Alcohol Addiction Defined
Alcohol Addiction Defined
Gail Priddy (Deputy Director) gives expert video advice on: What is alcoholism?; What is the difference between being an alcoholic and just drinking a lot?; Is alcoholism a disease? and more...
What is alcoholism?
Alcoholism suggests a state of being, rather than a problem that develops over time. Some people use the terms, "alcoholism" and "alcoholic", as do some agencies, and find that useful. But for other people, it will be a real bar to acknowledging they have a problem, to have to admit, "I'm an alcoholic", because it has very negative connotations.
What is the difference between being an alcoholic and just drinking a lot?
Being an alcoholic or having a serious alcohol problem would suggest that someone is becoming physically and psychologically dependant on alcohol or well on the way to being so. Obviously, drinking too much creates it's own problems and there's that suggestion you could move from one into the other quiet easily.
Is alcoholism a disease?
The World Health Organization would say that it definitely is. It's not catchable like other diseases but it develops due to circumstances. In the context of a developing problem it is perhaps not so useful, but there are situations where the term can be a helpful one to use.
Why is alcohol addictive?
Alcohol is a depressant drug. It depresses the central nervous system. We know this as when we have had a few drinks, alcohol changes judgement and balance, and there are many problems with drinking and driving. Over time it becomes more serious, so just like heroin, alcohol is addictive because it's a depressant.
Can anyone become an alcoholic?
Any one can become addicted to alcohol and turn as an alcoholic. The major factors that influence a person to become an alcoholic are genetic inheritance, where one or more of their parent's have this problem. People working in alcohol related services develop this habit and those suffering from anxiety and depression.
What does an alcoholic' look like?
Well, like you and me, really. I mean, if someone has a pretty serious and chronic alcohol problem, you may see changes in it. They may look thin, uncared for, problems with gait, sometimes with a little bit of eye movements. But generally, it would be wrong to think that anyone you don't see those things in has an alcohol problem or is an alcoholic. So really, it's any one of us.
Does a person have to be an alcoholic to have problems with alcohol?
Not at all. There are range of stages on the way to developing a serious alcohol problem. For example binge drinking. This includes people who drink pretty steadily and heavily or very heavily over a few days. Or people who get very, very drunk on Friday evening and end up having accidents. As well as people who get into their cars when they've been drinking.
Are some people more likely to suffer from alcoholism than others?
There is a profile of people who are more likely to suffer from alcoholism than others. People are more likely to have problems with alcohol if they come from a family in which one or more of their parents had a drinking problem when they were growing up. It is also more likely if people suffer loss such as bereavement or job loss, if they suffer from psychological problems, mental health in some way, anxiety or depression, stress. And people equally who are in jobs where they're around alcohol a lot. So sometimes in the alcohol industry, there are people who do have alcohol problems. So there really is perhaps a profile, although it would have to be said that anyone can develop a problem with drinking.
Does alcoholism have a hereditary component?
There have been twin studies done in Sweden, where twins who came from families who have had alcohol problems were adopted elsewhere, but were more likely than the control group they used to develop alcohol problems. But I think that there are lots of other reasons that people are more likely to develop alcohol problems than the notion of heredity.
Does alcoholism have a genetic component?
I couldn't give you a definitive answer on that. I know that there has been some work done with East Asian people showing that they have the inability to metabolize alcohol. I think there are many other reasons why people will present to alcohol services with a problem than genetics
Do alcoholics have an addictive personality type'?
In my experience I don't think I would say that was necessary the case. It's been worked on women with eating disorders with suggestions to links between bulimia and alcohol misuse--picking up from one to the other. I think you need to bear in mind that people become quite disinhibited when they're drunk and are more likely to be involved in risk taking behaviors and so that may then suggest they've moved from one thing to another. It may be the state of intoxication they're in and also to remember that alcohol, like heroine, is a depressant and is addictive.
Is there a safe level of drinking for an alcoholic?
No, I don't think there is a safe level of drinking for an alcoholic. I think if someone is alcohol dependent the best advice, and definitely advice that would be given from our agency, is that they should stop at least for a period of time.
Is there a specific point where someone turns from a social drinker into an alcoholic?
Yes, when they develop a physical dependence. Withdrawal symptoms, which are the body's way of letting you know that it wants more alcohol because the alcohol's leaving your body: sweats, shakes, nausea, cramps, vomiting, a desire for more alcohol, is a time when you've actually got quite a serious problem. But bear in mind that this develops over time, and actual history can be up to 20 years of someone having withdrawal symptoms, starting to recognize they've got difficulties.
Does alcohol affect older people differently to younger people?
Yes, it does. They're likely to be less active and possibly have more health problems. There is an increased risk of them developing problems through drinking.
What are the dangers to older people who suffer from alcohol addiction?
An increased risk of accidents, interaction with medication, and equally hypothermia when older people may not stay as warm or look after themselves as much. They're perhaps more likely to be bereaved. There is a long list of risk factors around drinking, depression, and isolation.
Does alcohol affect women differently to men?
Yes it does. Women actually have more body fat and less fluids, and have fewer of the enzymes that metabolize alcohol, so women are more affected by alcohol.
Does alcoholism cause depression?
Alcohol is a depressant drug. People who drink heavily will become more depressed or start to feel more depressed. It's actually quite difficult to work out whether if it was depression or alcoholism that came first, until someone stops drinking for a period of time for that to be assessed.
If I only drink one drink every evening does this make me an alcoholic?
No, generally that would not be the case. Obviously, if one drink is literally that, a pub measure of one unit of alcohol, which would be a half of lager or a small glass of wine. Obviously if one drink equates to being very large amounts of alcohol in a glass, then it would be more problematic. I would always suggest to people to have 2 or 3 days without drinking.
Are there ways I can test whether I'm addicted to alcohol?
The government guidelines suggest that women should stick to under 21 units a week, and men 28 units, and have 2 or 3 days without drinking. If you feel that's difficult for you, then perhaps it's something to start to consider, if you find you're wanting a drink in the mornings, if you find that you're drinking more than your friends, if you find you're regularly getting hangovers, then those are things to start to think about. It may well be wise to talk to someone, perhaps the nurse at your local GP practice or something like that.
What is binge drinking?
Binge drinking is sporadic and regular very heavy bats of drinking. So it might be that you'd start drinking on a Friday evening and go through to a Sunday afternoon. This means that you are constantly topping off your alcohol or it maybe a couple nights in the week or maybe a whole week of drinking and a couple weeks off it. Binge drinking would suggest in binges and you have times of stopping but it will be very heavy drinking.
Is regular binge drinking the same as alcoholism?
Binge drinking brings its own problems as it increases risks of accidents and risk taking behavior. Obviously it won't be the same issue for someone who is drinking on a daily basis, but it's just as problematic.