by Kimberly Allen R.N.
Alcoholism and alcohol abuse are considered to be two separate conditions. Alcoholism is considered a disease with physical addiction to alcohol. This includes development of a tolerance to alcohol, which means that you need more and more to achieve the same effect. With tolerance comes withdrawal. With alcoholism you will have withdrawal symptoms if you go for a period of time without drinking.
Alcohol abuse is when your alcohol consumption causes problems but not a physical addiction. In alcohol abuse you do not develop a tolerance, it’s a choice to drink more and there are no symptoms of withdrawal if you stop drinking. Alcoholism and abuse are substance use disorders. Substance use/abuse disorders are a serious public health problem. Alcohol is the most common substance involved in abuse/addiction disorders. The World Health Organization estimates that there are at least 140 million people worldwide that suffer from alcohol dependence. They also estimate that at least 10-20% of men and 5-10% of women in the US and Western Europe will suffer from alcoholism at some point in their life. Alcoholism is more prevalent in men than women though the incidence of women suffering with alcoholism has been increasing in recent years. There is evidence that indicates 50-60% of diagnosed cases of alcoholism are genetically determined in both men and women with the remaining 40-50% being caused by environmental factors.Most people that develop alcoholism will develop it in adolescence or early adulthood. There is a widely varying consensus in the medical and scientific communities as to whether or not alcoholism is a disease state. The American Medical Association lists alcohol as a drug and defines alcoholism as a form of drug addiction and states that “drug addiction is a chronic, relapsing brain disease characterized by compulsive drug seeking and use despite often devastating consequences. It results from a complex inter play of biological vulnerability, environmental exposure and developmental factors”.
Alcoholism develops gradually over time. In alcohol addiction or alcoholism as you consume large amounts of alcohol it changes the chemical balance in your brain especially affecting those chemicals associated with pleasure. As the chemical balance in your b rain changes it causes your body to crave more and more alcohol to feel good.
People that would be at risk for developing and addiction to alcohol are those that begin drinking at a young age, those that drink too much too often for too long. If there is a family history of alcoholism your chances of of developing alcoholism is significantly higher. I have seen whole families where one parent, usually the father has a long history alcoholism and all the children also developed alcoholism. Another significant factor that increase your risk of developing either an addiction to alcohol or a problem with alcohol abuse is culture and social factors. I once lived in a very small town that had 10 bars in a 3 block area and the small town next to it had over 100 bars on a single street 1/4 mile long. The rate of alcoholism and alcohol abuse in that area was very high and with that came the social problems that are frequently associated with both alcohol addiction ad abuse like a high divorce rate, abuse, and violence.
In alcoholism like another addiction most people do not believe they have a problem so they rarely seek treatment without someone they care about intervening and pushing them to get help. There are numerous programs and treatments available to help people with alcohol problems but the first step is seeing your Dr and getting a complete physical to determine of you have developed any other health issues related to alcoholism as those will need to be treated also. The Dr will also determine if your body has become dependent on alcohol. If your body is not dependent treatment will usually consist of reducing your alcohol intake. Most people that are alcohol dependent will require some type of detoxification at an inpatient treatment center or hospital. The ultimate goal of any treatment plan has to be giving up alcohol completely.
Kimberly Allen is a registered nurse with an AND in nursing. She has worked in ACF, LCF and psychiatric facilities, although she spent most of her career as a home health expert. She is now a regular contributor to HealthAndFitnessTalk.com, dispensing advice and knowledge about medical issues and questions. You can reach her with any comments or questions at firstname.lastname@example.org.