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Article Summary

Alcohol Addiction- An Overview

A glass of scotch with friends, a beer after a stressful day at work, a cocktail to enjoy a pleasant evening- all these alcohol beverages are common in many family and social gatherings. However, alcohol can be dangerous if the person is unable to refrain from it without getting withdrawal symptoms. Alcohol addiction is a serious problem that affects almost 18 million people in the United States.

Addiction does not happen overnight. Rather, people who become dependent on alcohol are gradually introduced and desensitized over a period of time. Just like other addictions, the person develops dependency on alcohol in order to live. Let us find out more about alcohol dependence.

About alcohol addiction:

Alcohol addiction is defined as a compulsive need or desire for an intoxicating liquid (any of the alcohol beverages). It is a slow, chronic condition in which person gets a severe craving for alcohol, and it becomes difficult for him/her to stop drinking. It is necessary to understand that there exists a very thin line between alcohol abuse and alcohol addiction, although both of them are quite interrelated. Addiction is the compulsive desire to drink alcohol, whereas alcohol abuse is a condition where drinking starts causing various physical, emotional and social problems.

As alcohol is one of the most socially acceptable addiction beverages, it is easier to develop an alcohol addiction. For this reason, it has been referred to as 'the most dangerous drug'.

Why is alcohol addictive?

According to studies, alcohol promotes the release of-

  • Endorphins- natural painkillers
  • Dopamine- chemical responsible for feelings of pleasure and satisfaction

The main reason of alcohol addiction is the release of these two chemicals, which give you a 'high' feeling.

Alcohol also slows down the release of glutamate and GABA- chemicals controlling the transmission between brain and nerves. GABA is a nature's calming neurotransmitter that provides a wide range of health benefits. Decreased amounts of GABA and glutamate affect the normal functioning of brain.

What are the factors contributing to alcohol dependence?

Usually there are several different factors that contribute to developing an addiction for alcohol. Alcohol abuse or addiction can be seen in generations. If parents are alcohol dependent, their children are 4 times more likely to develop this addiction. Traumatic and painful experiences in one's life can also worsen the condition of alcoholism. Other factors that may influence alcohol dependence include culture, genes, psychiatric disorder, family, friends and peer pressure. Majority of cases of teenage alcoholism start due to influence of peers. It is also affected by genetics (having one or both parents alcoholic), depression, lack of parental support and physical or mental abuse.

What are the symptoms of alcohol addiction?

Signs and symptoms of addiction for alcohol may vary from person to person. Several factors such as weight of the addict, amount ingestion, alcohol tolerance and the duration of drinking may affect the signs of alcohol dependence.

The below mentioned signs indicate that a person's body has become accustomed to having alcohol in it-

The person starts drinking more alcohol than he or she used to. This is because his/her body has developed a tolerance to the effects of alcohol, and in order to get the same "High" effects, the person (addict) starts increasing the quantity of alcohol intake.

The person starts getting withdrawal symptoms when there is no alcohol in the body. Just remember, hangover and withdrawal are two different terms. Withdrawal symptoms start getting worse during the day if the person tries to go all day without drinking and go away when the person drinks again.

Physical symptoms of alcohol addiction-

Hand tremors, sweating, visual disturbances like blurred vision or sensitivity to bright light, slurred speech, frequent urination, nausea and vomiting, blackouts (the person does not remember what happened during drinking).

Other signs include loss of weight, redness of face, numbness or tingling in the lower limbs, unsteady gait, less interest in sex, loss of appetite, and liver problems.

Psychological symptoms of alcohol addiction-

An untreated alcoholism can initiate negative psychological impact. Alcohol addiction can lead to disturbed memory and learning function, mood swings, anxiety, irritability, restlessness and insomnia. Severely dependent drinkers may experience strong withdrawal symptoms such as personality changes.

Alcohol addiction is not something to be taken lightly. The above information can help you assess whether an alcohol problem exists.

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