Alcoholism is a broad term for any drinking of alcohol that results in mental or physical health problems. The disorder was previously divided into two types, alcohol abuse and alcohol dependence, but these are now included in the term alcohol use disorder (AUD) which includes all excessive alcohol drinking that puts your health and safety at risk including binge drinking.
AUD is a major global burden on health services. In the 2018 Health Survey for England: adult health related behaviour [NHS Digital 2019] it was found that 30% of men and 14% women were drinking more than 14 units of alcohol a week which is the limit recommended for sensible drinking.
Symptoms and signs
AUD can be mild, moderate or severe and is based on the number of symptoms experienced:
1] Physical dependence – withdrawal symptoms such as nausea, sweating, shakiness and anxiety after stopping drinking
2] Tolerance - the need to drink greater amounts of alcohol to get high
3] Craving - a strong need or urge to drink which becomes so bad that this becomes an obsession and the person can’t think of anything else
4] Loss of control – not being able to stop or reduce drinking once drinking has begun
5] Safety - using alcohol in situations when not safe to do so such as driving or using machinery
6] Social problems – failing to fulfil obligations or responsibilities at work, school or home due to continuing alcohol use
7] Excessive drinking – spending much time in obtaining alcohol, and being unable to limit the amount of alcohol you drink, or on being sick or getting over the aftereffects
8] Failing to cut down on alcohol intake
9] Interpersonal problems – continuing to drink even though it was causing trouble with family or friends
10] Reducing social and work activities, lacking interest in hobbies
11] Alcohol use is continued despite knowing that a persistent or recurrent physical or psychological problem is most likely to have been caused or exacerbated by alcohol
Long term effects of Alcohol
The long-term use of alcohol is capable of damaging nearly every organ and system in the body. Women tend to be more sensitive to the effects of alcohol and may develop alcohol-related problems sooner and after consuming less alcohol than men do.
The major health risks of alcohol use include:
- Neurological conditions, including dementia, stroke and neuropathy
- Cardiovascular problems, such as heart attack, weakened and enlarged heart, irregular heart beat, and high blood pressure
- Psychiatric conditions, including depression, anxiety, and suicide
- Cancer of the mouth, throat, oesophagus, liver, colon, and breast
- Liver diseases, including fatty liver (steatosis), inflammation of the liver (hepatitis) and irreversible destruction and scarring of liver (cirrhosis)
- Gastrointestinal disease, including inflammation of the pancreas (pancreatitis) and stomach (gastritis)
- Birth defects, drinking alcohol in the first 3 months of pregnancy increases the risk of miscarriage, premature birth and a low birthweight. Drinking heavily throughout pregnancy can cause the baby to develop Foetal Alcohol Syndrome (FAS) and the symptoms include poor growth, distinct facial features with learning and behavioural problems
- Other conditions include low sugar levels (hypoglycaemia), vitamin deficiency especially vitamin B1 (thiamine), bone thinning (osteoporosis) and a weakened immune system.