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Article Summary

Alcohol Addiction and Treatment

Alcohol addiction or alcoholism has several definitions. The definitions may even be conflicting. Historically, alcoholism refers to any condition which results in the continued consumption of alcohol despite recurrent negative outcomes. Medical communities describe alcoholism as a physiological disorder which causes difficulty in controlling alcohol consumption. Another definition states that alcoholics may not be able to perceive the negative effects of their alcohol consumption and therefore continue with their behavior including a compulsion or preoccupation with alcohol. Though the ingestion of alcohol is essential to develop alcoholism, drinking will not necessarily precede addiction. The amount of alcohol and the frequency with which alcohol is consumed changes for each person. Additionally, there are biological components to alcoholism.

Does genetic predisposition have a role in alcoholism?

There is at least one genetic test for an allele that is associated to alcoholism and opiate addiction. Though this allele is more common in individuals with alcohol addiction, there is no conclusive evidence that the presence of this gene is necessary for alcohol addiction. Some researchers argue that the evidence for such alleles is contradictory.

There is a theory that alcohol was discovered and utilized as a replacement for polluted drinking reservoirs in urban society. In this case, death from liver disease was preferred to death by waterborne disease. Over time, this resulted in a selection process of genes that were able to handle more alcohol. Essentially the population changed from being a predominately hunter-gatherer society to more urban. This theory explains why certain groups like Aborigines or Native Americans have a higher alcohol tolerance.

What are the effects of alcohol addiction?

The effects of alcohol addiction range across all aspects of the individuals life. The main effect is the individual drinking alcohol in overabundance at times that they should not thereby causing damage to themselves and possibly others. Some of the potential effects of alcohol addiction include but are not limited to the following:

Physical effects: cirrhosis of the liver, pancreatitis, alcoholic dementia, heart disease, nutritional deficiencies, sexual dysfunction, and death from many sources.

Social effects: Marital conflict and divorce, social alienation because of behavior.

Economic Effects: loss of employment, financial problems such as loss of living quarters, poor judgment,

Legal Consequences: charges for drunk driving or public disorder. There is also the possibility of domestic violence either to spouse or children.

Emotional Consequences: alcohol abuse can effect the individual drinking as well as the recipients of probable abuse. For instance, an alcoholic's children can experience delays or damage to their emotional development. Friends and family who perceive alcoholism as self inflicted may loose respect for the alcoholic further diminishing his or her social support network.

Is it difficult to withdraw from alcohol use?

Alcohol withdrawal is different from other drugs in that discontinuing use can be fatal. This manifests in the following symptoms: delirium tremens which includes: hallucinations, shakes, convulsions, seizures, and possible heart failure For this reason, withdrawal issues should be controlled by supervised detox.

Alcohol Treatment

Depending on what school of thought is utilized, alcohol treatment may be approached from different angles. Essentially, cessation of alcohol use includes: detoxification, and treatment. Treatment includes managing physical symptoms and behavioral changes which may be attained by therapeutic treatments ranging from psychotherapy to medications. Some of the medications utilized are: Antabuse which when alcohol is ingest results in an adverse reaction on the part of the drinker. Natltrexone is also utilized and works by decreasing physical cravings of alcohol. Life training and social support are usually needed to help individuals continue sobriety. The most popular example of social support for alcoholics is Alcoholics Anonymous.

Does Alcohol, Treatment Work?

This depends on the program, if the program is completed and the commitment the individual has to recovery. This is not to say that other factors don't also come into play. Whether the addict has social support and is aware of what resources are available also determines how effective treatment is as well as the possibility of long term sobriety. According to data collected by the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, about a third of alcoholics are sober a year after treatment. An additional forty percent are doing better but still drink and a quarter has relapsed. For this reason, there is no equation that can determine whether or not treatment will work. Each case is a different person and must be approached as a separate case. This means that treatment plans for alcohol treatment should be tailored to the individual in order to procure the best outcome.

After Treatment

Alcoholism can be a lifelong struggle. Though behaviors are changed, relapse is always a possibility and often occurs. Relapse does not mean an individual is doomed to alcoholism. There are some professionals that hold that relapse is just part of the learning process. Something individuals have to go through to attain full abstinence. In addition to cessation of drinking, long term use of B12 and folate is suggested to treat the effects of chronic alcohol use on the liver. Insulin resistance can also occur as a result of the use of alcohol. There are many other complications that can occur. These are all factors that healthcare professionals must consider when treating the alcoholic. These are also factors alcoholics must consider when continuing this damaging habit.

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2. Nurnberger, Jr., John I., and Bierut, Laura Jean. "Seeking the Connections: Alcoholism and our Genes." Scientific American, Apr2007, Vol. 296, Issue 4.
3. New York Daily News (William Sherman) Test targets addiction gene 11 February 2006
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