Alcoholism is a disease that affects millions of people both directly through addiction and indirectly through association with an alcoholic. Alcoholism is a serious disease that can take the alcoholic on a journey to poverty, broken family, incarceration, poor health and even death. It is a serious problem with serious consequences for all those involved.

What is Alcoholism?

There are some misconceptions as to what alcoholism is.  Many people think that if a person gets drunk occasionally and may have problems when they are drunk they are alcoholics. That person may be on their way to becoming an alcoholic, but at the moment they are experiencing alcohol abuse.

Here are some alcoholism facts: person who is suffering from alcoholism is dependent on alcohol. They have a physical need for alcohol and they cannot stop drinking alcohol even in the face of serious life problems. An alcoholic may lose everything and still not be able to overcome their addiction.

Alcoholism is a form of drug addiction and is the most common form of drug abuse. Drinking alcohol is socially acceptable, but when it becomes an addiction it can rob people of their families, income, and their mental and physical health. Alcohol is the third leading cause of lifestyle related deaths in the United States.

Alcoholism is characterized by four symptoms:
Tolerance – needing more alcohol to achieve the desired effect
Craving – an overwhelming desire to drink
Loss of Control – the inability to quit drinking once they start
Physical Dependence – The body will go through withdrawal symptoms if alcohol is cut of abruptly. Symptoms of withdrawal include tremors, nausea and anxiety.

A definition of alcoholism was created by the Board of Directors of the National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence and it was published in JAMA in 1992. Today, this is the most accepted and widely used definition of alcoholism:
“Alcoholism is primary, chronic disease with genetic, psychosocial and environmental factors influencing its development and manifestations. The disease is often progressive and fatal. It is characterized by continuous or periodic: impaired control over drinking, preoccupation with the drug alcohol, use of alcohol despite adverse consequences, and distortions in thinking, most notably, denial.”

A few of the signs of alcoholism are:

  • Drinking excessively on a regular basis
  • Experiencing ‘blackouts’ or not remembering what happened during the drinking episode
  • Drinking in secret
  • Hiding alcohol
  • Using alcohol to calm down or relax
  • Relationship problems
  • Withdrawing from family and friends
  • Emotional changes
  • Job problems
  • Drinking before and after a social event
  • Health problems

These are just a few alcoholism symptoms that can signal a serious problem. However, alcoholics themselves rarely acknowledge these symptoms. It is usually close family and friends that will pick up on these signs. When confronted, an alcoholic will deny there is a problem and try to deflect the blame on someone or something else.

The truth is, alcoholism turns people into master manipulators. They are able to shift the blame, change the subject and hide their behavior amazingly well. As a result, relationships with family and friends suffer.

Alcoholism and the Family

The silent sufferer in the disease of alcoholism is the family. There is a routine in most families where roles are defined and everyone works together. However, in an alcoholic family the roles are distorted. For instance, if the father is the alcoholic he may be a great provider yet begins drinking as soon as he gets home from work so all the household duties and child rearing fall to the wife. In situations when a job is lost, the non-alcoholic spouse is forced to find additional ways to provide for the family while the alcoholic is oblivious to the problem.

Family members begin to fall into a disorganized routine. They tend to ‘test’ the waters before talking about certain subjects for fear of angering the alcoholic. Older children may stop having friends over and may start spending more time away from home and the situation, which in turn many lead to more problems within the family.

Even though everyone in the family is treading lightly, the subject of alcoholism is rarely spoken of. There is still the feeling that a problem not acknowledged doesn’t exist. This is a very common problem among families who are dealing with alcoholism. They don’t know how to deal with the problem because alcoholism has many dimensions and stages. Not to mention alcoholism causes mood swings in the alcoholic that can be very dramatic. The family can feel loving and complete one moment and torn apart the next. There is no way to predict the alcoholic’s behavior.

Dealing with Alcoholism

Alcoholism is a very real disease just like cancer and diabetes. The problem is it is not a socially acceptable disease. If your loved one was diagnosed with cancer you would have support from all sides. But when a loved one suffers from addiction there is a social stigma and an embarrassment to admit the problem.  However, someone who is in the grips of alcoholism needs medical treatment and support just like someone who has cancer.

The best way to deal with alcoholism is to have that alcoholic friend or loved one of yours to sign up for alcohol rehab programs and get that much needed help.

Alcoholism treatment is the best way for the alcoholic to get the medical treatment and support they need to overcome this serious and often life threatening disease. There are different types of treatment available including inpatient and outpatient alcohol treatment centers.

Most treatment programs will focus on alcohol detox at first. In a detox setting, the person is able to stop drinking alcohol under medical supervision. This is important because many times alcohol withdrawal can cause extreme sickness and even death.

After the person has gone through detox, they will begin the alcohol treatment program. Usually a program will last anywhere from 30 days on up, depending upon the program and what the person being treated needs.

Overcoming alcoholism is more than just dealing with the physical dependence on alcohol. Most alcoholism treatment programs will provide counseling to help the person deal with emotional factors as well.

Emotional Support for Families

In addition to treatment centers for alcoholism, there are support groups for families as well. Al-Anon is the most widely known support group for families and friends of alcoholics. In addition, many alcohol treatment programs will have a family support system as well.

Alcoholism is a disease that affects everyone who is associated with the alcoholic. It is time to remove the social stigma surrounding the disease of alcoholism and help those who suffer overcome.

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