Alcohol dependence, also called alcoholism, has been defined as a psychiatric diagnosis where an individual uses or abuses alcoholic substances despite the negative impact that alcohol has on his or her life. When it is apparent to an individual that drinking habits are interfering with work, home, relationships or functionality in other areas of life, and that person still cannot stop or control the urge to consume alcohol, alcohol dependence may be to blame.
Symptoms of Alcohol Dependence
Symptoms vary by individual and circumstance. Some people have the ability to consume alcohol without experiencing dependence or some of the negative effects this behavior might cause. Others develop the need to use alcohol as a tool to help make it through tough times or even normal daily routine that may include signs of stress. Following is a list of potential symptoms associated with alcohol dependence as a disorder:
- Usage of alcohol in larger amounts or for longer periods of time than intended
- Built-up tolerance which requires more and more alcohol to acquire the same effects
- Persistent desire coupled with unsuccessful efforts to quit or cut back on drinking
- Withdrawal symptoms experienced
- Significant amounts of time spent obtaining alcohol, drinking and recovering from the effects
- Continued usage, despite the apparent negative effects on home, work, family, relationships and health
- Choosing to consume alcohol rather than taking care of necessary tasks or engaging in activities that were once enjoyed
Causes of Alcohol Dependence
Causes of alcohol dependence are related to one or all of three particular factors. First, a gene has been identified that can be passed down the family tree, usually by fathers to sons. One study suggests that even children who are adopted at birth and have no known connection with alcohol problems in the biological family are up to 4 times more likely to experience problems with this disorder. Secondly, repeated use of alcohol can actually damage parts of the brain responsible for pleasurable feelings. The brain functionality is rearranged to require the intake of alcohol to reach a state of pleasure. Thirdly, behavioral cues can sometimes assist the formation of habitual drinking by leading to peer pressure, the association of drinking with leisurely activities or the formation of relationships and potential for a specific feeling or mood. All three of these factors can simultaneously contribute to alcohol dependence.
Diagnosis of Alcohol Dependence
A diagnosis of alcohol dependence may be discovered because of symptoms as described above, or due to one of the many medical conditions that excessive intake of alcohol can lead to. If a person is being treated for liver cirrhosis, hepatitis, pancreatitis or certain heart or nervous system conditions, alcohol dependence may be suspected and tested for. Alcohol dependence can also lead to sexual dysfunction, blood pressure fluctuations, sleep disorders and depression. Alcohol use tests are the most efficient way of determining the level of alcohol intake. Additionally, a professional will usually perform an interview consisting of family medical history and specifically designed questions that may indicate the condition.
Treatment for Alcohol Dependence
The successful treatment of alcohol dependence must usually include two key points: detoxification and rehabilitation. During detoxification, a patient is typically admitted to a facility where he or she can be monitored for the effects of withdrawal. The detoxification period is used to rid the patient's body of the effects of alcohol use. Patients will experience a ranging degree of withdrawal symptoms, from mild to intense. The intensity of withdrawal will determine if the use of medications is required. Once the detoxification period is over, rehabilitation must begin. This will include therapy, participation in support groups, such as Alcoholics Anonymous, stress relief and alternative healing techniques, such as meditation or hypnotherapy, and possibly medication to decrease the craving for alcohol.