What is Alcoholism?

DSM-IV Definition

According to the DSM-IV, alcoholism is a substance disorder in which a person develops a strong craving for alcohol because it makes him or her feel good or relieves stress or anxiety. Alcohol abuse occurs when a person continues to use alcohol despite knowing the dangerous consequences.


Most likely, you or someone you know drinks beer, wine, or liquor. Most Americans drink alcohol when we socialize, whether it be at a party or business dinner, but how do you know when it has become too much? Ethyl alcohol or ethanol is the type of alcohol that is found in alcoholic beverages. Ethyl alcohol is a central nervous system depressant that affects regions in the brain that control behavior, so naturally people feel more outgoing and talkative. But, if a person continues to drink, the alcohol will slow the responses of the brain and nervous system, which could lead to sleep or unconsciousness. Unlike other tablet-form drugs, alcohol is absorbed directly into the bloodstream. Typically, a drink will reach the bloodstream within 15 minutes of consumption and peak in 30 minutes or so. The rate of alcohol consumption depends on how strong the drink is, if there is food in the stomach, and the person 's weight, size, sex, age, race, and family history.

Alcohol abuse and dependence are major health problems in our country: they cost the United States $90 billion a year! Alcohol is a drug and it is addictive. If you drink too much, your body will build up tolerance, and then you will have to drink more and more alcohol to get drunk or intoxicated. If a person suddenly stops drinking, he can suffer from withdrawal. Heavy drinking affects almost every system in the body including the nervous, digestive, cardiovascular, musculoskeletal, and endocrine systems. The following is a list of major risks and complications from heavy drinking.

Major risks and complications:

- Liver Disease
- Cardiovascular System
- Cancer
- Brain Damage
- Vitamin Deficiencies
- Digestive Promblems
- Reproductive and Sexual Dysfunction
- Fetal Alcohol Syndrome
- Higher Mortality
- Withdrawal Dangers

Cause of Alcoholism

The exact cause of alcoholism is unknown. It usually develops slowly - over a course of 5 to 15 years of heavy drinking.There are several factors that play a role in the disease; they include chemical imbalances in the brain, heredity, cultural acceptance, and stress.Scientists think genetic factors may account for part of the vulnerability to alcoholism but they have not identified a specific gene. Mental health professionals believe there are two types of alcoholics.

Type 1 (milieu-limited) Personality Traits: Dependence:
Alcoholics tend to start drinking heavily in response to setbacks, losses (job loss), or other outside circumstances.They can stop drinking for long periods of time and they feel guilty, lose control, and fear their alcoholism. Type 1 alcoholics tend to feel anxious, shy,pessimistic, sentimental, emotionally dependent, rigid, reflective, and slow to anger. Drinking alcohol helps reduce Type 1 's anxiety level. But since drinking acts as a positive reinforcer, alcohol dependence develops rather quickly.
Type 2 (male-limited) Personality Traits: Dependence:
Alcoholics are close male relatives of an alcoholic and usually become heavy drinkers before they age of 25. They drink regardless of what 's happening in their lives and often have a history of fights and arrests. Unlike Type 1 alcoholics, they usually do not experience guilt,fear, or loss of control over their drinking. Type 2 alcoholics tend to be impulsive, aggressive risk takers, curious, quick-tempered, optimistic, and excitable. Type 2 alcoholics usually abuse drugs too.


The first phase of treatment focuses on detoxification which is the gradual withdrawal of alcohol from the body. For 90 to 95% of alcoholics, the withdrawal symptoms are mild to moderate.

Symptoms of detoxification:

* sweating, rapid pulse
* elevated blood pressure
* hand tremors
* insomnia
* nausea or vomiting
* weakness
* anxiety
* depressed mood or irritability
* headache
* temporary hallucinations or delusions

Some alcoholics can be treated as an inpatient in a medical or psychiatric hospital or in a residential facility not associated with a hospital while others can be treated as an outpatient. Which treatment the patient undergoes depends on many factors including presence of medical problems, severe withdrawal symptoms, past history, and support. Treatment usually includes individual and group psychotherapy, family therapy, exercise, relaxation techniques , spiritual counseling, and AA Meetings. Alcoholics Anonymous has a 12-step program to help people overcome alcoholism and provide support.