Alcoholism Definition: An Overview Of The Dependency

American Medical Association (AMA) defines alcohol dependence, more widely known as alcoholism as a primary chronic disease with environmental, psycho social, and genetic factors all influencing both the manifestations and progress.

The Characteristics of Alcoholism

  • Prolonged or frequent heavy alcohol use.
  • Lack or inability of control once drinking has begun.
  • Various social or legal problems that arise due to alcohol use.
  • Tolerance or the need to drink more alcohol just to achieve the same effects over again.
  • Physical dependence that is often manifested by withdrawal symptoms once the individual stops drinking alcohol.

Alcoholism affects every part of the body and causes a wide range of health problems for the user.

These include memory disorders, difficult balancing, poor nutrition, high blood pressure, muscle weakness (e.g. heart), liver diseases, heart rhythm issues, anemia, clotting disorders, decreased immunity to infections, pancreatic issues, reproductive infertility, gastrointestinal inflammation, low blood sugar, high blood fat, anxiety, weakened bones, sleep disturbances, depression, increased risk cancer.

Around 20 percent of adults admitted to a hospital are alcohol dependent.

Generally, men are twice more likely to be alcohol dependents than women. Moreover, smokers who are also alcohol dependent are highly at risk of developing fatal health problems with alcoholism.

Alcoholism can also lead to problems in relationships including marital problems, neglect/ child abuse, domestic violence, and even keeping a job. Alcoholics have also impaired performance in either school or work. Most of them are homeless and are involved in legal cases.

The United States National Longitudinal Alcohol Epidemiologic Study in 2006 revealed that around 8 percent of American adults are alcohol dependents, 34 percent do not use alcohol at all, while 44 percent are non-dependent or are occasional drinkers.

In the U.S., alcohol is the third leading cause of deaths.

Smoking ranked first followed by obesity. Alcohol is also responsible for 85,000 deaths yearly, around half of these cases are due to injury while the other half due to diseases. Alcohol is also involved in 30 percent of homicides and 22 percent of suicides. Approximately 20 percent of fatal motor vehicle accidents and half of all vehicular accidents involved drunk drivers.

Genetics is seen as one of the components in a person’s risk of developing alcoholism.  Studies have shown that close relatives of alcoholics are likely to become alcoholics, too. The risk extends to children adopted away from biological families, even when raised in non-alcoholic families with no knowledge of the child’s biological family’s history of alcohol. However, there is no specific gene found related to alcoholism.

Environmental factors like peer behavior is another consideration. These are also considered to have a role in the person’s alcohol dependency.

Research has suggested that there are actually two types of alcoholism.

One is developed in adulthood in the early 20s. It is associated with stress and anxiety but is not associated with antisocial or criminal behavior. Another is developed earlier, in the adolescent years where drinking is associated with getting high, violence, destructiveness, and criminal behavior. The symptoms can also be broken down into two major categories; the acute alcohol use and of long-term alcohol use.


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