Alcoholism, now known as alcohol use disorder, is a condition in which a person has a desire or physical need to consume alcohol, even though it has a negative impact on their life.In the past, a person with this condition was referred to as an "alcoholic." However, this is increasingly seen as an unhelpful and negative label. Health professionals now say that a person has an alcohol use disorder (AUD).
According to the National Institute of Health (NIH), in 2015, 15.1 million American adults (6.2 percent of the population) had an alcohol use problem.
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), globally, 3.3 million deaths every year result from the harmful use of alcohol.
DefinitionAlcohol abuse disorder refers to a long-term addiction to alcohol.The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) describes alcohol use disorder as "problem drinking that becomes severe."
A person with this condition does not know when or how to stop drinking. They spend a lot of time thinking about alcohol, and they cannot control how much they consume, even if it is causing serious problems at home, work, and financially.
Alcohol abuse can be used to talk about excessive or inappropriate consumption of alcohol, but not necessarily dependence.
Moderate alcohol consumption does not generally cause any psychological or physical harm. However, if who enjoy social drinking increase their consumption or regularly consume more than is recommended, AUD may eventually develop.
SymptomsA person who drinks excessive amounts of alcohol will often not be the first person to realize that this is so.
Some signs and symptoms of AUD include:
Alcohol consumption becomes a problem when it takes precedence over all other activities. Dependence can take several years to develop.
The problems linked to alcohol dependence are extensive. The effects can be physical, psychological, and social.
CausesCauses and risk factors include peer pressure, drinking from a young age, and depression.Alcohol dependence can take from a few years to several decades to develop. For some people who are particularly vulnerable, it can happen within months.
Over time, regular alcohol consumption can disrupt the balance of:
Dopamine levels in the brain rise after consuming alcohol. Dopamine levels may make the drinking experience more gratifying.
Over the long- or medium-term, excessive drinking can significantly alter the levels of these brain chemicals. This causes the body to crave alcohol in order to feel good and avoid feeling bad.
Possible risk factorsSome risk factors may also be linked to excessive drinking.
The criteria include having a pattern of consumption that leads to considerable impairment or distress.
At least three of the following criteria should have been present during the past 12 months:
Some signs and symptoms of alcohol abuse may be due to another condition. Ageing can lead to memory problems and falls, for example.
A person may go to the doctor about a medical condition, such as a digestive problem, and not mention how much alcohol they consume. This can make it difficult for a doctor to identify who might benefit from alcohol dependency screening.
If a health worker suspect alcohol may be a problem, they may ask a series of questions. If the patient answers in a certain way, the doctor may then use a standardized questionnaire to find out more.
Tests for alcoholismBlood tests can only reveal very recent alcohol consumption. They cannot tell whether a person has been drinking heavily for a long time.
If a blood test reveals that the red blood cells have increased in size, it could be an indication of long-term alcohol abuse.
Carbohydrate-deficient transferrin (CDT) is a blood test that helps detect heavy alcohol consumption.
Other tests can indicate whether there is damage to the liver, or — in males — reduced testosterone levels. Both of these might indicate chronic alcohol consumption.
However, screening with an appropriate questionnaire is seen as an effective means of reaching an accurate diagnosis.
Many people who consume unhealthy amounts of alcohol deny that alcohol poses a problem for them. They may tend to minimize the extent of their drinking.
Talking to family members may help the doctor understand the situation, but they will need permission to do this.
ComplicationsComplications of this condition may include memory loss, confusion, mental health issues, and problems with work or home life.Drinking alcohol usually elevates a person's mood at first.
However, a person who has been consuming unhealthy amounts of alcohol for a long time is likely to become sedated when they drink.
This is because alcohol depresses the nervous system.
Alcohol may undermine a person's judgment. It can lower inhibitions and alter the drinker's thoughts, emotions, and general behavior.
Heavy regular drinking can seriously affect a person's ability to coordinate their muscles and speak properly.
Heavy binge drinking could lead to a coma.
Eventually, regular heavy drinking may cause at least one of the following problems: