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Alcoholism - How much is too much?

C. A. V. Nogueira, M.D. |
Alcoholic drinks are with us for thousands of years - and problems related to it too. As with many other problems, the key word here is "moderately".

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It is known that small amounts of alcohol can actually help and that some alcoholic drinks have a positive effect on human health. However, for some people alcohol is a very dangerous friend. As is the case with smoking, some people may drink for a very long time without addiction and some are addicted after just one year. The age factor is very important here.

In people who have specific genetic factors that lead to addiction there are two main groups: young and adults. Young people become addicted to alcohol after four or five years of drinking, and adults after one year. So, if person of school age start to drink there is a great possibility that at the age of around 20 he will have serious addiction problem. In the other hand, if a person at age of 40 starts to drink heavily, he will be addicted at 41. However, those later case happens rarely, the young people are in much greater danger.

What is too much? The answer heavily depends on every individual and the amount of alcohol can't be the single fact to determine is somebody an alcoholic. For some people one glass of wine is the daily maximum, while others may drink a half a bottle of whiskey during the whole lifetime. In determining the problems there are other important signs.

A person is alcoholic if he starts the day with a drink, makes pauses at work to drink alcohol, neglects his duties because he must drink, spends the most of his money on drinks, doesn't care about his family, neglects his outfit and look. Being unable to limit the amount of alcohol, not remembering conversations or commitments (blacking out), a feel of anger with no alcohol around, drinking while driving; those are all signs of a very serious problem. Of course, "he" can be changed with "she" since both sexes are affected.

How alcohol affects our health? Small and regular amounts of alcohol have a positive effect on the heart and circulation. But a high level of alcohol consumption is often a recipe for a disaster. Excess alcohol can lead to health problems including depression, liver cirrhosis, heart failure, and damage to the brain and nervous system. There is often damage to relationships, finances and jobs and problems with the law.

Heavy alcohol use during pregnancy may cause fatal alcohol syndrome. This condition results in birth defects, including a small head, heart defects, a shortening of the eyelids and various other abnormalities. Developmental disabilities are likely as well. Alcohol may interfere with the production of new bone. This can lead to thinning bones and an increased risk of fractures. Chronic alcohol abuse has been linked to a higher risk of numerous cancers, including cancer of the mouth, throat, larynx, colon, rectum, and breast.

Why people drink? The social habits are the reason number one. In some societies it is acceptable to drink while socializing. Depression is a common cause of alcoholism as the depressed person seeks a way out of their problems or a relief from insomnia. Unfortunately, alcohol is itself a depressant, so the problem is only compounded. Anxiety can be temporarily relieved by alcohol, but this may lead to repeated intake and dependence. People who used illegal drugs often drink large amounts of alcohol as a substitute for drugs.

Treatment for alcoholism may begin with a program of detoxification, usually taking four to seven days. The patient may need to take medications to prevent delirium tremens or other withdrawal seizures. Group and individual counselling and therapy support recovery from the psychological aspects of alcoholism. Many treatment programs also offer family therapy because family support can be an important part of the recovery process. Effective treatment is impossible unless the patients accept that he is addicted and currently unable to control drinking.

When to seek for advice? Ask yourself two simple questions, they will reveal a lot in a minute. The question number one: Do I need a drink in the morning before I go to work? If the answer is "yes" - go and see the doctor.

The question number two: Do you have your favourite brand? If you, for example, drink a certain beer or whiskey brand, what if the store doesn't have it? Do you wait until they get it or you buy whatever? If you don't care about the brand and buy what’s there - go and see the doctor.

And if the answers to those questions are "no", cheers!

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