Alcohol Addiction (also known as alcoholism) is a chronic, often progressive disease in which a person craves alcohol and drinks despite repeated alcohol related problems (like losing a job or a relationship). Alcoholism involves a physical dependence on alcohol, but other factors include genetic, psychological, and cultural influences.
Becoming addicted to alcohol is a gradual process that happens as alcohol changes the level of chemicals in your brain, especially gamma-aminobutyric acid or GABA (which stops you from being impulsive) and dopamine (which is linked with pleasurable feelings). As the levels of these chemicals change, you crave alcohol to make yourself feel good again.
Alcoholism is characterised by craving alcohol and losing control over drinking, along with a physical dependence (meaning that the person experiences withdrawal symptoms when not drinking) and a tolerance for alcohol (meaning the person needs to drink greater amounts to feel “good”). Before entering alcohol rehab, most alcoholics will deny they have a problem. People who abuse alcohol but are not dependent on it may have similar symptoms, but they don’t feel the same craving to drink and usually don’t experience withdrawal symptoms.
Alcohol Addiction can cause a number of health problems to the liver, the pancreas, the brain, the heart and other dieases like cancer.
Here are some of the health facts:
THE LIVER – CIRRHOSIS
Cirrhosis of the liver can be explained simply by the normal liver cells being
replaced by fibrosis – scar tissue resulting in the loss of liver function.
Excessive alcohol consumption causes the liver to enlarge and harden. It produces enzymes such as Gamma GT when affected.
One of the main functions of the liver is to produce blood clotting agents. Deficiencies in these agents causes excessive bruising, prolonged blood loss from cuts and in severe cases death from uncontrollable bleeding from, for example a simple stomach ulcer.
The liver is the only organ that has the capability of repairing itself. However once cirrhosis occurs the damage is irreparable. If the patient stops drinking the damage caused in most cases is arrested at that point. A person can lead a normal life with a liver that is only 30% functional, but after this point regular medical treatment is required and in some cases a liver transplant is the only option
2. THE PANCREAS
Acute pancreatitis is a common symptom of alcohol misuse.
The condition causes extreme pain, nausea, diarrhoea and loss of appetite. The pancreas`s function is to produce enzymes in the food digestion process. Treatment for pancreatitis is often hospitalisation with ‘nil by mouth’ in conjunction with intravenous medication.
The body cannot survive without the pancreas. However if the patient stops drinking it can be treated successfully. If the patient carries on drinking after treatment the pancreas will soon revert to its original serious condition as it has lost its tolerance to alcohol.
3. THE BRAIN
Heavy prolonged drinking causes a variety of effects on the brain.
It distorts the brain’s chemisty and will cause it to shrink. Dementia is common
which slows down the chemical transfer of important function messages the body needs to lead a normal life. Effects manifest themselves in various ways from mild memory loss to a severe stroke and death. More common symptons are slow slurred speech, constant facial and hand tremors, a total change in personality and a staggered walk. Eventually the damage is severe and irreversible. This is commonly
known as `WET BRAIN.`
4. THE HEART
Moderate drinking has the effect of anti-coagulation of the blood, similar to that produced by the drug warfarin. Drinking alcohol is not recommended for anyone who has a heart condition.
Alcohol misuse has an effect on the kidneys which causes high blood pressure and in turn affects the heart as it has to work harder to pump the same volume of blood round the body. Medical research shows people who drink heavily die on average 12 years earlier than people who drink moderately due to fatal heart failure.
Other than diet, alcohol misuse is the main cause of cardiovascular failure in Western Europe.
5. DEPRESSION, ANXIETY AND PANIC ATTACKS
Alcohol in moderate doses is recognised as relieving stress and helping people to relax and boost their confidence. While in the system it can also relieve mild depression. However, that is where the problem can start as excessive
use of alcohol also causes these problems.
If a patient tells their GP that they are stressed or depressed without honestly discussing their alcohol consumption doctors often treat these disorders with anti-depressants such as benzodiazepines. Without a proper diagnose of the impact of the alcohol it is not uncommon for the patient to continue to drink in conjunction with the medication which is a highly dangerous cocktail. In addition the alcohol actually destroys the active ingredients in the anti depressants rendering them useless.
Excessive use of alcohol also causes anxiety, stress and panic attacks. It can frequently lead to suicidal thoughts, feelings of absolute despair and low self worth.
Fact. The misuse of alcohol increases the chance of cancer.
When the liver breaks down alcohol it produces acetaldehyde, a chemical
that research has shown has the ability to affect the DNA in healthy cells and make it more likely that cancerous cells will be produced.
There are specialised poison control cells in the brain that detect that the body is being poisoned. When these cells are activated they send a signal to the stomach to encourage vomiting. This reduces the chances of further poisoning. It is the body’s self defence mechanism. This occurs when high levels of alcohol are detected as alcohol is a poison to the body.
If a person has consumed enough alcohol to render themselves unconscious or they have concussion due to a fall they are susceptible to swallowing their own vomit. If they are unable to wake up they can be asphyxiated.
8. DRINKING WHILST PREGNANT
Alcohol easily crosses the placenta barrier to the unborn child. Excessive drinking in pregnancy can cause permanent birth defects. Known as Fetal Alcohol Syndrome, drinking in pregnancy can cause poor fetal growth, facial stigmata (cleft palate, hair lip, for example) and mental retardation.
Drinking alcohol is not advisable during pregnancy not even in small amounts.