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Recognizing alcoholism as a disease.

Jul 23, 2008
Is alcoholism a disease? Most people don't believe so, because it simply doesn't have that kind of aspect one assumes a disease would have. Diseases have to do with germs, not substances, right? Wrong. Alcoholism certainly is a disease, and has been recognized so by medical professionals and the National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence.

Early signs of alcoholism include frequent intoxication, an established pattern of heavy drinking and drinking in dangerous situations, such as when driving. Other early signs of alcoholism include black-out drinking or a drastic change in demeanor while drinking, such as consistently becoming angry or violent. The main symptom of alcohol abuse occurs when someone continues to drink after their drinking reaches a level that causes recurrent problems. Continuing to drink after it causes someone to miss work, drive drunk, shirk responsibilities or get in trouble with the law is considered alcohol abuse.

That is an example of a simple mental obsession -- a thought process over which you have no control. Such is the nature of the disease of alcoholism. When the drinking "song" starts playing in the mind of an alcoholic, he is powerless. He didn't put the song there and the only way to get it to stop is to take another drink. The problem is the alcoholic's mental obsession with alcohol is much more subtle than a song playing in his mind. In fact, he may not even know it's there. All he knows is he suddenly has an urge to take a drink -- a physical compulsion to drink.

For someone who is alcoholic or alcohol dependent, the symptoms include all of those associated with alcohol abuse (above). But alcoholics also continue to drink in spite of all the problems it has caused in their lives.When alcohol abuse reaches the alcohol dependence stage, the person also experiences at least three of seven other symptoms, including neglect of other activities, excessive use of alcohol, impaired control of alcohol consumption, persistence of alcohol use, large amounts of time spent in alcohol-related activities, withdrawal symptoms and tolerance of alcohol.

No wonder denial is an almost universal symptom of the disease. For those who have come to the realization that they do have a problem, help may be as close as the white pages of the telephone directory. But for those who need help and do not want it, intervention may be the only alternative. However, if you have decided, for whatever reason, that you want to stop drinking, there is a world of help and support available. To get a better picture of where you are now, so that you can make an informed decision about how to proceed, perhaps the first person to talk with should be your family doctor.

For those who have committed themselves to not drinking again, or forced by circumstances to not have access to alcohol, the struggle to fight the withdrawal symptoms can become a dangerous battle, one that can actually become life threatening. For some, who are less chemically dependent, withdrawal symptoms might be as "mild" as merely getting the shakes, or the sweats -- or perhaps nausea, headache, anxiety, a rapid heart beat, and increased blood pressure. Although these symptoms are uncomfortable and irritating, they are not necessarily dangerous. But they are often accompanied by the "craving" for more alcohol, making the decision to continue abstinence much more difficult to make.

Even the "morning after" hangover of someone who only occasionally drinks to excess, is actually a mild form of alcohol withdrawal from the excesses of the night before, as the alcohol content of their blood begins to drop. The symptoms can appear within a few hours after not drinking. However, within six to 48 hours after not drinking, hallucinations may develop. These usually are visual hallucinations but they can also involve sounds and smells. They can last for a few hours up to weeks at a time. Also within this time frame after quitting, convulsions or seizures can occur, which is the point at which alcohol withdrawal can become dangerous, if not medically treated. The symptoms may progress to delirium tremens (DT's) after three to five days without alcohol. The symptoms of DT's include profound confusion, disorientation, hallucinations, hyperactivity, and extreme cardiovascular disturbances.
About the Author
Discover how to Stop Drinking Alcohol by Ed Philips and Quit Alcohol Now.
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