When you think of the word addiction, you most likely correlate it to the use of illicit drugs (such as heroin or cocaine) or abuse of prescription medication (such as opiates, including fentanyl.) However, addiction is not just limited to drug use. Alcohol can also be addicting, which is why the month of April is dedicated to raising awareness on alcoholism – a very real disease that requires intervention. Without it, your life could be in jeopardy.
Alcoholism can affect anyone. While experts have tried to pinpoint certain factors on the disease, such as race and socioeconomics, none of these have been found to be a direct cause. That being said, psychological, behaviour and genetic factors are all known to contribute to alcoholism. There are also many different ways in which alcoholism can show itself. For example, someone who is an alcoholic may drink heavily all day, every day, while others may go through extended periods of drinking followed by periods of time where they are sober.
In order to determine whether you or someone you know has a problem with alcohol, you need to be aware of the signs. While it may sometimes be difficult to recognize, one of the most common signs that someone has become or is becoming dependent on alcohol is an increase in the consumption of alcohol they drink, or how frequently they drink it. Excess and frequent alcohol consumption can also lead to a high tolerance for alcohol, and it is possible for someone to have a lack of symptoms associated with hangovers. People who depend on alcohol will also commonly drink at times and in places that are inappropriate (such as in the mornings, or while at work), and will also go out of their way to be in situations where alcohol is present, while avoiding situations where there is no alcohol involved. It’s also not uncommon for someone who is dependent on alcohol to avoid contact with loved ones as well as long-term friends, and instead choose to hang around the wrong crowd (i.e. other people who drink heavily) or choose alcohol as their first priority, and lose intertest in activities they once enjoyed. Alcoholism can also lead to lethargy, as well as problems with mental health (i.e. depression and mood swings), as well as both legal and professional problems.
If identified and treated early on, many of the major consequences that are associated with this disease can potentially be prevented. However, it can lead to some very serious health complications – including ulcers, bone loss, vision problems, diabetes complications, suppressed immune function, and even a risk of cancer. It can also lead to heart and liver disease – both of which can be fatal. Regular or excessive use of alcohol can cause a variety of diseases affecting the heart, including cardiomyopathy – a condition in which the heart muscle has difficulty pumping blood to the rest of your body, which can lead to heart failure – and different diseases impacting the liver, such as cirrhosis (scarring of the liver), hepatitis, as well as cellular mutation which could lead to liver cancer.
Like any other disease, alcoholism can also be complex and difficult to treat, as in order for it to be treated, an individual must be at a point in their life where they have the desire, willingness and commitment to get sober. One of the most common treatment options for someone with alcoholism (as well as other types of addiction) is in or out-patient rehabilitation. In-patient rehab programs are usually in a hospital-style or living facility setting can last anywhere from 30 days to a year, sometimes even longer, and are designed to help the individual identify any precursors that may have led to the alcoholism, including any emotional issues they may have had leading up to the alcoholism or be having as a result of the alcoholism, as well as help them get through the symptoms of withdrawal. Outpatient programs offer many of the same treatment and support options that those in an in-patient program would receive; the only difference is that it allows you to live at home. Another common method of treatment that those addicted to alcohol turn to are 12-step programs, such as Alcoholics Anonymous (also referred to as AA) and other sober recovery programs that help those struggling with alcohol addiction as well as the challenges and temptations that someone might face during their sobriety.