A tremendous amount of medical and psychological research has taken place to determine the exact nature of alcohol abuse. Few people would have difficulty diagnosing alcohol addiction in the wino passed out on the sidewalk. We know that any drinking by a pregnant woman is alcohol abuse due to its propensity to cause fetal alcohol syndrome. It additionally is associated with birth defects, and childhood mental problems. But what about the other end of the spectrum: Where does the defined line for the problem begin?
The first character of alcohol abuse is maladaptive behavior. Is one using alcohol to cope with stress, social ill-ease, depression, grief, social isolation, or other human situations which require more constructive solutions? What are the repercussions? Is the alcohol use contributing to the failure of the drinker to meet obligations? Has it caused run-ins with the law? Has alcohol use placed one in risky situations like drinking and driving? Does the drinker continue to use alcohol in spite of interpersonal or social problems? A positive response in any of these areas suggests alcohol abuse.
When does alcohol addiction or dependence occurs? One of the first signs is tolerance: it takes more and more alcohol to achieve the desired effect. Of people who are alcohol addicted, over 50% will have withdrawal symptoms when absence is attempted. Withdrawal can be in the form of extreme anxiety, depression, panic, hallucinations, and even seizures. The alcohol addict will use more alcohol than he intended, and will have difficulty controlling the quantities consumed. Quite often, he or she sets large quantities of time which he or she devotes to the consumption of alcohol. Their work or school performance may begin to slip through neglect. Often they will continue to use alcohol in spite of medical conditions which absolutely contraindicate its use.
How prevalent is the problem? Well, the average American male has a one in five chance of developing alcohol addiction. One in four will seek treatment on his own initiative. Alcohol use is exaggerated in the 18 to 20 year old groups. Abuse and addiction can develop by the mid twenties. The risk of alcohol dependence falls off some 90% at thirty, and to even less at age forty, although 10% of alcohol addicts develop the problem after age 40.
The National Institute of Alcohol Abuse and Addiction has gathered a lot of data, and along with other experts, has set up criteria for alcohol abuse and addiction. In healthy males up to 65 years old, the limits are no more than four drinks a day or fourteen a week. For women and men over 65, the limits are three drinks per day or seven per week. A drink is defined as ten to fourteen grams of absolute ethanol which is contained in a 0.6 ounce shot glass, a glass of wine or a beer.
What are the health repercussions of alcohol abuse and dependency? It has been shown that the risk of early death is increased three to …