Alcoholism is a chronic disease that makes your body dependent on alcohol. You may be obsessed with alcohol and unable to control how much you drink, even though your drinking is causing serious problems with your relationships, health, work and finances.
It's possible to have a problem with alcohol, but not display all the characteristics of alcoholism. This isknown as "alcohol abuse," which means you engage in excessive drinking that causes health or social problems, but you aren't dependent on alcohol and haven't fully lost control over the use of alcohol.
Although many people assume otherwise, alcoholism is a treatable disease. Medications, counseling and self-help groups are among the therapies that can provide ongoing support to help you recoverfrom alcoholism.
Before treatment or recovery, most people with alcoholism deny that they have a drinking problem. Other signs of alcoholism and alcohol abuse include:
• Drinking alone or in secret
• Being unable to limit the amount of alcohol you drink
• Not remembering conversations or commitments, sometimes referred to as "blacking out"
•Making a ritual of having drinks before, with or after dinner and becoming annoyed when this ritual is disturbed or questioned
• Losing interest in activities and hobbies that used to bring pleasure
• Feeling a need or compulsion to drink
• Irritability when your usual drinking time nears, especially if alcohol isn't available
• Keeping alcohol in unlikely places at home,at work or in the car
• Gulping drinks, ordering doubles, becoming intoxicated intentionally to feel good or drinking to feel "normal"
• Having legal problems or problems with relationships, employment or finances
• Building a tolerance to alcohol so that you need an increasing number of drinks to feel alcohol's effects
• Experiencing physical withdrawal symptoms — suchas nausea, sweating and shaking — if you don't drink
People who abuse alcohol may experience many of the same signs and symptoms as people who are dependent on alcohol. However, alcohol abusers don't feel the same compulsion to drink and usually don't experience physical withdrawal symptoms when they don't drink. A dependence on alcohol also creates a tolerance to alcohol and the inability tocontrol your drinking.
If you've ever wondered if your own alcohol consumption crosses the line of abuse or dependence, ask yourself these questions:
• Do you need a drink as soon as you get up?
• Do you feel guilty about your drinking?
• Do you think you need to cut back on your alcohol consumption?
• Are you annoyed when other people comment on or criticize yourdrinking habits?
If you answered yes to two or more questions, it's likely that you have a problem with alcohol. Even one yes answer may indicate a problem.
Alcohol addiction — physical dependence on alcohol — occurs gradually. Over time, drinking alcohol alters the balance of some chemicals in your brain, such as gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA), which inhibits impulsiveness, andglutamate, 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 drinkingthat 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.