Alcoholism: Causes, Symptoms, Effects & Treatment

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  • 0:01 Too Much Alcohol
  • 0:23 Alcohol Abuse vs.…
  • 2:18 Causes of Alcoholism
  • 3:13 Consequences of Alcoholism
  • 5:24 Treatment of Alcoholism
  • 6:19 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Artem Cheprasov

Artem has a doctor of veterinary medicine degree.

Alcohol can be a really terrible thing when it is abused. The problems it causes do not just damage the user but their friends, family, and society as a whole. You'll learn about why alcoholism occurs and how it can be addressed.

Too Much Alcohol

Chances are that you know of someone who drinks too much alcohol. And the chances are equally good that you know exactly what this leads to in terms of mood changes, behavior, and perhaps even damage to the body, such as liver disease.

However, just because someone drinks a lot of alcohol doesn't mean they are an alcoholic. This lesson will tell you why and more about alcoholism.

Alcohol Abuse vs. Alcohol Dependence

Alcohol abuse refers to the recurrent use of alcohol to such an extent that it impairs function, results in injury, or endangers others. As an example, a person who doesn't drink during the week but goes out with friends every weekend, binges, and then drives home drunk is an abuser of alcohol.

This does not mean this person is an alcoholic, a person who suffers from alcoholism, where alcoholism, aka alcohol dependence, refers to a compulsive and excessive state of alcohol consumption, physical and mental impairment as a result of this consumption, tolerance to alcohol, and development of withdrawal symptoms upon reduction of its intake.

Tolerance, by the way, simply means that an individual needs more alcohol to produce the same effect as before or is unaffected by large amounts of alcohol that would impair a normal user.

In essence, tolerance means a person has become used to alcohol and needs more of it to 'feel' it. You can relate to this effect without having to drink alcohol. I bet you that when you put your shirt on in the morning, at first you feel it slide onto your body. But I bet that you do not feel it being worn throughout the vast majority of the day. That's because your body's sensory nerves have become tolerant to the shirt. You'd have to wear a shirt made out of sandpaper the next time around to feel it the whole day.

So, in a really simple but direct way, a person who is an alcoholic is addicted to alcohol despite all of the problems it causes. A person may even be aware of these problems but can't stop drinking. An abuser of alcohol does not have this addiction.

Causes of Alcoholism

OK, we need to move on to the causes of alcoholism now. You probably think that I've gone mad since the cause of alcoholism is alcohol. Unfortunately, it's not that simple. The cause of a building burning down may be a fire, but why it started is a whole different story. Just like a lot of things can cause a building to catch fire, so too can a lot of things lead to alcoholism. Let's examine some of them:

  • Genetics - Some people are literally born with genes predisposing them to alcoholism.
  • Family issues, including the loss of family ties or abuse by a family member, can cause alcoholism.
  • Personality disorders
  • Peer pressure
  • Cultural values can also lead to the same end result. For instance, some nations, cultures, and people consider it OK for children to drink a little alcohol, whereas others abhor such a notion.

Consequences of Alcoholism

A person who is an alcoholic will experience many signs and symptoms, including:

  • Drinking alone
  • Drinking even when their family, work, and body are being harmed
  • Aggression
  • Making excuses to drink
  • Eating far less than normal
  • The inability to get through the day without the use of alcohol
  • Memory lapses

But that's not all. People can also experience:

  • Psychiatric disorders, such as depression and schizophrenia
  • Cirrhosis, scarring of the liver, leading to serious liver dysfunction
  • Symptoms of withdrawal

Withdrawal symptoms are signs of physical dependence upon alcohol. What this means is that the body has adapted to this massive alcohol consumption. If the consumption suddenly stops, the body goes crazy trying to adapt to this new situation. Think about our dependence upon the Internet today. If all of sudden the you lost the Internet connection as you were working, you would go crazy! I know I would. Well, your body goes crazy when it loses its connection to alcohol that it has become so accustomed to.

This lost connection leads to withdrawal symptoms, such as:

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