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Alcoholism is also known as alcohol dependence and alcohol use disorder. It occurs when you drink so much that your body eventually becomes dependent on or addicted to alcohol. When this happens, alcohol becomes the most important thing in your life.
People with alcohol dependence will continue to drink even when drinking causes negative consequences, like losing a job. They may know that their alcohol use negatively affects their lives, but it’s often not enough to make them stop drinking.
Some people may drink alcohol to the point that it causes problems, but they’re not physically dependent on alcohol. This is sometimes referred to as alcohol abuse.
The cause of alcoholism is still unknown. Alcohol dependency develops when you drink so much that chemical changes in the brain occur. These changes increase the pleasurable feelings you get when you drink alcohol, which makes you want to drink more often, even if it causes harm. Alcoholism typically develops gradually over time, and it’s also known to run in families.
Although the exact cause of alcoholism is unknown, there are certain factors that may increase your risk for developing this disease.
Known risk factors for alcoholism include having:
You may also be at a greater risk for alcoholism if you:
Symptoms of alcoholism are based on the behaviors and physical outcomes that occur as a result of alcohol addiction.
People with alcohol use disorder may engage in the following behaviors:
People with alcoholism may also experience the following physical symptoms:
Sometimes it can be hard to draw the line between safe alcohol use and alcohol abuse or dependence. The Mayo Clinic suggests that you may have a problem with alcohol if you answer “yes” to some of the following questions:
The National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence and the Partnership at Drugfree.org offer more comprehensive self-tests. These tests can help you assess whether you have a problem with alcohol.
Your doctor or healthcare provider can diagnose alcoholism. They will do a physical exam and ask you questions about your drinking habits.
Your doctor may ask if you:
Your doctor may also use a questionnaire that assesses alcoholism to diagnose your condition.
Typically, a diagnosis of alcoholism does not require any other type of diagnostic test. There is a chance your doctor may order blood work to check your liver function if you show signs or symptoms of liver disease. Alcohol abuse can cause serious and lasting damage to your liver. Your liver is responsible for removing toxins from your blood. When you drink too much, your liver has a harder time filtering the alcohol and other toxins from your bloodstream. This can lead to liver disease and other complications.
Treatment for alcoholism varies, but each method is meant to help you stop drinking altogether (abstinence). Treatment may occur in stages and can include the following:
There are a couple of different medications that may help with alcohol addiction:
You may need to seek treatment at an inpatient facility if your addiction to alcohol is severe. These facilities will provide you with 24-hour care as you withdraw from alcohol and recover from your addiction. Once you’re well enough to leave, you’ll need to continue to receive treatment on an outpatient basis.
Recovering from alcoholism is difficult. Your prognosis will depend on your ability to stop drinking. Many people who seek treatment for alcoholism are able to overcome addiction. A strong support system is helpful for making a complete recovery.
Your outlook will also depend on the health complications that have developed as a result of your drinking. Alcoholism can severely damage your liver. It can also lead to other health complications, including:
You can prevent alcoholism by limiting your alcohol intake. According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, women should not drink more than one drink per day, and men should not drink more than two drinks per day. See your doctor if you begin to engage in behaviors that are signs of alcoholism or if you think that you may have a problem with alcohol. You should also consider attending a local AA meeting or participating in a self-help program such as Women for Sobriety.
Written by: Darla Burke
Published on: Jul 11, 2012
Medically reviewed on: Nov 25, 2015: [Ljava.lang.Object;@7a8ee3a0
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