Alcoholism is a chronic disease characterized by a physical and mental dependence on alcohol. Alcoholism is generally characterized by a craving or compulsion to drink alcohol, the frequent inability to stop drinking once an individual has begun, an increased tolerance to alcohol, and the occurrence of physical withdrawal symptoms. These physical withdrawal symptoms include uncontrolled shakiness, anxiety, profuse sweating, nausea, vomiting, and hallucinations. Physical alcohol withdrawal symptoms can even become so severe that they can cause a life-threatening condition known as delirium tremens, which is a severe form of alcohol withdrawal that involves severe and sudden mental and nervous system changes
However, it is important to understand that alcoholism is different than alcohol abuse. Just because someone may abuse alcohol regularly does not necessarily mean that they are an alcoholic. The main difference between individuals who regularly abuse alcohol and those who suffer from the disease of alcoholism is that alcohol abusers do so willingly, while alcoholics are completely dependent on alcohol and could not stop drinking even if they sincerely tried.
Most alcoholics share similar symptoms including:
- The inability to stop drinking after one or two drinks
- Drinking to the point of a memory blackout
- Increased tolerance to alcohol
- Drinking despite the harm it’s doing to work, family, or personal relationships
- The inability to stop drinking even though they are suffering consequences
- Has the need to have alcohol in the house at all times
- Experiencing alcohol withdrawal symptoms
- Tried to cut back or stop drinking multiple times
Alcoholism is a Disease
Alcoholism is a disease. Both the American Medical Association (AMA) and the World Health Organization (WHO) state unequivocally that alcoholism is a disease.
Just like any other disease, alcoholism needs to be treated by a doctor or professional drug treatment specialist. Without this vital treatment, the disease of alcoholism will only continue to progress overtime, putting the individual at higher risk for a multitude of diseases including, liver failure, cirrhosis of the liver, several different kinds of cancers, heart disease, and ultimately death.
The process of becoming an alcoholic (alcoholism) is usually a slow and gradual process, which occurs after years of heavy drinking. When alcohol is consumed in large levels over time, it begins to alter the levels of certain chemicals in the brain, mainly gamma-amino butyric acid (GABA) and dopamine. GABA controls a person’s impulse levels in the brain, and as more and more alcohol is consumed, it can alter the production of these chemicals, making people more impulsive and less aware of what they are doing. Dopamine levels can also be negatively impacted by excessive alcohol consumption.
Because dopamine is one of the chemicals in the brain that control feelings of happiness, joy, and euphoria, the more alcohol that is consumed, the more the brain becomes dependent on alcohol to release this vital chemical. As the brain becomes accustomed to this chemical imbalance overtime, the individual will not feel the same levels of joy and happiness without drinking. If an alcoholic tries to suddenly stop drinking and the brain is completely deprived of alcohol, unpleasant withdrawal symptoms such as sweating, tremors, shaking and nervousness will likely be the result.
Studies suggest that individuals, who have a family history of alcoholism, have an increased chance of becoming alcoholics themselves. People who also start drinking at an early age have a greater risk of developing alcoholic tendencies later in life. As researchers continue to understand more about alcoholism and its deadly effects, many are reaching similar conclusions about this dangerous drug, mainly that alcoholism is a deadly disease and needs to be treated as such.
While most people contribute alcoholism to lack of self-control or moral integrity, the vast majority of doctors and researchers now characterize alcoholism as a progressive, chronic, and sometimes even fatal disease. Like many other diseases, alcoholism generally has a predictable course, recognizable and well defined symptoms, and is influenced by both genetic and environmental factors. Because alcoholism is a pathological condition that detrimentally affects both the mental and physical condition of the individual, if an alcoholic does not alter their excessive drinking pattern, they can eventually die from this deadly disease.
Symptoms of delirium tremens most often occur within 48-96 hours after the individual had their last alcoholic drink. However, in some cases they may occur up to 7-12 days after their last drink. When a person is suffering from these severe alcohol withdrawal symptoms their health can rapidly deteriorate as these symptoms can quickly become severe. DT symptoms can include:
- Changes in mental function
- Body tremors
- Decreased attention span
- Deep sleep that can last for a day or longer
- Sensitivity to light
Because of the extreme inherent dangers of alcohol withdrawal syndrome, anyone suffering from even mild alcohol withdrawal symptoms is advised to go seek immediate medical attention from a doctor or a drug treatment facility. Here they can help regulate your alcohol withdrawal symptoms and keep you closely monitored in case you are having additional health complications.