Alcoholism is characterized by a person’s ongoing physical and mental dependence on alcohol.
To some, alcohol is an addictive substance but not everyone will necessarily become addicted. Most alcoholics suffer from addictive personalities or have a family history of ‘drinkers’ making them genetically predisposed.
That is not to say that alcoholism can’t be prevented or effectively treated in such individuals.
Often stress or social situations can drive someone who is predisposed but not yet addicted to compulsive drinking. Alcoholics will often do anything to get more alcohol and are not able to keep the problem under control. Sometimes they are aware that it is causing problems at work, home and socially but feel unable to do anything about the situation.
Being an alcoholic means that you have added significant health risks, such as developing heart disease and cirrhosis of the liver. Socially, those suffering from alcohol addiction face shame and stigma. This makes the problem harder to diagnose as the alcoholic may start drinking alone and try to hide obvious signs.
Alcoholism is termed a disease or a disorder and once someone becomes an alcoholic they are said to always be in the recovery phase as even one drink can cause a relapse. Alcohol becomes addictive because of the way it changes the brain’s chemistry. Signs of alcoholism include blacking out, rituals around drinking, irritability if alcohol is unavailable, specific times when drinking takes place, problems caused by drinking, constantly making poor decisions due to continued effects of compulsive drinking and withdrawal symptoms when alcohol has not been consumed.
Alcohol dependency happens over a number of years and almost always starts out as social or teen drinking.
Alcohol makes the brain feel good which is especially rewarding to someone with depression or stress. After a while, the alcoholic will develop defence mechanisms to continue its use, the most common statement being, ‘I could quit if I wanted to’, followed by, ‘it’s really not that bad’. Addiction often becomes part of the alcoholic’s identity, where they feel that alcohol brings out their true personality. Unfortunately, that is why it is very rare that an alcoholic will seek the help of his/her own accord or heed the warnings of others until it is too late, where the effects on their health are so severe that it becomes a question of ‘stop drinking or die’.