alcohol dependenceAlternative Names
alcoholism, alcohol addiction, alcohol abuse
Alcohol dependence is a chronic pattern of alcohol abuse. An alcoholic gets used to the effects of alcohol and requires more alcohol to get the desired effect. This is called tolerance. A person with alcohol dependence may experience an uncontrollable need for alcohol.
What is going on in the body?
Alcohol is a depressant. At a blood alcohol level of 0.05%, thought, judgment and restraint are affected. At a level of 0.1%, motor skills become clumsy. When the blood alcohol level reaches 0.2%, the entire area of the brain that controls motor function is negatively affected. Alcohol also affects the parts of the brain that control emotions and behavior. At 0.3%, the person is likely to be confused and stuporous. An individual at a blood alcohol level of 0.4% or higher may go into a coma. If blood alcohol levels exceed 0.5%, an individual might choke on vomit or stop breathing.
Prolonged alcohol use can actually alter the genes in the brain. People with alcoholism may have impaired memory, poor concentration, and inability to focus after a distraction.
What are the signs and symptoms of the condition?
Signs and symptoms of alcohol dependency include:
No one knows for sure what causes alcohol abuse and dependence. Factors that increase a person's chance of becoming dependent on alcohol include: What can be done to prevent the condition?
Teaching people, particularly those who are at risk for the disease, about alcoholism is important. This education needs to be started at a young age.
How is the condition diagnosed?
There is no test to determine if an individual is an alcoholic. But the negative effects of alcohol on the body can be identified with laboratory tests. These laboratory tests will show damage to various organs or body systems.
What are the long-term effects of the condition?
The long-term effects of alcohol dependency include:
People who are heavy drinkers also tend to smoke and eat an unhealthy diet. This combination puts the person at higher risk for coronary artery disease, stroke, heart attack, diabetes, and other chronic diseases.
What are the risks to others?
If a woman drinks alcohol during pregnancy, her fetus is at great risk for developing fetal alcohol syndrome. or FAS. Drinking reduces judgment, impulse control, and motor control. A person with alcohol dependency places himself or herself and others at risk for accident or emotional injury.
What are the treatments for the condition?
Treatment begins with helping the person to recognize the problem. Alcohol dependency is associated with a tendency to deny the severity of the problem. There is an refusal to admit it to others. Once the person has recognized and admitted a problem, treatment begins with sobriety, or no alcohol intake.
Some individuals who are alcohol dependent will need to be medically detoxified. This is done in a healthcare setting. Potential complications are monitored during the detoxification process. Tranquilizers and sedatives are used 4 to 7 days to control the symptoms of alcohol withdrawal.
Alcohol recovery programs help people identify situations that trigger the desire to drink. These programs also help people develop coping skills and life management systems, so they can live without alcohol. Self-help groups such as Alcoholics Anonymous have been effective in helping thousands of alcoholics remain sober.
Occasionally medications, such as disulfram, that interfere with the metabolism or the effects of alcohol are used as a deterrent.
What are the side effects of the treatments?
Disulfram may cause drowsiness, depression, and erectile dysfunction.
What happens after treatment for the condition?
Individuals who complete treatment for alcohol dependence often will continue some form of counseling or self-help group. A person in alcohol recovery will often voluntarily continue to attend self-help groups indefinitely.
How is the condition monitored?
Alcohol dependence is monitored by healthcare providers, counselors, family, and friends. Any new or worsening symptoms should be reported to the healthcare provider.
|Author: Ann Reyes, Ph.D.|
Date Written: 12/13/99
Reviewer: Eileen McLaughlin, RN, BSN
Date Reviewed: 07/13/01
Potential conflict of interest information for reviewers available on request