Alcohol addiction (alcoholism) is a condition that people tend to misunderstand. Most people believe that an alcoholic is someone who must drink to function. When a person hears the term “alcoholic” they think of a person who drinks every day or night to the point of excess.
While people who need to drink to function and drink to the point of excess are considered alcoholics, these are not factors that must exist for a person to be considered an alcoholic.
An alcoholic is someone who is addicted to alcohol. This addiction can manifest at varying degrees. Some alcoholics can even go weeks or months without drinking anything.
According to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Health Disorders (DSM-5), a person can be diagnosed with alcohol use disorder if they show signs of alcoholism. Diagnosis depends on a scale of severity. Alcoholism was previously was referred to as either alcohol abuse or alcohol dependence.
A diagnosis of alcohol use disorder depends on the fundamental question:
Are the affected person’s areas of functioning and quality of life significantly and negatively impacted by their drinking?
Symptoms of Alcoholism
There are several symptoms that an alcoholic may exhibit. The symptoms that an alcoholic exhibit depend on their own circumstances and substance use patterns.
An alcoholic may exhibit any or all of the following symptoms:
- Drinking alcohol in excess in social situations
- Drinking to reach the point of intoxication
- Drinking to cope with other emotional issues for a period of at least 6 months
- Needing to be under the influence of alcohol to carry out daily activities
- Drinking to the point of blacking out or losing consciousness
- Having relationship issues as a result of drinking
- Having legal issues as a result of drinking
- Drinking in excess despite knowing the consequences
- Experiencing withdrawal symptoms
- Delirium tremens (severe shaking or experiencing hallucinations as a result of alcohol use)
- Having intense cravings and triggers for drinking
- Struggling to stop drinking after 1 or 2 drinks
- Vomiting or becoming physically ill while drinking or the morning after drinking
- Drinking longer or more than you intended to drink
- Neglecting personal interests, responsibilities or activities, so you can drink
- Having at least 1 unsuccessful attempt to stop drinking or cut back on amount or frequency of drinking
Causes and Risk Factors of Alcoholism
There are several factors that contribute to a person developing alcohol addiction. The central cause of alcoholism is the use of alcohol to serve a purpose, to the point where it is a health risk.
A person will become both physically and psychologically addicted. Physical addiction occurs when the body becomes physically addicted to alcohol. This causes withdrawal, cravings, and a decline in motor skills. Psychological addiction is the need for alcohol to cope with emotions, like stress, excitement, anxiety and depressed mood.
There are several risk factors that will predispose a person to developing alcoholism. These factors create an increased rick for alcoholism.
Such factors include:
- Poor stress management skills
- Peer pressure
- Mental health conditions
- Substance abuse or addiction to other substances
Treatment for Alcoholism
The goal of treatment for alcoholism is abstinence from all substances. Once a person reaches the point of addiction any alcohol use or drug use becomes problematic for their overall health. Complete sobriety is ideal for people who suffer from alcoholism and addiction.
Typically, a person will need extensive treatment for recovery. Most people will be in treatment for years and may require a number of different forms of treatment, including:
- Residential treatment
- Intensive outpatient treatment
- Outpatient treatment
- Group therapy
- Family therapy
- Community support programs
- Alcoholics Anonymous meetings
A person is never considered “cured” from alcoholism. Like all mental health disorders, recovery from alcoholism requires lifetime commitment and diligence.