Alcohol Addiction: What is Alcoholism?

Alcoholism, also known as alcohol addiction or alcohol dependency, is both a physical and mental illness which causes people to drink alcohol in spite of negative repercussions. It impacts thousands of people in the UK each year, and millions more around the globe. Luckily, it can be treated and managed with a programme of detox and rehabilitation.

Alcohol abuse and dependency

The UK Government’s standards on alcohol consumption state that no more than fourteen units of alcohol should be consumed by adults every week. This implies that drinking too much too quickly (binge drinking) can be considered abuse.

This suggests it is possible to be dependent on alcohol without actually having an addiction. When alcohol dependency develops, your body will start to crave alcohol when its effects diminish. You might begin to notice withdrawal symptoms and will drink more than you needed to drink previously, in order to feel an effect. This is because you have built up a tolerance.

When alcohol addiction begins to form, it’s likely you would have developed a deep physical and psychological need for alcohol. Despite knowing that alcohol is causing you harm, you will find it difficult to stop and find reasons to continue.

The effects of alcohol abuse on the body

The results of alcoholic abuse are destructive to physical and mental health and can lead to several health problems. Alcohol abuse can cause difficulty sleeping, and your quality of sleep may be poor. This will lead to you feeling exhausted and unproductive. If you are getting most of your calories from alcohol, you are unlikely to be getting the nutrients your body requirements, which could lead to deficiencies and fatigue.

As alcohol abuse progresses from dependency to addiction, your need for alcohol will become overwhelming. You might start to invest more and more of your time drinking or thinking about drinking, leaving little time for anyone or anything else. This can impact your ability to take care of tasks at home and work, and can have a negative effect on your relationships with relatives, friends and colleagues.

As holds true with all addictions, you will find that your financial resources will start to suffer. Spending an increasing amount of money funding your addition, combined with any negative influence on work performance, will affect your income and lead you into financial trouble.

Acknowledging an alcohol problem

It can be hard to recognise the start of a drinking issue, as drinking routines can start off subtle enough to go unnoticed until a family member or friend mentions modifications in your behaviour or character.

Although many alcohol addiction patients share things in common, their relationships with alcohol may initially seem to be nothing alike. This can make it hard for individuals to identify themselves as alcohol dependent, even if their drinking has a destructive result on their relationships, health and interests.

Although alcohol dependency is available in numerous guises, the chemistry at the heart of it is the same for everyone. When troublesome drinking routines continue over a period of time, it leads to long-term electrical changes in the brain, which triggers the compulsive attitude towards alcohol that characterises alcoholism. The brain is ultimately being pirated by chemicals, which guide the mind’s attention towards finding and taking in more alcohol.

Alcohol dependency is not a failure of will or lack of self-control, as was thought for many years. Nevertheless, development in science over the last few decades has actually revealed to us that alcoholism is rooted in both biology and behaviour, making it a ‘bio-behavioural disorder’. Biology and behaviour are two sides of the same coin, and alcohol dependency cannot be treated by simply concentrating on one side alone.

Signs and symptoms of alcoholism

Here are some drinking patterns that might indicate a drinking issue:

  • Regularly drinking in the day time
  • Drinking large quantities in social situations
  • Blacking out (drinking so much that you have no memory of what you did the next day)
  • Drinking routinely to unwind or feel better
  • Drinking prior to stressful occasions

Possible side-effects of alcohol dependency:

  • Absence of or increased appetite, leading to weight-loss or gain
  • Increased tolerance to alcohol (increasingly more alcohol needs to be consumed to feel an effect)
  • Blood vessels appear on the skin, looking like small red spider-webs. These are called spider angiomas
  • Swelling or soreness on palms of the hands
  • Soreness of the face, specifically the eyes and nose
  • Aching or upset stomach that doesn’t disappear; this might be accompanied by heartburn
  • Repeated infections and skin sores
  • Feeling clammy and sweating for no reason
  • Feeling numb and tingling in the hands and feet
  • Feeling unstable on the feet
  • Stress
  • Anxiety

What are the causes of alcohol addiction?

Alcoholism can creep up on you, working its method into your life almost undetected; by the time it is recognised, the initial catalysts might seem irrelevant. Although there are various components that can lead to alcohol dependency, there are common aspects shared by almost all alcoholics, and it is worthwhile considering them, as comprehension paves the way for healing.

Genetics

A large body of scientific evidence has revealed in recent years that addiction can run in households. In fact, children of alcohol-addicted parents are four times more likely to develop alcoholism in later life than those born to parents without alcoholism. How this works is complicated, and there is no ‘alcohol gene’ to inherit; there a number of hereditary variations, which mean some people are more inclined to alcoholism than others.

Environment

Genetics make up about 50% of the threat of alcoholism, but they by no means tell the whole story. Genetic history is tough to identify, but if parents are regular heavy drinkers, or they drink to decrease tension and anxiety, it is likely that their children will grow up thinking that these behaviours are normal and safe. However, ecological impact does not come just from the home; peer pressure from friends, colleagues and partners can also motivate new and tough patterns of drinking which can cause dependency or co-dependency.

Stress and difficult life events

For some, dependency follows an extended duration of difficulty in their life. Drinking might appear to be a great coping mechanism in these scenarios, and they will begin with a ‘stop-gap’, just to tide them over until conditions enhance. Nevertheless, as drinking begins to impact relationships and work, and hangovers exacerbate the very stress the drinking sought to avoid, the troubles can increase, encouraging yet more drinking and resulting in a vicious cycle.

Mental disorders

People who are alcohol dependent have greater rates of psychiatric conditions than the rest of the population, including depression, stress and anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder and psychosis. For these individuals, alcohol might be a ‘Do It Yourself’ solution to their condition which, at first, might keep the symptoms under control. Nevertheless, in time, these issues will only heighten as a result of alcohol abuse.

Stages of Alcoholism

Alcoholism is not something that occurs overnight. It is a process that includes five different stages.

Stage 1

The first stage is occasional use or binge drinking. This typically involves experimentation. If you like the taste of alcohol or how it makes you feel, you might choose to drink again. At this stage, you can still control your drinking, even if you do consume more than the advised weekly amount. You may believe that periodic binge drinking is harmless, but the reality is that it can have a negative impact on your health and put you at risk of alcohol poisoning. Furthermore, if you continue to binge drink regularly, it can cause a larger problem.

Stage 2

After occasional usage comes alcohol abuse. This stage includes regular consumption of alcohol and you may be regularly drinking more than the recommended amount. You may start consuming alcohol to make you feel better. You might be utilizing it to boost your self-confidence or to alleviate feelings of stress or anxiety. This can lead to a cycle of abuse and a psychological accessory to alcohol.

Stage 3

At this stage, you will have established a problem with alcohol and will be drinking out of habit rather than choice. Your use may begin to have an influence on other elements of your life and you might observe problems with your moods and sleeping patterns. Nonetheless, you are likely still at the stage where you are enjoying alcohol and believe that it is making your life better.

Stage 4

Alcoholism soon progresses to physical dependency. At this stage, you have probably developed a tolerance to alcohol and require more of it to feel the same level of satisfaction than you did previously. This increase can cause your body to get used to alcohol. When you are not utilising it, or the impacts begin to subside, you will experience physical withdrawal symptoms such as a quick heartbeat, sweating, trembling and nausea.

Stage 5

After physical dependency comes addiction. At this stage, you are drinking because you have a physical and psychological need to do so, not for pleasure. You will long for alcohol and it will be interfering with your ability to enjoy life. It is likely to be having an unfavourable effect on your relationships, health and financial resources. Even understanding the damage that it is triggering will not give you the ability to stop.

Alcohol and other drugs

Alcohol is frequently mixed with other controlled substances, which can have major ramifications for your health. In extreme cases, mixing two chemical compounds can have fatal effects. For example, when mixing alcohol with a stimulant drug such as cocaine or amphetamine, the two substances will battle against each other. As one has a sedative impact and the other is a stimulant, the result is a substantial quantity of pressure on the brain and central nerve system.

Mental health and alcoholism (dual diagnosis)

Alcohol abuse interferes with the balance of chemicals in the brain and it is this that is accountable for the alterations in ideas, feelings and behaviour that often arises from alcohol usage.

It is for this reason that alcoholic abuse is strongly linked to mental health disorders, such as stress, anxiety and depression. However, while many individuals drink alcohol to relieve symptoms of these mental health issues, the relief will only be temporary.

The reality is that long term use of alcohol can actually worsen symptoms. When the impacts of alcohol diminish, the feelings of anxiety and depression tend to get worse. This results in more alcohol being consumed in a bid to self-medicate, therefore starting a cycle of abuse.

Alcohol is also linked to self-harm, psychosis, and suicide, and because it can impair judgement and cause negligent, compulsive behaviour, many individuals who take their own lives do so while under the influence of alcohol.

The broader impact of alcoholism on society

Even if you understand the damage that heavy drinking does to the body, you may believe that you would never let it get to that stage because you would ensure to stop before that happens. Yet, the reality is that drinking causes harm to the body long before you can see the impacts – and the most severe effects may not be that far off. The negative health effects of drinking can be seen in the NHS finances, which show that alcohol intake is accountable for over 10% of the cost of healthcare in Britain.

In addition, dependent drinkers frequently talk of how their drinking is an individual option, thinking that it just impacts only them. However, the consequences of alcoholism go far further than the dependent drinker, and can ripple through families, relationships and strangers.

Alcohol addiction treatment and rehab in London

The concept that alcohol treatment is only required when you reach rock-bottom is far from reality. It is time to gain access to treatment for your alcohol addiction as soon as you realise you have an issue. It might take you longer to get to this point than another person, but once you acknowledge that your alcohol intake is no longer something you have control over, it is time to seek help.

Alcoholism treatment normally includes a detox, followed by rehab. Rehab programmes occur in either an inpatient or outpatient clinic, depending on your requirements and situations. How extreme your illness is, the length of time you have been addicted, and your personal circumstance will all play a role in which kind of programme you choose.

Addiction treatment services in the UK are offered by different organisations consisting of the NHS, charities, regional support groups and private clinics. While the NHS, charities, and regional support systems tend to offer free outpatient programmes, private centres are the only option which offer inpatient treatment.

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