Alcohol addiction, also known as alcoholism or alcohol use disorder (AUD), is a chronic disease characterized by the compulsive use of alcohol despite negative consequences. It affects millions of people worldwide and can have serious health, social, and economic consequences.
Let’s consider the case of John, a 35-year-old man who has been drinking heavily for the past 10 years. He drinks at least a bottle of whiskey per day and has experienced several negative consequences, such as job loss, financial problems, and relationship issues. Despite these problems, he is unable to stop drinking, and his alcohol use has now become a daily routine.
The exact cause of alcohol addiction is not fully understood, but it is believed to be the result of a complex interaction between genetic, environmental, and social factors. Studies have shown that certain genes may increase the risk of developing alcohol addiction, while environmental factors such as stress, trauma, and peer pressure can also play a role.
Alcohol addiction is characterized by changes in the brain’s reward system, which is responsible for feelings of pleasure and motivation. Chronic alcohol use can lead to the release of large amounts of dopamine, a neurotransmitter that plays a key role in the brain’s reward system. Over time, the brain becomes less responsive to dopamine, leading to a decreased ability to experience pleasure and an increased need for alcohol to achieve the same effect.
Signs and symptoms:
The signs and symptoms of alcohol addiction can vary from person to person, but some common ones include:
Drinking alone or in secret
Drinking in larger amounts than intended
Inability to control alcohol use
Neglecting responsibilities or obligations due to alcohol use
Continued use of alcohol despite negative consequences
Cravings for alcohol
Withdrawal symptoms when alcohol use is stopped
The diagnosis of alcohol addiction is based on a combination of physical and psychological symptoms. A physical exam and blood tests can help rule out other medical conditions, and a psychiatric evaluation can assess mental health and addiction severity. In some cases, imaging studies may be used to evaluate brain function and structure.
The treatment of alcohol addiction typically involves a combination of medication, psychotherapy, and support groups. Medications such as naltrexone, acamprosate, and disulfiram can help reduce alcohol cravings and withdrawal symptoms. Psychotherapy, including cognitive-behavioral therapy and motivational interviewing, can help identify and change negative thought patterns and behaviors associated with alcohol addiction. Support groups such as Alcoholics Anonymous can provide ongoing support and encouragement.
Dos and Don’ts:
If you or someone you know is struggling with alcohol addiction, here are some dos and don’ts to keep in mind:
- Do seek professional help from a healthcare provider or addiction specialist
- Do practice self-care, including exercise, healthy eating, and stress reduction techniques
- Do attend support groups or therapy sessions
- Do set achievable goals and celebrate progress
- Don’t try to quit alcohol use without professional help
- Don’t enable or ignore the alcohol use of a loved one
- Don’t engage in risky behaviors while under the influence of alcohol
- Don’t blame or shame yourself or others for the addiction
- National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. (2020)
- American Psychiatric Association. (2013). Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders (5th ed.). Arlington, VA: American Psychiatric Association.
- Mayo Clinic