Alcoholism means compulsive drinking taking precedence over other activities, with withdrawal effects if alcohol is unavailable.
Causes of Alcoholism
Alcohol is really a brain sedative: the pleasure comes from a mild degree of sedation of the brain, the pain comes from oversedation. A small amount of alcohol just slightly inhibits the brain’s higher functions – thought, emotion and social inhibition. The shy become more extrovert, the anxious relax, the tongue-tied find unexpected eloquence.
With more drink the brain becomes more sedated, releasing controls on behaviour on which we can usually rely. We take a sharp comment as an insult: we stop noticing social cues such as the expression that says ‘OK, stop there’; but we still imagine we arc in control. As drinking continues muscle control becomes poor, with staggering and slurred speech; there is difficulty concentrating, then a slide into unconsciousness.
Symptoms of Alcoholism
Alcohol makes the blood vessels dilate, causing a flushed face and heat loss. (This is why it is a bad idea to give people too much alcohol to warm them up – they will experience an initial flush, followed by a feeling of cold as they lose heat.)
Alcoholism is basically a dependence on alcohol. This means craving a drink even in the morning, drinking a lot each day, drinking so much the drinker loses track of time. Drink or drunkenness begins to interfere with work and with the drinker’s relationships.
Chronic alcohol abuse is associated with poor nutrition, because the energy derived from alcohol reduces appetite, leaving the drinker short of protein and vitamins. ‘ITiis can give rise to a permanently abnormal gait and tingling in the fingers. There is an increased risk of heart disease in drinkers, through a direct effect of alcohol on the muscle of the heart. In time the brain deteriorates, too, with a loss of memory and possibly even epileptic fits.
Heavy drinkers are at risk of pancreatitis, a painful inflammation of the pancreas. This gives rise to recurrent abdominal pain and diabetes. Cirrhosis of the liver is another long-term risk: the liver becomes hard and inefficient, with jaundice, easy bruising and potentially life-threatening bleeding from enlarged veins in the gullet (see Liver problems).
In addition to causing harm to the drinker, alcohol in excess is involved in much crime and violence and is still a major contributor to road traffic accidents and other accidents.
Treatment of Alcoholism
Acceptance by the drinker that they have a drink problem is a major step in the treatment of alcohol abuse. When people are given evidence as to how their health is being affected as well as guidance on sensible levels of alcohol, many people manage to pull back from alcoholism. Those people with a serious drink problem often need skilled support to reinforce their own will power. Sometimes drugs arc given to aid rapid withdrawal of alcohol. Tliis is called detoxification, but must be given under medical supervision.
Steps to coping with a Drink Problem
- Accept that there is a problem
- Recognize the effects on health, work and family
- Adopt safe limits
- Use medication short term to aid withdrawal
There are many support groups that offer drinkers help: Alcoholics Anonymous is the best known
Safe alcohol intake
The current British recommendations of maximum alcohol intake for men are 28 units a week anil for ; women 21 units a week.
The consumption of alcohol Is measured in units:
- A glass of wine = 1 unit
- A measure of spirits ~ 1 unit
- A pint of beer ~ 2 units
Complementary Treatment of Alcoholism
Massage promotes feelings of self-esteem and fosters a positive body image. Auricular therapy can help reduce harm during periods of alcohol abuse, ease the detoxification process when you come off, and help maintain abstinence.
Hypnotherapy is excellent at changing unwanted patterns of behaviour and reducing cravings. Diet – seek help from a nutritional therapist or naturopath: you may well be malnourished because alcohol provides empty calories that suppress appetite.
Other therapies to try: healing; acupuncture; Hellerwork; Ayurveda; chakra balancing.