Alcoholism Facts

Alcoholism is a disorder in which a person is dependent on alcohol. Learn more about what alcoholism is, what causes alcoholism, and treatment options for those that suffer from alcohol addiction. Alcohol abuse is very serious, learn the alcoholism facts here.

What Is Alcoholism?

The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism defines alcoholism as having four symptoms: craving, physical dependence, loss of control, and tolerance as a general description for everyday use. For research purposes, the definition, according to the DSM-IV (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fourth Edition) criteria, is meeting three of these criteria for more than a year:

  • tolerance, so that one needs to drink more over time to have the same effects
  • symptoms of withdrawal when drinking stops
  • unintentionally drinking more than intended
  • inability to stop drinking on one’s own
  • excessive time engaged in obtaining, drinking, and recovering from alcohol
  • alcohol-related impairment in work or social life
  • continued use in spite of consequences

Alcoholism is not the same thing as alcohol abuse and has a different DSM-IV definition, which is meeting one or more of these criteria for more than a year:

  • alcohol-caused impairment in roles at work, home, or elsewhere
  • use of alcohol in a hazard-causing way (DUI, for example)
  • alcohol use leading to legal problems
  • alcohol use leading to social or interpersonal problems

Alcoholism is referred to as a disease as well as a disorder. It is chronic, and this means that one doesn’t reach a point at which one is cured: even though a person has not had any alcohol for a long time, a relapse can occur. However, treatments have been discovered that help people stop drinking and refrain from relapsing.

What Causes Alcoholism?

Genes and lifestyle factors both contribute to alcoholism. The lifestyle factors that are most important are stress levels, the availability of alcohol, and one’s friends. In addition, a study published in 2006 found that early use of alcohol, i.e., in the early teens, is a risk factor for alcohol dependence. According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, about a quarter of all children under 18 are exposed either to alcohol abuse or alcohol dependence (i.e., alcoholism), in their families - the relationship between these two facts is not clear.

Treatment of Alcoholism

Alcoholism treatment programs - even medically based ones - are almost universally connected to Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) meetings, also known as a 12-Step program. Alcoholics Anonymous is very effective, but some people have a problem with either the message or the style of the meetings and seek other types of support.

Medications may be used in the course of the treatment of alcoholism. There are several medications with distinct effects that are used to help alcoholics stop drinking and avoid relapse. However, not every person responds to these medications, so they are not universally effective.

  • Antabuse® (disulfiram) is an orally-administered medication that helps an alcoholic avoid a relapse by making people feel sick if they drink alcohol.
  • Depade® or ReVia® (naltrexone) can be administered orally, while Vivitrol®, another form of naltrexone is administered by injection and has longer lasting effects. In either case, it reduces the alcohol cravings of a person who has ceased to drink.
  • Campral® (acamprosate) takes a completely different approach, alleviating problems that make abstinence difficult, like insomnia and anxiety.

There are other drugs to help manage withdrawal symptoms like nausea, sweating, and shakiness. Other drugs being tested include:

  • Baclofen, which may be effective in assisting with abstinence, as well as reducing cravings for and consumption of alcohol.
  • Memantine, which is being explored as a drug to reduce alchol cravings.
  • Topiramate, an anticonvulsant used to prevent epileptic seizures and reduce incidence of migraines, which may also reduce cravings.



Related Article: Alcohol Abuse Treatment >>