Definition of Alcoholism: Know the Facts - Jason Wahler

Definition of Alcoholism: Know the Facts

Posted at March 17th 2017 | 03:28 PM

If you look up the definition of alcoholism and the addiction to alcohol in the dictionary you will see a few definitions:

  1. Continuous excessive or compulsive use of alcoholic drinks.
  2. A chronic mental disorder marked by excessive and usually compulsive drinking of alcohol leading to psychological and physical dependence or addiction.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) alcoholism and excessive alcohol use causes somewhere around 88,000 deaths each year making alcohol the fourth leading preventable cause of death in the United States.

Alcoholism not only affects the person addicted, there are also family consequences, an economic burden and a global burden.

There are both environmental factors (social, cultural, and behavioral influences) and genetics associated with the disease of alcoholism with about half the risk attributed to each. In addition, a person with a parent or sibling with alcoholism is three to four times more likely to be alcoholic themselves.

As with all addiction problems, despite any consequences a person who has a problem with either alcoholism or drugs may suffer, they will generally continue to use their drug of choice. Half-hearted attempts to stop or cut back their use are usually unsuccessful.

The good news is that the gradual increase in awareness both culturally and in the medical field has slowly chipped away at the stigma attached to alcoholism. With more and more treatment centers opening up, the number of certified specialists graduating colleges and recovering alcoholics in the thousands becoming more vocal and less “anonymous”…help is here.

How to define alcoholism has changed even in the last decade alone, however, since humans first started crushing grapes, people have been drinking too much!

So when does drinking too much become alcoholism?

The Definition of Alcoholism

Medically speaking, alcoholism is considered both a physical and mental illness and disease.

The most recent revision of the diagnostic manual for mental disorders (the DSM-5) updated the criteria commonly used to diagnose either an alcohol disorder (alcoholism) or a substance use disorder. According to the DSM-5, a “substance use disorder describes a problematic pattern of using alcohol or another substance that results in impairment in daily life or noticeable distress.”

According to the diagnostic manuals, alcoholism is said to exist when two or more of the following conditions exist:

  • A person drinks large amounts over a long time period.
  • Has difficulty cutting down.
  • Acquiring and drinking alcohol takes up a great deal of time.
  • Alcohol is strongly desired.
  • Using results in not fulfilling responsibilities.
  • Using results in social problems.
  • Using results in health problems.
  • Using results in risky situations.
  • Withdrawal occurs when stopping.
  • Alcohol tolerance has occurred with use.

Alcoholism Statistics

A US study has estimated that about 30% of Americans report having some sort of an alcohol disorder at some time in their lives. Alcoholism, alcohol abuse and dependence often have serious consequences like car crashes, domestic violence and even birth defects. Here a few other lesser known but very important statistics to be aware of:

  • In 2014, alcohol-impaired driving fatalities accounted for 9,967 deaths.
  • The World Health Organization (WHO) says there are at least 140 million alcoholics in the world.
  • More than 10 percent of U.S. children live with a parent with alcohol problems, according to a 2012 study.
  • Alcohol dependence is linked with disability and the levels of disability progress steadily higher with increasing severity of dependence.
  • Of those who have alcohol dependence at some point in their lives, only 24.1 percent have ever been treated.

Treatment For Alcoholism

There is a movement of awareness forming that I am so fortunate to be a part of. The statistically low treatment rates given the availability of effective treatments in the U.S. indicates the need for vigorous education efforts for the general public.

Typically, treatment options for alcoholism include a combination of inpatient and outpatient programs, counseling (psychotherapy), self-help groups, paired with individual sponsors, and sometimes even medication.

The basic principles of treatment include the following:

  • Detoxification: It is impossible to treat alcoholism or alcohol dependence in a patient who continues to use alcohol. Usually detoxification can be done as an outpatient. However, there are situations that are the indications for inpatient detoxification. There are many medical complications of alcohol withdrawal, so a complete physical examination with appropriate laboratory tests is mandatory, with special attention to the liver and nervous system.
  • Restricting access to alcohol: Following detoxification, alcohol should be removed from the patient’s home and all family or friends that drink heavily or use illicit drugs should be avoided.
  • Learning about the disease model of addiction: Patients should be educated that addiction is a medical illness – not a moral failing and that an alcoholic can never go back to drinking, total abstinence is required for healing to occur. In general, “controlled drinking” carries a high risk of relapse.
  • Treat associated psychiatric problems: Alcoholism may have developed as a self-treatment for another psychiatric disorder. This is especially true of addicted patients who have used alcohol to treat a:
    • Psychotic Disorder
    • Mood Disorder
    • Anxiety Disorder
    • Personality Disorder

Many of these “coexisting psychiatric disorders” have excellent medical treatments, which must be utilized.

Successful recovery really is an art form; it’s taking one thing, one story and turning it into something else. People don’t get sober just to keep living the exact same way they always lived – just without alcohol and drugs. People face alcoholism head on to get to live better, to dream and then work towards achieving those dreams, to enter into full, satisfying relationships, to live productive lives and to be happy human beings of service.

If you think you may be suffering with the disease of alcoholism, you are not alone.

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