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Alcohol is one of the most popular addictive substances in the world. Some people can control how much they drink, but others have risk factors that prevent them from drinking responsibly. When these people become addicted to alcohol, they’re often referred to as alcoholics.
Some alcoholics appear to be high-functioning. Although they’re addicted, they can hold a steady job and take care of their daily responsibilities. But most alcoholics experience negative consequences because of their drinking.
People with mild alcohol problems may be able to quit drinking on their own or with the help of support groups. However, people who are addicted to alcohol require treatment. Recovery from alcohol addiction is achievable with assistance from doctors, therapists, peers, friends and family members.
Causes of Alcohol Addiction
Most addictive substances, including alcohol, affect the pleasure and reward center in the brain. Alcohol manipulates this system, which drives us to repeat behaviors that we enjoy. When people become addicted, their brains are chemically rewired to desire alcohol.
Some people are more likely to become addicted to alcohol because their brains are more vulnerable to the effects of alcohol, according to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. Individuals with certain types of mental health disorders may also be more likely to become addicted to alcohol. These conditions are known as co-occurring disorders when they exist alongside alcohol addiction.
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Prolonged or repeated alcohol abuse can change brain chemistry and cause alcohol addiction. The disease of alcoholism disrupts normal judgement and self-control. It makes people crave alcohol and believe that they must go to any length to drink.
Alcohol addiction is the same thing as alcoholism and alcohol use disorder. These terms can be used interchangeably. Alcohol abuse refers to drinking alcohol in an unsafe manner. Alcohol dependence is a related physical condition that causes withdrawal symptoms when alcohol isn’t present in the body, but it isn’t the same thing as alcoholism.
Learn more about the disease of alcoholism
“Alcohol was always a part of my life starting from when I was a child. I’m from an Irish-Catholic family. We have alcoholics all through our family tree.”
— SUSAN BRODERICK, IN RECOVERY FROM ALCOHOL ADDICTION SINCE 2001
Because drinking is a regular part of society, alcohol addiction is relatively common. Most Americans try alcohol before they’re 21. Youth observe adults drinking alcohol socially, and many believe that it’s safe because their parents do it.
Effects of Alcohol Addiction
Alcohol addiction causes physical, psychological and social side effects. The most common signs of alcoholism include continuing to drink despite negative consequences and prioritizing drinking over anything else. The disease can also be diagnosed based on other behaviors and health effects.
Health Effects of Alcohol
Alcohol causes a range of health effects. Short-term side effects of alcohol abuse include alcohol poisoning and blacking out. Long-term health effects of alcohol include depression, anxiety and a variety of diseases and disorders.
Social Effects of Alcohol
Friends and family members of alcoholics also face the consequences of their loved one’s disease. Alcohol addiction causes legal, financial and relationship problems. Alcoholics often struggle to have healthy relationships with loved ones.
Risks of Mixing Alcohol
Some people who are addicted to alcohol mix the substance with other drugs. But alcohol can cause dangerous interactions with over-the-counter drugs and some everyday substances, such as caffeine. When people mix alcohol with illicit or prescription drugs, the interactions can be life-threatening.