International Independent University of Environmental and Political Sciences
Alexander V Myskin
Advisor: Zorina L. B.
Getting the Facts
For many people, the facts about alcoholism are not clear. What is alcoholism, exactly? How does it differ from alcohol abuse? When should a person seek help for a problem related to his or her drinking? This information will explain alcoholism and alcohol abuse, symptoms of each, when and where to seek help, treatment choices, and additional helpful resources.
A Widespread Problem
For most people, alcohol is a pleasant accompaniment to social activities. Moderate alcohol use--up to two drinks per day for men and one drink per day for women and older people (A standard drink is one bottle of beer or wine, one glass of wine) - is not harmful for most adults. Nonetheless, a substantial number of people have serious trouble with their drinking. Currently, nearly 30 million Russians - abuse alcohol or are alcoholic. Several million more adults engage in risky drinking patterns that could lead to alcohol problems. In addition, approximately 53 percent of men and women in Russian Federation report that one or more of their close relatives have a drinking problem.
The consequences of alcohol misuse are serious--in many cases, life-threatening. Heavy drinking can increase the risk for certain cancers, especially those of the liver, esophagus, throat, and larynx (voice box). It can also cause liver cirrhosis, immune system problems, brain damage, and harm to the fetus during pregnancy. In addition, drinking increases the risk of death from automobile crashes, recreational accidents, and on-the-job accidents and also increases the likelihood of homicide and suicide.
What Is Alcoholism?
Alcoholism, which is also known as "alcohol dependence syndrome," is a disease that is characterized by the following elements:
Craving: A strong need, or compulsion, to drink.
Loss of control: The frequent inability to stop drinking once a person has begun.
Physical dependence: The occurrence of withdrawal symptoms, such as nausea, sweating, shakiness, and anxiety, when alcohol use is stopped after a period of heavy drinking. These symptoms are usually relieved by drinking alcohol or by taking another sedative drug.
Tolerance: The need for increasing amounts of alcohol in order to get "high."
Alcoholism has little to do with what kind of alcohol one drinks, how long one has been drinking, or even exactly how much alcohol one consumes. But it has a great deal to do with a person's uncontrollable need for alcohol. This description of alcoholism helps us understand why most alcoholics can't just "use a little willpower" to stop drinking. He or she is frequently in the grip of a powerful craving for alcohol, a need that can feel as strong as the need for food or water. While some people are able to recover without help, the majority of alcoholic individuals need outside assistance to recover from their disease. With support and treatment, many individuals are able to stop drinking and rebuild their lives.
Many people wonder: Why can some individuals use alcohol without problems, while others are utterly unable to control their drinking? Yet it is important to recognize that aspects of a person's environment, such as peer influences and the availability of alcohol, also are significant influences. Both inherited and environmental influences are called "risk factors." But risk is not destiny. Just because alcoholism tends to run in families doesn't mean that a child of an alcoholic parent will automatically develop alcoholism.
What Is Alcohol Abuse?
Alcohol abuse differs from alcoholism in that it does not include an extremely strong craving for alcohol, loss of control, or physical dependence. In addition, alcohol abuse is less likely than alcoholism to include tolerance (the need for increasing amounts of alcohol to get "high"). Alcohol abuse is defined as a pattern of drinking that is accompanied by one or more of the following situations within a 12-month period:
Failure to fulfill major work, school, or home responsibilities;
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;
Continued drinking despite having ongoing relationship problems that are caused or worsened by the effects of alcohol.
While alcohol abuse is basically different from alcoholism, it is important to note that many effects of alcohol abuse are also experienced by alcoholics.