There are a number of key elements that define a person who abuses alcohol and those who are dependent on alcohol. Abuse of alcohol is characterised by people who engage in behaviours that are high risk, dangerous and generally are considered unsafe. A dependence on alcohol differs from this as the behaviours are linked to physical or mental need for alcohol.
Alcohol abuse can be defined as drinking behaviours that have recurring negative impacts on an individuals health, relationships and work. Alcohol abuse is commonly displayed in behaviours such as the following; drinking in dangerous situations (e.g. when driving), legal issues associated with drinking (e.g. when under legal age), impact on work, binge drinking, failure to meet responsibilities at home or school. Alcohol abusers have some ability to control or limit their drinking which is what defines them from an alcohol dependent person.
When an individual abuses alcohol, they often engage in high risk behaviours which puts themselves and others at risk. They can also cause harm to their health through prolonged abusive drinking, such as when someone binge drinks. These impacts do not just effect a person in the short term, but can have implications for the rest of their life.
Health issues that can be a direct result of abusing alcohol include the following:
* Alcohol poisoning
* Sexually transmitted diseases or unwanted pregnancy
* Liver damage
* Neurological damage
* Sexual dysfunction
There is significant research to show that alcohol abuse, especially binge drinking, can have negative effects on a person’s brain cells, even in the short term. Substantial brain damage has been found to show in various parts of the brain after just 4 days of drinking.
Alcohol dependency can be defined as a physical and/or mental dependency on alcohol that has specified symptoms including a high level of tolerance to the effects of alcohol as well as having withdrawal symptoms. Alcohol dependence is considered a chronic disease as its symptoms are progressive and can be fatal. Alcohol dependency is characterised by cravings and an increased tolerance to alcohol despite severe medical implications and an inability, physically and mentally, to stop drinking.
Alcoholism is another term for alcohol dependency and according to the National Institute on Alcohol and Alcoholics (NIAA), there are four key symptoms that define this disease:
* Craving – a need or strong desire to drink alcohol
* Loss of Control – an inability to cease drinking, a feeling of no control of the situation.
* Physical Dependence – when not drinking, a person will have signs of withdrawals such as nausea, sweating and vomiting.
* Tolerance – a person will need more alcohol to meet cravings and to get drunk.
There are many different and serious health issues that a person who suffers from alcoholism may face. Alcohol dependent individuals can suffer from the same health problems that a person who abuses alcohol does but some issues are not curable.
Alcoholism can lead to the following secondary diseases:
* Liver disease – hepititis and cirrhosis are the most common
* Brain disease or brain damage
* Cancer – liver, bowel, pancrease and digestive tract cancers are particularly high in people who are alcohol dependent.
* Heart disease – cardiovascular disease and heart attack
Alcohol dependency and alcohol abuse can be treated through a number of different therapies. Those individuals physically dependent on alcohol may require hospitalisation and medication to help them through detoxing or withdrawal symptoms. Many, who are addicted to alcohol, need professional counseling to overcome their addiction.
Alcohol dependence is a more serious condition and the health implications are also more severe. Medical intervention is often required to treat a number of health conditions associated with the disease. Long term treatment is often required.
Alcohol abusers can typically recover well with intervention and treatment is relatively short term. Individuals with this condition often seek out treatment on their own and respond favourably to support groups, self-change methods.
Medical professionals, scientists and government bodies continue to research and study the causes, treatments and solutions to this serious medical issue. There is a world-wide commitment to finding ways to help individuals who have problems with alcohol or those who suffer from the disease of alcohol dependency. Extensive research into target groups or those who may be in high risk socio-economic groups is ongoing. There are new and improved treatments becoming available for sufferers in medical centers or rehabilitation centers as a result of this research.
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