Alcohol Dependence (Alcoholism)
WHAT IS ALCOHOL DEPENDENCE?
Alcohol dependence (alcoholism) is a disease that includes:
· The need to drink greater amounts of alcohol to get high
· A strong urge to drink
· Not being able to control your drinking even though you know that it is harmful
· Withdrawal symptoms, such as nausea, sweating, and shakiness when you stop drinking.
Signs that you have lost control over your use of alcohol include:
· Not being able to limit your drinking even when you try
· Having problems at work or with friends or family because of your alcohol use
· Spending a lot of time and energy drinking alcohol or getting over its effects.
Alcohol dependence is one of the most common illnesses seen by healthcare providers. It is especially serious in older people. Abuse of alcohol may cause health problems or make existing health problems worse.
HOW DOES IT OCCUR?
The cause of alcohol dependence is not known. It is more likely if you have:
· Family members who are dependent on alcohol
· Stress that is ongoing
· Family and friends who drink regularly
· ADHD, Depression, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, or anxiety
WHAT ARE THE SYMPTOMS?
Alcohol dependence takes many forms including:
· Drinking from time to time
· Drinking all the time
· Binge drinking.
When you drink alcohol regularly, it changes how your body works. Your liver processes the alcohol faster. You need to drink more to keep the same amount of alcohol in the blood. Alcohol users often drink to avoid withdrawal symptoms.
People who are dependent on alcohol may:
· Drink alone or try to hide their drinking.
· Promise to give up drinking.
· Drink stronger alcoholic beverages or start to drink earlier in the day.
· Have problems at work, miss work, or spend too much money.
· Have problems in relationships.
· Black out, be confused, or have memory problems.
· Lose interest in food.
· Have mood changes, such as getting angry or irritable.
· Hurt themselves or others while drunk.
Physical symptoms may include:
· Nausea or shaking in the morning
· Poor eating habits
· Stomach pain
· Cramps or diarrhea
· Numbness or tingling
· Weakness in the legs and hands
· Red eyes, face, or palms
· Unsteady walking or falls
· New and worsening medical problems.
HOW IS IT DIAGNOSED?
Many healthcare providers may not consider the possibility of alcohol dependence or they tend to overlook it. You or a family member may need to bring up the subject.
The diagnosis of alcohol dependence is based on how you use alcohol and the effects of alcohol on your life or family. Your healthcare provider will take a careful medical history of your symptoms. Especially important are how and when you drink alcohol. Your healthcare provider will ask about:
· Your history of using drugs and alcohol
· Your ability to function socially
· Your work history
· Your family history
· Prior and current emotional or mental problems
· Thoughts of suicide
Your healthcare provider will examine you to look for medical problems caused by alcohol use. Lab tests of your urine and blood may be done.
HOW IS IT TREATED?
You must stop drinking alcohol. Your healthcare provider can help you quit drinking and recover from problems caused by alcohol. Psychotherapy and social programs will also aid in your recovery. It might help if family members are included in your treatment program.
After immediate withdrawal from alcohol (detoxification), there are several options for treatment. You and your treatment team will decide which options make the most sense for you. Support groups such as Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) may be recommended.
Your healthcare provider may prescribe a medicine for you called ReVia (naltrexone). This medicine can help you overcome cravings for alcohol. It blocks the feelings of pleasure that drinking gives you. Another medicine for treating alcohol dependence is Campral (acamprosate). Acamprosate helps to relieve the withdrawal symptoms which happen when a person stops drinking. These medicines often work best when used along with therapy and support groups.
HOW LONG WILL THE EFFECTS LAST?
You may feel a need or desire for alcohol throughout your life. Alcohol counseling and treatment can help you recognize and change the behavior patterns that usually cause you to start drinking.
If you stop drinking, related health problems can often be controlled or prevented. However, injury to your liver or pancreas, may be lasting and possibly fatal.
HOW CAN I TAKE CARE OF MYSELF?
Make sure you seek medical help. Recovery from alcohol dependence almost always requires the help and support of others. Make sure you get this support. People and resources in your community that can help you include your healthcare provider, therapists, support groups, mental health centers, and alcohol or substance abuse treatment programs.
Follow your healthcare provider’s advice for treatment of any other medical problems. Stay away from situations where people are likely to abuse drugs or alcohol.
You should also work to improve your general health.
· Exercise for at least 20 minutes every day, for example, take a brisk walk.
· Develop and participate in hobbies or relaxing recreation activities at least once or twice a week.
· Eat a healthy diet.
· Get 7 to 9 hours of rest per night.
· Practice deep breathing and other relaxation exercises during times of high stress.
· Talk with friends and develop other support systems. (Avoid family and friends who drink regularly.)
· Avoid situations where people are likely to use alcohol or drugs
· Drink little or no caffeine.
· Listen to music to help you relax.
· Develop and maintain a positive attitude
· Ask for help at home and work when the load is too great to handle.
· Seek professional help to talk through anxiety-producing life events. Ask for help so that you can find positive ways to cope.
Note: Before stopping or reducing your alcohol intake, call Addiction Services. Alcohol withdrawal is a serious issue that requires medical supervision. Do not stop cold turkey.
For more information:
Addiction Services Nova Scotia: http://novascotia.ca/dhw/addictions/
Addiction Services Prince Edward Island: http://www.healthpei.ca/addiction
Canadian Low-Risk Drinking Guidelines: http://www.ccsa.ca/Resource%20Library/2012-Canada-Low-Risk-Alcohol-Drinking-Guidelines-Brochure-en.pdf