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April is Alcohol Awareness Month

Toni-Ann DiSantis

April is Alcohol Awareness Month

According to the American Medical Association, alcohol abuse is a pattern of drinking that is accompanied by one or more of the following problems:

Failure to fulfill major work, school, or home responsibilities because of drinking
Drinking in situations that are physically dangerous, such as while driving a car or operating machinery
Recurring alcohol-related legal problems, such as being arrested for driving under the influence of alcohol or for physically hurting someone while drunk
Having social or relationship problems that are caused by or worsened by the effects of alcohol

Alcoholism (alcohol dependence) is a more severe pattern of drinking that includes the problems of alcohol abuse plus persistent drinking in spite of obvious physical, mental, and social problems caused by alcohol. Also typical are:

Loss of control (the inability to stop drinking once begun)
Withdrawal symptoms (symptoms associated with stopping drinking such as nausea, sweating, shakiness, and anxiety)
Tolerance (needing increased amounts of alcohol in order to feel drunk)

Causes

Alcohol addiction — physical dependence on alcohol — occurs gradually as drinking alcohol alters the balance of some chemicals in your brain, such as gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA), which inhibits impulsiveness, and glutamate, which excites the nervous system. Alcohol also raises the levels of dopamine in the brain, which is associated with the pleasurable aspects of drinking alcohol. Excessive, long-term drinking can deplete or increase the levels of some of these chemicals, causing your body to crave alcohol to restore good feelings or to avoid negative feelings.

Other factors can lead to excessive drinking that contributes to the addiction process. These include:

Genetics. Certain genetic factors may cause a person to be vulnerable to alcoholism or other addictions.
Emotional state. High levels of stress, anxiety or emotional pain can lead some people to drink alcohol to block out the turmoil. Certain stress hormones may be associated with alcoholism.
Psychological factors. Having low-self esteem or depression may make you more likely to abuse alcohol. Having friends or a close partner who drinks regularly — but who may not abuse alcohol — could promote excessive drinking on your part. It may be difficult for you to distance yourself from these "enablers" or at least from their drinking habits.
Social and cultural factors. The glamorous way that drinking alcohol is portrayed in advertising and in the media may send the message that it's OK to drink excessively.

Rick Factors

Steady drinking over time can produce a physical dependence on alcohol. Drinking more than 15 drinks a week for men or 12 drinks a week for women increases the risk of developing dependence on alcohol. However, drinking by itself is just one of the risk factors that contribute to alcoholism. Other risk factors include:

Age. People who begin drinking at an early age — by age 16 or earlier — are at a higher risk of alcohol dependence or abuse.
Genetics. Your genetic makeup may increase your risk of alcohol dependency.
Sex. Men are more likely to become dependent on or abuse alcohol than are women.
Family history. The risk of alcoholism is higher for people who had a parent or parents who abused alcohol.
Emotional disorders. Being severely depressed or having anxiety places you at a greater risk of abusing alcohol. Adults with attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder also may be more likely to become dependent on alcohol.

Treatment

Most people with alcoholism or those who abuse alcohol enter treatment reluctantly because they deny that they have a problem. Health problems or legal difficulties may prompt treatment. Intervention helps some people recognize and accept the need for treatment. If you're concerned about a friend or family member, discuss intervention with a professional.

Various treatments are available to help people with alcohol problems. Depending on the circumstances, treatment may involve an evaluation, a brief intervention, an outpatient program or counseling, or a residential inpatient stay.

Courtesy of www.mayoclinic.com