Diseases & Conditions


AlcoholismCharacteristicsComplicationsMedicationsRisk FactorsSymptomsTreatment

What is Alcoholism?

Alcoholism is a chronic and progressive disease characterized by a person’s craving for drinks and alcohol despite the presence of various alcohol related problems.

A person suffering from alcoholism not only craves for drink but is also unable to control his/her drinking and develops a physical dependence on alcohol. The person may develop withdrawal symptoms if drinks are denied and has a greater tolerance for alcohol.

Alcoholism occurs when the intake of alcohol gradually changes the chemical balance in the brain, especially dopamine (linked to pleasurable feelings) and aminoacetic acid (which stops a person from becoming impulsive). Since the levels of these chemicals are altered, a person suffering from alcoholism craves for more and more alcohol to feel good or ‘get a high’. Most alcoholics do not recognize their problem and refuse to acknowledge it before entering recovery.

Some complications that can arise due to alcoholism are:

  • Severe amnesia
  • Delirium or mental confusion
  • Unsteady gait
  • Repeated ulcers, gastroenteritis bleeding or vomiting
  • Loss of sperm cells
  • High BP, heart related diseases and heart attack
  • Nerve and brain damage
  • Pancreatitis
  • Liver damage or cirrhosis (liver failure).
  • Osteoporosis
  • Infections such as tuberculosis or pneumonia
  • Nutritional deficiencies
  • Cancers such as mouth, laryngeal, throat, breast or esophageal cancers.

A health care practitioner may provide the following medications for withdrawal from alcohol:

  • Benzodiazepines which are tranquilizers such as diazepam (Valium)
  • Lorazepam (Ativan)
  • Chlordiazepoxide (Librium)
  • Oxazepam (Serax)
  • Anticonvulsants can also help with withdrawal and have less potential for being misused. They include valproic acid (Depakote), carbamazepine (Tegretol), gabapentin (Neurotin) and phenytoin (Dilantin)
  • To prevent relapse after detoxification, naltrexone (Vivitrol, Revia) may be prescribed. Acamprosate (Campral) can help to correct the brain chemical imbalance.

Lifestyle Changes

To prevent a relapse into alcoholism again, the patient should attend Alcoholics Anonymous meetings regularly. Family members and friends should play an active part and attend these meetings to help the person recovering from alcoholism and support themselves. A recovering person should exercise regularly so that cravings can get reduced.

  • Hereditary factors such as a family history of alcoholism
  • Experiencing adverse events during childhood may lead to alcoholism
  • Coming from broken families
  • Drinking more than a glass or two of alcohol per day
  • Starting to drink at an early age, like sixteen or earlier.
  • Having a smoking habit (especially teenagers)
  • Already having some psychiatric disorder like anxiety or depression
  • Being under tremendous stress
  • There are more incidences of alcoholism among males than in females

  • Craving alcohol
  • Drinking alone or secretly
  • Inability to control the amount of drink
  • Becoming irritable in the absence of alcohol or when a person cant drink at the regular time
  • Blackouts or forgetting conversations and events
  • Inability to sustain jobs and relationships or run ins with the law
  • Requiring more than alcohol to get the desired effects
  • Withdrawal symptoms such as sweating, nausea, anxiety and shakiness.

The first step in the treatment process of alcoholism is recognizing the presence of a problem. Treatment and recovery has a 2 pronged approach – to take care of the physical aspects as well as address the psychological addiction. It includes both medications and therapy, such as the one provided at Alcoholics Anonymous.

In a residential or in patient alcoholism de addiction program, the patient will have to stay in the center or hospital for 2 weeks or more, undergo detoxification for up to a week and then get involved in individual or group therapy that emphasizes abstinence.