drinking?
- Do you think you need to cut back on your alcohol consumption?
- Are you annoyed when other people comment on or criticize your drinking habits?
If you answered ‘yes‘ to two or more questions, it is likely that you have a problem with alcohol. Even one ‘yes‘ answer may indicate a problem.
Alcohol addiction – physical dependence on alcohol – occurs gradually as drinking alcohol alters the balance of some chemicals in your brain, such as gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA), which inhibits impulsiveness and glutamate, which excites the nervous system. Alcohol also raises the levels of dopamine in the brain; long-term drinking can deplete or increase the levels of some of these chemicals, causing the body to crave alcohol to restore good feelings or to avoid negative feelings.
Other factors that can lead to excessive drinking that contribute to the addiction process include genetics, emotional, psychological, social and cultural factors.
Steady drinking over time can produce a physical dependence on alcohol. Drinking over 14 drinks a week for men or seven drinks a week for women increases the risk of developing dependence on alcohol. However, drinking by itself is just one of the risk factors that contribute to alcoholism. Other risk factors include age (below 14 years), genetics, family history (if parents abused alcohol) and emotional disorders with depression and anxiety.