Understanding, Identifying and Treating Alcoholism


Alcoholism refers to problems with alcohol and is used to mean compulsive and uncontrolled drinking. The term alcoholism is usually used when talking about someone whose drinking is of detriment to their health, personal relationships and social standing. Alcoholism is also considered a disease by the medical community. It is an addictive disease which also falls under terms such as alcohol abuse and alcohol dependence although, alcohol abuse and alcohol dependence has different definitions than alcoholism. Alcoholism is chronic, progressive, and can be fatal.

Classifying an Individual with Alcoholism

In order to classify someone with alcoholism there are both mental and physical components that have to be included. No one truly knows what the cause of alcoholism because it is an addictive disease that still to this day is not very well understood. Some causes could be social environment, stress, mental health, family history, age, ethnic group, and gender which all influence the risk of having alcoholism. It is known that drinking significant amounts of alcohol causes a change in brain chemistry. Some changes in the brain can happen within a short term period of drinking too; changes such as building a tolerance and becoming physically dependent. Becoming physically dependent and building a tolerance perpetuates alcoholism and when a person tries to stop they will experience what is known as alcohol withdrawal. The effects of drinking especially when having alcoholism can have very toxic effects psychologically and physically. This is because alcohol damages every organ in the body including the brain.

Alcoholism Can be Difficult to Identify

It can be really hard to identify because of the social stigma surrounding drinking and getting treatment for it. The individual who has alcoholism may not think they are an alcoholic because drinking is legal or they may be too ashamed or fearful to get help for their alcoholism because of social consequences. The most common way to identify and diagnose, if an individual wishes to find out, is to evaluate a set of responses to some standard questions. These questions and response are used to identify harmful drinking patterns, including alcoholism. This can be faulty too because a person has to be 100% honest while answering the questions in order for the evaluation to be correct. Usually the best way to figure out if someone has alcoholism is to recognize if they continue drinking despite health problems and social consequences; such as losing their job, their marriage, their kids, getting DWI’s.

Is My Drinking a Problem: A 26 Question Alcoholism Survey

If you are wondering if you have a problem you can self-diagnose using the questions on this alcoholism survey.

  1.  Do you drink heavily when you are disappointed, under pressure or have had a quarrel with someone? Yes   No
  2. Can you handle more alcohol now than when you first started to drink? Yes   No
  3. Have you ever been unable to remember part of the previous evening, even though your friends say you didn’t pass out?      Yes   No
  4. When drinking with other people, do you try to have a few extra drinks when others won’t know about it?            Yes   No
  5. Do you sometimes feel uncomfortable if alcohol is not available? Yes   No
  6. Are you more in a hurry to get your first drink of the day than you used to be? Yes   No
  7. Do you sometimes feel a little guilty about your drinking? Yes   No
  8. Has a family member or close friend express concern or complained about your drinking? Yes   No
  9. Have you been having more memory “blackouts” recently? Yes   No
  10. Do you often want to continue drinking after your friends say they’ve had enough?               Yes   No
  11. Do you usually have a reason for the occasions when you drink heavily? Yes   No
  12. When you’re sober, do you sometimes regret things you did or said while drinking? Yes   No
  13. Have you tried switching brands or drinks, or following different plans to control your drinking?             Yes   No
  14. Have you sometimes failed to keep promises you made to yourself about controlling or cutting down on your drinking?                 Yes   No
  15. Have you ever had a DWI (driving while intoxicated) or DUI (driving under the influence of alcohol) violation, or any other legal problem related to your drinking?             Yes   No
  16. Do you try to avoid family or close friends while you are drinking?               Yes   No
  17. Are you having more financial, work, school, and/or family problems as a result of your drinking?                   Yes   No
  18. Has your physician ever advised you to cut down on your drinking? Yes No
  19. Do you eat very little or irregularly during the periods when you are drinking? Yes   No
  20. Do you sometimes have the “shakes” in the morning and find that it helps to have a “little” drink, tranquilizer or medication of some kind?                    Yes   No
  21. Have you recently noticed that you can’t drink as much as you used to?      Yes   No
  22. Do you sometimes stay drunk for several days at a time? Yes   No
  23. After periods of drinking do you sometimes see or hear things that aren’t there? Yes   No
  24. Have you ever gone to anyone for help about your drinking? Yes   No
  25. Do you ever feel depressed or anxious before, during or after periods of heavy drinking? Yes   No
  26. Have any of your blood relatives ever had a problem with alcohol? Yes   No

The more you answered yes, the more likely it is that you need help for your drinking.

Treating Alcoholism

There is treatment for alcoholism and it takes several steps. The first step of treatment for alcoholism begins with alcohol detox. Because most people with alcoholism become physically dependent on it they must be safely tapered off the alcohol with medications such as benzodiazepines. This is usually safest when in a controlled environment such as a treatment detox for alcohol. After detox, those with alcoholism usually will remain in treatment or begin going to self-help groups. Both of these are used to help the person remain sober.

Alcoholism is not moral failing nor does it make the people who have it bad people. They are merely in the grips of a progressive, chronic and fatal disease which they will need help overcoming. The disease has been found to be a maladaptive behavior which usually takes some time to overcome. Relapse or going back to drinking after being sober is a possibility for those who have it. This is why it usually recommended that those with alcoholism find some kind of permanent self-help group or therapy they can use to remain sober.

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