Alcoholism Facts: What It Is, What It Looks Like, Who Is Susceptible
It’s important to understand what constitutes alcoholism because a striking number of people all around us are struggling. In Britain, the National Health Service suggests that one in every 13 citizens suffers from alcoholism. Here in the U.S. our National Institutes of Health say that five to 10 percent of men and three to five percent of women have the illness. Another 15 percent of Americans are classified as problem drinkers (alcohol abuse).
The person suffering from alcoholism is usually the last one to recognize how serious their problem actually is. Here are some warning signs:
- Drinking alone or in secret
- Unable to limit the amount of alcohol consumed
- Lost memory of extended time periods
- Rituals related to drinking (when, where) and irritation when the rituals are interrupted or remarked upon
- Craving or urges to drink
- Edginess as the time for drinking gets close that worsens if alcohol is unavailable at the normal time
- Gulping rather than sipping drinks to speed their effects
- Relationships negatively affected by drinking
- Problems at work because of drinking
- Problems with law enforcement because of drinking
- Financial problems because of drinking
- Needing to drink ever-increasing amounts in order to feel it
- Physical reactions (sweat, shakes, stomach upset) when not able to drink. (This symptom is unique to alcoholism. The person who abuses alcohol may not exhibit this symptom.)
One problem associated with alcoholism is binge drinking, defined as two to three consecutive drinks for a woman and three to four consecutive drinks for a man within a two hour period. Binging on alcohol is a growing problem around the world, but here at home it is especially pervasive on college campuses.
Otherwise healthy college students who binge drink increase their risk of heart disease in adulthood, according to a study by researchers from the University of Illinois. Binge drinking damages blood vessels in the same way as hypertension and high cholesterol, which account for a significant portion of all heart disease.
Alcoholism is not caused by one solitary factor but instead a complex combination of factors, some in the person’s control and others not. But no one is doomed to alcoholism. Knowing the risk factors can put a person on alert to exercise caution or even practice abstinence.
Family history is a significant risk factor as you’re six times more likely to suffer from alcoholism if one of your blood relatives is alcoholic. All of the specific genes associated with alcoholism are not known, but Spanish research suggests that the heritable absence of endorphin could predispose a person to the illness.
Other risk factors include:
- Age of first exposure to alcohol – drinking before age 15 increases the chances that the person will become addicted to alcohol later in life
- Occasional smoking
- Availability of alcohol
- Peer group acceptance of drinking or pressure to drink
- The National Institutes of Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism says that stress and anxiety affect a person’s susceptibility to alcoholism.
A person who struggles with self-esteem may be more at risk for alcohol problems than others and so, too, are those whose bodies metabolize alcohol more efficiently. Depression is another risk factor, but research shows that the problem could go either way, meaning that a depressed person is more apt to over-drink, but over-drinking may also lead to depression.