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Alcoholism - Alcohol dependence - Alcohol abuse
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Alcoholism - Alcohol dependence - Alcohol abuse 

 

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MENTAL HEALTH

Addictions & Substance Use

Causes, incidence, and risk factors   

Alcoholism is a type of drug addiction. There is both physical and psychological dependence with this addiction. Physical dependence reveals itself by withdrawal symptoms when alcohol intake is interrupted, tolerance to the effects of alcohol, and evidence of alcohol-associated illnesses.

Alcohol affects the central nervous system as a depressant, resulting in a decrease of activity, anxiety, tension, and inhibitions. Even a few drinks can result in behavioral changes, a slowing in motor performance, and a decrease in the ability to think clearly. Concentration and judgment become impaired. In excessive amounts, intoxication may result.

Alcohol also affects other body systems. Irritation of the gastrointestinal tract can occur with erosion of the lining of the esophagus and stomach causing nausea and vomiting, and possibly bleeding. Vitamins are not absorbed properly, which can lead to nutritional deficiencies with the long-term use of alcohol. Liver disease, called alcoholic hepatitis, may also develop and can progress to cirrhosis. The heart muscle may be affected. Sexual dysfunction may also occur, causing problems with erections in men and cessation of menstruation in women.

Alcohol affects the nervous system and can result in nerve damage and severe memory loss. Chronic alcohol use also increases the risk of cancer of the larynx, esophagus, liver, and colon. Alcohol consumption during pregnancy can cause severe birth defects. The most serious is fetal alcohol syndrome, which may result in mental retardation and behavior problems. A milder form of the condition which can still cause lifelong impairment is called fetal alcohol affects.

The social consequences of problem drinking and alcohol dependence can be as serious as the medical problems. People who abuse or are dependent on alcohol have a higher incidence of unemployment, domestic violence, and problems with the law. About half of all traffic deaths are related to alcohol use.

The development of dependence on alcohol may occur over a period of years, following a relatively consistent pattern. At first, a tolerance of alcohol develops. This results in a person being able to consume a greater quantity of alcohol before its adverse effects are noticed. Memory lapses (black-outs) relating to drinking episodes may follow tolerance. Then, people may lose control over drinking and find it difficult or impossible to stop if they try. The most severe drinking behavior includes prolonged binges of drinking with associated mental or physical complications. Some people are able to gain control over their dependence in earlier phases before a total lack of control occurs. The problem is, no one knows which heavy drinkers will be able to regain control and which will not.

Withdrawal develops because the brain has physically adapted to the presence of alcohol and cannot function adequately in the absence of the drug. Symptoms of withdrawal may include elevated temperature, increased blood pressure, rapid heart rate, restlessness, anxiety, psychosis, seizures, and rarely even death.

There is no known common cause of alcoholism. However, several factors may play a role in its development. A person who has an alcoholic parent is more likely to become an alcoholic than a person without alcoholism in the immediate family. Research suggests that certain genes may increase the risk of alcoholism but which genes or how they exert their influence is controversial. Psychological factors may include a need for relief of anxiety, ongoing depression, unresolved conflict within relationships, or low self-esteem. Social factors include availability of alcohol, social acceptance of the use of alcohol, peer pressure, and stressful lifestyles.

The incidence of alcohol intake and related problems is increasing.

Alcohol addiction > 1 > 2 >

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This information is provided for general medical education purposes only and is not meant to substitute for the independent medical judgment of a physician relative to diagnostic and treatment options of a specific patient's medical condition.
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