Alcohol addiction , also known as alcoholism , alcohol abuse, or alcohol dependence , is a disease that seems to be spreading. Various factors for the development and treatment of alcohol addiction are discussed.
What is alcohol addiction?
Severe liver damage, fatty liver , and alcoholic hepatitis (inflammation of the liver) or cirrhosis of the liver are the dangerous diseases that can be associated with alcohol addiction .
The term alcoholism or alcohol dependence refers to a chronic disease caused by regular and excessive alcohol consumption is caused and leads to severe social, emotional and physical damage.
The difference between alcoholism and normal alcohol consumption lies in the gradual loss of free will. This has the consequence that the alcohol consumer slips away from consumption and he is no longer able to do without the drug. The alcoholic drinks more than he actually wants because of his alcohol addiction.
Why do many people even drink alcohol?
Alcohol has a special place in the history of Europe. Even the ancient Teutons made the intoxicating drink “mead” from honey. But beer made from grain and wine made from grapes have also been known in Europe since ancient times. The intoxicating effect, the sensual taste, but also the long shelf life of alcohol are just a few reasons for its wide acceptance in Europe.
Alcohol can be bought in almost every store today. The availability threshold is therefore very small. Alcohol also has a strong social component in Western society. Alcohol makes it easier for people to come into contact with one another, and inhibitions when seeking contact are lowered. It also makes flirting easier for many people.
Unfortunately, many people also see alcohol as a solution to problems and stress. Due to the intoxicating effect, negative thoughts are suppressed or played down. Affected people seem to escape the unloved reality for a few hours. Most people do not notice that the problems are neither resolved nor the stress is relieved the next day.
When does alcohol become an addiction?
People who periodically feel the need to drink alcohol can be classified as at risk of addiction. When it comes to the daily consumption of alcohol at the latest, doctors speak of alcohol addiction or alcoholism. The amounts can vary. A small schnapps a day can be enough. The constant compulsive desire for alcohol at short intervals is crucial.
Does Alcohol Really Kill Brain Cells? With how much alcohol do brain cells die?
With every intoxication or drunkenness, nerve cells die. However, humans have around 100 billion nerve cells, so that moderate alcohol consumption is of no consequence here. An intact blood-brain barrier also largely shields alcohol from negative effects.
When is the blood-brain barrier defective and no longer protects against the negative effects of alcohol?
The duration and amount of alcohol consumption inevitably changes the blood-brain barrier. In the beginning it gets tighter and smaller amounts of ethanol reach the brain. Affected people usually only notice this incidentally, as they can simply consume more alcohol without feeling really drunk. In the long term, the loss of memory is clearly noticeable.
It is also dangerous for the liver, because its job is to break down the toxin in the body. However, above a certain amount of alcohol, she can no longer cope with this activity. In the medium term, both the brain and the liver suffer irreversible organic damage. The severity of the damage to the brain and liver is different for each person and cannot be predicted by the amount and duration of alcohol consumption.
When is the liver permanently damaged?
In women, damage to the liver sets in with smaller amounts than in men. The following rule of thumb applies here: 2 centiliters of schnapps, ¼ liter of wine or 0.5 liter of beer on at least four days a week attack the liver. Cirrhosis of the liver is then usually the result.
Men can tolerate two to three times the amount of ethanol. But the same applies here: Not everyone is the same! Cirrhosis of the liver itself is the end stage of a chronic liver disease, which so far is only partially curable. Liver cells die and are replaced by scar tissue. If the process continues, the liver dies and a detoxification process is no longer possible. The person then dies of internal poisoning.
Various factors can be considered as causes of alcohol addiction. One of these factors is the general social acceptance of alcohol consumption and the very easy availability of alcoholic beverages. Children already experience this when they see the huge bottle arsenals in supermarkets, kiosks and beverage markets, which are often offered at very reasonable prices.
Another contributing factor is a genetic defect that causes the absence of alcohol dehydrogenase, an enzyme that breaks down alcohol. It is also claimed that there are personality types who are more alcohol-prone than others.
Other social factors include today’s stressful way of life in industrialized countries and the social isolation that often results from it. Especially in crisis situations, many people use alcohol as a sedative or as a way to escape the bleak everyday life. Artificial intoxication is often used when life in the truest sense of the word is otherwise not intoxicating.
Symptoms, ailments & signs
There are numerous physical and psychological symptoms associated with alcohol addiction. The clearest sign of alcoholism is the strong and only occasionally interrupted desire for alcohol, which dominates the entire thoughts and actions of the person concerned in the advanced stage of the disease. Sober phases cause tremors , movement disorders , excessive sweating, dizziness , nervousness and lack of concentration.
As a result, alcohol is consumed early in the day. For alcoholic people it becomes more and more difficult to cope with everyday life. They hide their addiction and when asked about it, they deny or minimize their addiction.
They usually have a puffy and flushed face, are easily irritable to severely aggressive, and their mood changes quickly. It is not easy to get along with them and they only feel reasonably comfortable and relaxed when they have reached a level of alcoholism that is comfortable for them.
Apart from that, alcohol addicts suffer from insomnia and decreased appetite, they gradually lose weight. Increased blood pressure as well as cardiac arrhythmias often set in and sooner or later the liver of almost all alcohol patients is irreparably damaged. Stomach ulcers and pancreatitis are less common than liver diseases. Alcoholics have lower fertility and a higher risk of suicidality, cancer and dementia than healthy people. Massive alcohol abuse occasionally leads to Korsakoff syndrome.
Diagnosis & course
The physical harm of alcohol addiction is mainly caused by a very toxic metabolic product called acetaldehyde, which is formed in the liver when alcohol is broken down. This can lead to severe liver damage such as fatty liver disease , alcoholic hepatitis ( inflammation of the liver ) or cirrhosis of the liver .
Furthermore, the pancreas and the gastric mucosa can be affected in the sense of inflammation. It can also lead to stomach and intestinal tumors and heart muscle diseases. In pregnant women, alcoholism can lead to deformities in the child, the so-called alcohol embryopathy, and it can also trigger a miscarriage .
A number of neurological disorders can also be caused by alcoholism. These include polyneuropathies (inflammation of the nerves), epileptic seizures, and brain shrinkage. Common symptoms include alcohol hallucinations with severe hallucinations , delirium tremens, anxiety , delusions , loss of reality and the so-called Korsakoff syndrome , which is associated with a loss of body control, memory and orientation. If left untreated, alcohol addiction ultimately leads to death.
Alcohol addiction is caused by regular, high consumption of alcohol. Acute alcohol consumption leads to impaired coordination and articulation. In addition, there is a change in personality and disorders of consciousness. The alcohol leads to an increased flow of urine and an increased breakdown of sugar, so that dehydration or hypoglycemia can follow.
Excessive consumption of alcohol causes memory disorders and loss of consciousness . In the worst cases, there is a coma and respiratory failure. Chronic alcohol consumption during alcohol addiction damages the liver. This leads to obesity, resulting in fatty liver. Further alcohol consumption leads to connective tissue remodeling of the liver, which leads to cirrhosis of the liver.
This leads to disorders of the liver function. It can no longer synthesize enough proteins, causing edema and clotting disorders. In addition, fluids often collect in the abdomen, leading to ascites. The solidification of the liver tissue diverts the blood flow, the blood flows through collateral circuits instead of through the liver.
Varicose veins in the esophagus and stomach as well as hemorrhoids are the consequences. The spleen is also affected and, as a result, enlarges. Liver cirrhosis also carries an increased risk of degenerating into liver cancer.
When should you go to the doctor?
Alcohol addiction is a stressful addiction disease and can cause considerable physical and psychological damage to the person affected in the short and long term. Therefore, in the case of alcohol addiction, a doctor’s appointment should be made as early as possible. In practice, of course, this is rarely done, because before an alcoholic realizes that he is addicted, a drastic experience often has to happen first.
However, family members and friends know long in advance that someone around them has an alcohol problem. In order to get him to admit his alcohol addiction, point out that something is wrong. It is also important that they do not become accomplices by defending their behavior under the influence of alcohol or by silently tolerating alcohol consumption. However, they cannot force an alcoholic to see a doctor either. As soon as a person with alcohol addiction is ready to be examined by a doctor , a visit to the family doctor is sufficient – he will initiate all further steps.
First, the patient is physically examined, because alcohol addiction for a short time can be enough to cause damage to the internal organs. While these can then be treated as much as possible afterwards, an alcoholic needs psychological care afterwards in order to overcome the addiction disease. This can take place on an inpatient or outpatient basis – depending on the severity of the alcohol addiction.
Treatment & Therapy
If alcohol addiction is to be treated successfully, it first requires that the alcoholic admit the disease to himself. To make this easier, he can turn to a self-help group such as the Blue Cross or Alcoholics Anonymous.
Addiction counseling centers can also help to make it easier for the determined alcoholic to get out of addiction. Sometimes a two-week withdrawal in a clinic is necessary at the beginning, which initially provides for an initial physical detox.
This is followed by a weaning phase with rehabilitation, which is often accompanied by drug treatment. Above all, however, psychological or social therapeutic treatment in the form of group therapy or behavioral therapy is important . Above all, self-help groups or professional therapists can help people get out of alcohol addiction or support them.
Outlook & forecast
In the worst case scenario, alcohol addiction can lead to the death of the patient. As a rule, the internal organs and the brain are severely damaged by long-term ingestion of large amounts of alcohol, so that paralysis or sensitivity disorders can continue.
Alcohol addiction also has a negative impact on social contacts, so that it is not uncommon for people to be aggressive or irritable. Those affected withdraw from social life and often break off contacts. The quality of life is thus significantly reduced by alcohol addiction. There is also a risk of alcohol poisoning , which can lead to the death of the person concerned. Long-term use also reduces life expectancy.
The treatment of alcohol addiction must always be initiated by the person concerned, although in serious cases this can also take place in a closed clinic. Relapse can occur even after successful treatment. The other complaints and complications depend on the severity of the alcohol addiction. As a rule, however, alcohol has a very negative effect on the entire body and damages the organs.
To prevent alcohol addiction, anyone who regularly consumes alcohol should ask themselves how voluntary it is. Is there a kind of peer pressure from a group of friends who often celebrate? Is that why you use sparkling wine more often, even though you would rather drink water? Do you use alcohol as an easy way to switch off?
If you answered yes to these questions, you should consider whether a few changes could be made in your own life that would make life more worth living and less stressful. A good life is the best prevention against alcohol addiction.
Follow-up care plays a major role in alcohol addiction. During a weaning cure, it is often easy for the person affected, especially at the end, not to be overwhelmed by the addiction, because there is a distance from everyday life and enough distractions. If he goes back to his familiar surroundings, there is a great risk that a relapse will occur, which is why follow-up care with a great care and support factor is of the utmost importance.
Relatives who are informed about the disease are a good support. Then unpleasant moments in which alcohol is involved can be avoided. As difficult as it sounds, the person affected should speak openly about the disease and not be ashamed of possible thoughts of renewed consumption.
Just as important as the social environment is a doctor who is trusted. He should be contacted immediately if there is any indication of a relapse. Open meetings for addicts and the “cured” can also be a stable accompaniment during aftercare, because the person affected does not only have one place where he can share his thoughts. He also comes into contact with people who are only at the beginning of the treatment path and he automatically takes on a role model function for these people, which in turn has a motivating effect on him.
You can do that yourself
The first and most important act comes from the person concerned alone. He should understand that his life will have to change radically in order to defeat alcohol addiction. Very often, if addicts themselves believe they need to stop drinking, they will not be able to do it on their own.
In many cases, the addiction is far too strong. It is better to turn to other people. This can be a support group close to where you live. It also makes sense to let good friends or close family members know about the plan. In this case, alcoholics can clearly say: “I want to stop drinking and I need support!” This is the first step in overcoming addiction.
From this point on, alcohol must absolutely no longer play a role. Serious alcohol addicts, however, have to expect professional help . This is possible, for example, in a special addiction clinic, in which the patient is admitted, treated and monitored for a certain period of time and then advised. After this stay, joining a self-help group can in turn lead to completely turning away from alcohol forever. And if those affected show weakness, they should by no means give up straight away.