Alcoholism Symptoms and Causes

Other Names: Alcohol addiction


Alcohol use problems range from occasional binge drinking to alcohol abuse and alcoholism. Alcoholism, also known as alcohol addiction, is a chronic disease that develops with genetic, psychosocial and environmental factors and its symptoms occur. It is often progressive and fatal. Affected:

  • Physical dependence – withdrawal symptoms such as nausea, sweating, tremors and anxiety after you stop drinking
  • Tolerance – needing to drink larger quantities to “get high”
  • strong cravings – a strong need or urge to drink
  • Lack of control – they show symptoms such as not being able to stop drinking after they start drinking.

 Risk drinking with “standard spirits” is defined as 360 cc of beer, 150 cc of wine or 45 cc of spirits. 4 or more drinks per day for men, or 14 or more drinks per week; 3 or more drinks per day, or 7 or more per week, is considered risky for women. Although drinking is necessary for the development of alcoholism, alcohol use alone does not predict the development of alcoholism. The amount of alcohol required for the development of alcoholism, the frequency and regularity of drinking varies greatly from person to person. The person’s response to alcohol can be affected by the person’s size, age, general health status, and the medications he is taking. A smaller number of drinks can also cause health problems in some people. Pregnant women and those planning to become pregnant are advised to avoid drinking, as there is no known alcohol level that is known to be “safe” for pregnant women. Major health risks of alcoholism includes liver disease , heart disease , certain forms of cancer, pancreatitis ,  and nervous system disorders. These ailments often develop gradually and may only occur after prolonged heavy drinking. Diseases of the liver, especially those associated with binge drinking (most commonly   alcoholic hepatitis (inflammation) and  cirrhosis(including liver scarring). Women are more sensitive to the effects of alcohol. Compared to men, alcohol-related problems in women can develop more quickly and after a lower amount of alcohol intake. Alcohol use in pregnant women can cause miscarriages, premature births, low birth weight and other problems such as abnormal facial anatomy, deformities in organs such as the brain and heart, developmental delay, hearing and vision defects in infants. Brain damage can result in lifelong learning disabilities, reduced reasoning and judgment skills.

Alcohol abuse (abuse) is a less serious problem than alcoholism and is defined as failure to perform important work, school or homework, and a pattern of drinking that leads to recurring alcohol-related legal problems. Alcohol abusers do not have a strong desire to drink alcohol, do not lose control of their drinking, or may experience adverse health problems such as liver disease, as mentioned above, despite not being physically addicted to alcohol.

Alcoholism Tests

There are no definitive laboratory tests used to identify alcoholism. The diagnosis of alcohol abuse and dependence is made primarily by physicians using screening questionnaires. These questionnaires were created with care and attention, tested in scientific studies and validated.

Laboratory tests may be used to help identify chronic alcoholism and/or relapse to alcohol in individuals who do not admit to drinking and to help assess organ function . These tests are:

  •  Gamma-glutaml transferase (GGT) : A liver enzyme that is increased when excessive amounts of alcohol are consumed or in many other conditions that negatively affect the liver.
  • Mean red blood cell volume (MCV) : Although usually   measured as a component of a complete blood count test , MCV can rise over time in heavy drinkers and in many other diseases.
  • Comprehensive Metabolic Panel (CMP) or liver panel : group of tests used to evaluate organ and liver function
  • Magnesium : Levels may be decreased in alcoholics due to malnutrition.
  • Folate tests : In alcohol abuse, small amounts of B12 and folate are absorbed and most are excreted through the kidneys.
  • Carbohydrate-free transferrin (CDT) : A molecule involved in iron transport in the blood. The CDT test is a fairly new test and is sometimes used to help identify prolonged and excessive alcohol intake.

Although it does not diagnose alcoholism, a toxicological screening test  or blood alcohol level ( ethanol test ) determination tests can also be done to determine whether the person has recently consumed alcohol.

Alcoholism treatment

Many chronic As with the disease, alcoholism cannot be cured completely, but effective treatments are available for alcoholics to abstain from drinking. Treatment usually includes primarily group therapy, one or more types of counseling, and education about alcohol. Patients should be aware that they have a drinking problem and have a strong desire to quit alcohol. Once the decision has been made, patients may refer to a treatment center for a short time to receive rehabilitation services because they stop drinking. Treatment centers (and/or doctors) advise patients, support them, help them overcome the first withdrawal symptoms and safely quit alcohol. In some cases, drugs are used for a short time to help them get over some of the symptoms of alcohol dependence.

There is no screening or diagnostic test for alcoholism, and there is no single treatment or drug that definitely cures alcoholism in all patients. Like many chronic diseases, alcohol addiction is not easy to overcome. Many patients start drinking again several times before they stop drinking. While some of the damage done to the liver and other organs during drinking may go away, some may be permanent. Patients and doctors will need to work together for years to get rid of alcohol and solve the problems caused by alcohol.

Sources of the article

Resources Used in This Review

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NIAAA. The Clinicians Guide. Downloadable PDF format .

Mary C. Dufour, M.D., M.P.H. Senior Vice President, The Madrillon Group Inc. Vienna, VA.

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