Alcohol addiction is an illness marked by frequent consumption of large amounts of alcohol until the point of physical and psychological dependence. The term “addiction” means “to be bound to another” but the modern understanding is that the individual is not completely free in his choices.
According to this view, the alcohol addict drinks not because he is stubborn or bad, but because he just cannot help doing differently. It is hard to say why some people cannot control their drinking and the cause of alcohol addiction has not been yet unanimously accepted by all researchers.
There is a difference between alcohol abuse and addiction. An abuser is more of a problem drinker, causing legal problems, while an addict experiences tolerance (a need for markedly increased amounts of alcohol to achieve intoxication or the desired effect), and withdrawal symptoms when alcohol is interrupted.
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The symptoms of alcoholism vary from person to person, depending on the level of his addiction. It is not always easy to recognize an alcoholic, since most of them develop tolerance to alcohol and therefore the signs of intoxication are not obvious. They also hide and deny they have a drinking problem, which makes their addiction go disguised and unrecognized by family and friends. The severe forms of addiction can be recognized by the following symptoms:
- Tolerance – the need to drink big quantities in order to achieve intoxication and to feel the effects of alcohol;
- Craving – a strong need to drink, drinking early in the morning;
- Loss of control – drinking big quantities of alcohol and for longer times, without being able to stop or reduce it;
- Withdrawal syndrome – when consumption of alcohol is stopped (agitation, tremors, etc)
- Solitary drinking or with other alcoholics, regardless of their social status, believing that only those people really understand them;
- Nausea and vomiting;
- Tremors in the morning before drinking;
- Irritation of gastrointestinal tract with erosion of esophagus and stomach, which can cause internal bleeding.
- Personality changes, anti-social behavior, hostility when confronting with evidence;
- Deprivation of family and social life;
- Finding alibis and excuses associated with feeling guilty; the addict comes up with excuses related to his partners, jobs, trying to justifying drinking in his own eyes;
- Persistent desire or unsuccessful efforts to cut down or control drinking which makes them feel guilty, powerless and depressed; they try to overcome this by drinking even more;
- A great deal of time is spent to obtain alcohol, drink alcohol, or recover from its effects.
Causes of addiction
It is hard to determine the exact causality of addiction. There are numerous theories which try to explain the phenomenon stressing either the biological factors, or psychological, environmental, etc.
Genetic theories say that the risk of developing alcoholism does run in families. This fact sustains the importance of hereditary transmission but an actual gene of addiction has not really been identified. Studies show that for adopted children coming from alcohol-dependent biological parents, there is a big risk of becoming alcohol dependent. In contrast, if the adoptive parents were alcohol-dependent, the risk of alcoholism is very small. In general, if one biological parent is alcoholic, the likelihood of a child becoming dependent increases nearly three times. If both parents are alcoholic, the likelihood of alcohol dependence increases about five times.
Biological theories pay attention to the differences of brain electrical activity. The brain of an alcoholic undergoes a different activity then a brain of non-alcoholic. Such differences may provide evidence that alcohol does not affect the brains of alcoholics in the same way it affects nonalcoholic. Because of the way their brains respond, problem drinkers may develop an unusually strong desire for alcohol’s effects.
The psychoanalytical theory suggests that children who are fixated at the oral stage are more likely to abuse alcohol later in life. Even if correlations exist between alcohol abuse and dependent personalities, it is not clear which is the cause and which is the effect. In summary, there is little evidence to support the oral fixation theory.
Tension reduction is another important theory for alcohol abuse in that alcohol drinking is reinforced because alcohol reduces tension. People learn to drink to avoid stress. Indeed, alcohol dependence and anxiety symptoms often coexist. Many anxious patients say that drinking alcohol helps them reduce anxiety.
Human learned behavior theory sustains that drinking patterns are learned during childhood from parents or other models. The children coming from families with a drinking history have more risks to copy this model and develop problems.
There is no single cause of alcohol dependence but rather a complex interaction between forces such as, genetic characteristics, life experiences and availability, the influence of family, society, and inadequate coping mechanisms. These are all implicated in alcohol dependence.
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