Alcoholism is generally meant as compulsive or uncontrolled consumption of alcohol by a person, usually determinant of the person’s personal relationships, health as well as social standings. It is considered an addictive illness or a disease in terms of medicine. It is also called as ‘alcohol dependence syndrome’. Alcohol dependence was known as dipsomania in the 19th and 20th century. People are called ‘alcoholics’, who are alcohol dependent or suffer from alcoholism. There are 140 million alcohol dependent people worldwide, as estimated by the W.H.O. Some alterations like tolerance and physical dependence occur due to the minimal use of alcohol in a short period of time. This results in alcohol withdrawal syndrome or alcoholism’s compulsive inability to stop drinking. Misuse of alcohol may damage almost every body organ, including the brain, in the body. Chronic alcoholism can cause both psychiatric and medical problems. In general, alcohol is considered as alcoholism, if the person continues drinking even after experiencing health or social problems. Treatment may be done, including several steps. Medicines like diazepam (Valium), form of benzodiazepines may be involved to control alcohol detoxification. People sometimes have the addiction of benzodiazepines in addition to alcohol, it may complicate the steps. Support such as self-help groups or group therapy are given to the person to remain sober after detoxification.
SYMPTOMS: A person who is alcohol dependent may show physical as well as psychiatric symptoms. The symptoms may be as follows:
PHYSICAL SYMPTOMS: Long term misuse of alcohol may show the symptoms like:
- Cirrhosis of liver.
- Poly-neuropathy: It is a life threatening neurological disorder, that occurs when nerves throughout the body simultaneously malfunctions.
- Heart disease.
- Peptic ulcer.
- Sexual dysfunction.
- Nutritional deficiency.
Other physical effects may include an increasing risk of developing,
- Cardiovascular disease.
- Damage to the nervous system and peripheral nervous system.
Development of long term complications due to alcohol dependence in women is more rapid than in men. The mortality rate due to alcoholism is higher in women than in men.
Complications due to long term alcohol dependence may include:
- Heart, brain and liver damage.
- Risk of breast cancer.
Alcoholism in women may also result in reproductive dysfunction like:
- Decrease in ovarian mass.
- Problems/irregularity of the menstrual cycle.
- Early menopause.
PSYCHIATRIC SYMPTOMS: 25 percent of the people suffering from alcohol dependence suffer from psychiatric disorders or disturbance. Some common psychiatric symptoms are depression and anxiety. The psychiatric treatment worsens during the withdrawal of alcohol. Psychosis, organic brain syndrome and confusion may be caused due to the misuse of alcohol. Panic disorder syndrome may also worsen in long term misuse of alcohol.
Women with alcohol-use disorders may show anxiety, major depression, borderline personality, post-traumatic stress disorder or bulimia, whereas men with alcohol-use disorders may show antisocial personality disorder, bipolar disorder or hyperactivity disorder.
CONSEQUENCES IF NOT TREATED: Alcohol dependence or alcoholism, if left untreated may cause physical, social or moral harm to the drinkers.
RECOMMENDATION: Recommendations made by the Department of health for men, women and pregnant women are as follows:
- Men: Men should have at least two days in a week which should be observed as alcohol free days. They should not drink more than 4 units of alcohol in a day or more than 21 units in a week.
- Women: Women should also observe at least two days as alcohol free days in a week. They should not take more than 14units of alcohol a week.
- Pregnant women: Women who are trying to conceive or the women who are pregnant should avoid consumption of alcohol. If they at all drink, they should not drink more than 2 units of alcohol in a week to avoid complications to the baby.