Understanding Alcoholism

According to the National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence, Inc. (NCADD), one in every 12 adults suffers from alcohol abuse or dependence. Alcohol is the most commonly used addictive substance in the U.S., and while many of us have experienced a night of a few too many drinks, for others, drinking can become an all-consuming addiction. These people suffer from alcoholism. Unlike alcohol abuse, those with alcoholism do not have the ability to set limits on their drinking, causing their lives to spiral out of hand. So what exactly sets alcoholism apart from alcohol abuse, what causes it, and how to do you know if you suffer from it?
Alcohol Abuse vs. Alcoholism
Although similar, alcoholism is not the same as alcohol abuse or problem drinking. You can have an unhealthy relationship with alcohol long before it progresses to the stage of alcoholism. Binge drinking – five or more drinks in a row for a male, and four or more for a female within two hours – can lead to health risks and the development of alcoholism. However, with alcoholism, you may have lost the ability to cut back on or quit drinking without help from others. According to the Mayo Clinic, feeling a strong need or compulsion to drink, and making a ritual of having drinks at certain times are symptoms of alcoholism. Additionally, keeping alcohol in unlikely places, and drinking secretly or alone are all indicators that you may suffer from the disease.
What Causes it?
Alcoholism can develop in various ways. Sometimes, it’s a result of a genetic predisposition – alcoholism runs in families. Other times it is brought on by a stressful life change. And sometimes, alcoholism is gradually brought on over time as a person’s alcohol tolerance increases (see signs on the next page). If you think you may suffer from alcoholism, being aware of the signs and symptoms, and consulting your doctor and support system are important steps in the right direction.

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