Chronic Alcoholism

Alcoholism is an addiction to alcohol. Addiction is a medical illness. It is not an one-time incident of heavy drinking that defines the disease of alcoholism.

The characteristics of addictive disease, such as alcoholism, include behaviors that the person finds pleasurable, at least initially. In alcohol addiction, drinking causes chemical changes in brain activity. This can lead to frequent cravings for alcohol. Unfortunately over time, an increased amount of alcohol is needed to produce the pleasure (tolerance). As a result, the person will start to feel uncomfortable symptoms when he or she is not drinking (withdrawal).

Over time, a bad cycle develops. When painful withdrawal symptoms start to appear, alcohol is needed to make the symptoms go away. During this process, the person addicted to alcohol may become so used to the effects of alcohol that the usual signs of intoxication such as slurred speech, a staggering walk, or sleepiness may no longer be shown. Many people addicted to alcohol are able to function and even complete tasks.

CAUSES

  • Drinking heavily and frequently.

  • Other factors like genetics.

SYMPTOMS

  • Headaches.

  • Frequent trouble falling or staying asleep (insomnia).

  • Irritability.

  • Uncontrolled shaking or movement (tremors).

  • Forgetting events (brownouts) or passing out (blackouts).

  • Seizures or hallucinations (delirium tremens).

  • Problems at work or at home that are related to drinking.

  • Medical problems related to drinking such as heart disease, stroke, high blood pressure, diabetes, stomach ulcers, bleeding from the GI tract, and liver failure.

  • Trauma (falls, broken bones, automobile crashes).

TREATMENT

Alcoholism usually gets worse over time and almost never gets better without treatment. Your caregiver can help recommend a course of treatment for you depending on how severe your symptoms are and the level of your alcohol abuse. In some patients, stopping alcohol use or even decreasing use can bring about withdrawal symptoms that are dangerous or even deadly. For this reason, hospitalization is sometimes required to medically stabilize a patient.

If hospitalization is not required, but the risk of withdrawal is high, a detoxification (detox) facility may be recommended as an initial treatment step. In a detox center, medications can be given to protect against seizures and other withdrawal symptoms.

Rehabilitation treatment may also be necessary. This is the process of treating the psychological and lifestyle element of addiction. There is both inpatient and outpatient rehabilitation treatment. Inpatient programs help patients through a systematic plan of psychological questioning, both individually and in groups, and at times using a "twelve-step" format. Outpatient rehabilitation programs have a similar structure and are aimed at promoting continued sobriety and preventing relapse into addiction.

Make treatment decisions together with your caregiver.

HOME CARE INSTRUCTIONS

  • If you are concerned about your alcohol use, talk to someone who can help. Trying to quit on your own is not easy. It can even be medically dangerous. This is especially true if you have been drinking heavily for a long time.

  • Call your caregiver, Alcoholics Anonymous, or other alcoholic treatment programs for help.

  • AL-ANON and ALA-TEEN are support groups for friends and family members of an alcohol or drug dependent person. These people also often need help too. For information about these organizations, check your phone directory or the internet. You can also call a local alcohol or chemical dependency treatment center.