By Rachna Pande
A 56 year old man was removed from his job. Reason was that he came to the work place drunk. This is not an isolated case. Many people across the globe become helplessly addicted to alcohol.
Alcohol is the intoxicating constituent of wine, beer, spirits, and other drinks. Alcoholism is a chronic and often progressive disease that include – problems controlling drinking, being preoccupied with alcohol, continuing to use alcohol even when it causes problems, having to drink more to get the same effect (physical dependence), or having withdrawal symptoms when one rapidly decreases or stops drinking. In simple words, alcoholism is said to be a state where one cannot do without drinking being dependant on it physically as well as emotionally. There are some typical features of alcoholism like – Being unable to limit the amount of alcohol one drinks
- To feel a strong need or compulsion to drink
- Develop tolerance to alcohol so that one needs more to feel its effects
- The person may drink alone or hide his drinking
- When not drinking, may experience physical withdrawal symptoms – Not remember conversations or commitments, sometimes referred to as a “black out”
- Make a ritual of having drinks at certain times and become annoyed when this ritual is disturbed or questioned
Apart from these features an alcoholic may be involved in work place/domestic disputes or legal issues like drunken driving. He/she does not take any interest in any leisure time or familial/social activities.
There are certain risk factors that predispose an individual to alcoholism. Drinking steadily is one of them. Drinking too much on a regular basis for an extended period or binge drinking on a regular basis can produce a physical dependence on alcohol. People who begin drinking at an early age are at a higher risk of problem drinking or physical dependence on alcohol. The risk of alcoholism is higher for people who have a parent or other close relatives who have problems with alcohol. It is common for people with a mental health disorder such as anxiety, depression or bipolar disorder to have problems with alcohol or other substances.
Social and cultural factors influence drinking habits. Having friends or a relative who drinks can influence one. In cultures where drinking is acceptable, a person may not find anything wrong in drinking and over a time can get addicted to it.
Alcoholism also depends on the type of beverage, higher the alcohol content, higher is the risk. The alcohol content of some common drinks is as follows:
- Beers-made by fermentation of sugar or starch containing plant material. Contain 4-6% ABV(alcohol by volume).
- Wines-produced from grapes & other fruits. Contains 4-6% ABV.
- Spirits- produced by doing distillation after fermentation of plant material , eg. whiskey, vodka, rum-contains 40% ABV.
- Fortified wine-spirits are added to wine-eg. port, sherry
Alcohol harms practically every body parts. It is toxic to the brain, liver, stomach. It is a known risk factor for cancers of liver, pancreas, stomach, etc. It increases risk of heart attacks, strokes, high blood pressure, and diabetes. It damages the nerves, affects digestion. One of the worst effects is disruption of hormonal balance causing sexual impotence in men, menstrual irregularities in women and at times causes infertility. In a pregnant woman, it can cause abortion, premature births, baby may be born with physical anomalies. Mood swings from depression to garrulousness caused by drinking alcohol are well known. An alcoholic also suffers from malnutrition because alcohol supplies empty calories and deprives body of essential nutrients like thiamine. In spite of facing health problems due to alcohol, an alcoholic finds it difficult to quit drinking due to becoming dependant on it.
Drinking 3 times per week or in small quantity, some say is o.k. but daily drinking is said to be harmful. Last month, “The Lancet”, a reputed medical journal has reported that there is no safe limit of drinking alcohol.
Majority of people do not know this and have a careless attitude towards it. Mostly they are brought for treatment, when they suffer from some serious health problems. They find it difficult to quit, due to troublesome withdrawal symptoms.
Mild cases of alcoholism can benefit from psychotherapy and nutritional rehabilitation. Serious cases need surveillance, either in hospital or specialized de-addiction centers. Here they are given sedatives and tranquillizers to overcome withdrawal symptoms. Positive support from family and friends is very helpful in curing, “alcoholism”.
NOTE: A.A.(alcoholics anonymous) is a non-profitable organization set around 1919, which helps people in quitting alcohol. There are branches world over. Alcoholics desiring to quit drinking get together, discuss their medico-social problems and mental blocks. Thus one realizes he/she is not alone with this problem and can take inspiration and guidance from fellow sufferers.
Dr. Rachna Pande contributed this piece via: Eemail@example.com
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