Alcoholism and its side effects
Alcohol is one of the most popular intoxicants in the world. And why not? When you are on a high, you can forget about your worries in the world. But the problem with all stress relievers is that, in excess, they can cause damage to the body.
Drinking in small amounts regularly does not cause harm. The problem comes with excessive drinking and when drinking becomes an addiction. Excess consumption of alcohol results in a serious medical condition called alcoholism. Eighteen million Americans are estimated to be suffering from alcoholism as a result of alcohol abuse over many years.
Alcoholism leads to several negative effects on the body. Those body parts affected include the brain, the heart, liver and pancreas. Alcohol interferes with the functioning of the brain and affects the nervous message transmission pathways. This thus affects one’s perceptions and behaviors in response to external stimuli- affects vision, movement, speech. Excess drinking of alcohol can lead to disorders of the heart.
Alcoholism can disrupt lives and even lead to death of patients. There are many models about explaining alcoholism. One model considers it as a kind of disease with several stages:
- Early- the addiction of the body to alcohol is initiated. Increasing dependency but the symptoms are not visible externally. The budding alcoholic can consume large amounts of drinks and yet not feel anything such as hangovers or intoxication. He or she can be lulled into complaisance. He does not realise or feel that he is addicted or beginning to get addicted as there are no behavioral changes as well as impact on the work.
There is a distinct change in the drinking behavior in terms of motivation. The early phase was about drinking in response to obtaining some kind of pleasure or relief. That pleasurable aspect is wearing off. Now the urge of drinking is to combat the aftereffects of the drinking-a vicious cycle in operation. The physical effects of drinking are starting to be felt and in order to combat that, more drinking is carried out. Dependence is being acquired. Withdrawal from alcohol is showing up in the form of withdrawal symptoms, which leads to more intake of alcohol. Cravings for alcohol have increased. This phase is accompanied by increase in the occurrence of blackouts. The blackout does not mean actual fainting but refers to memory losses where the patient is not able to remember what he was doing. This may occur because the memory storage process of the brain has been affected.
As the alcoholic becomes more and more entrenched in alcoholism, there start appearing changes in this behaviour and interactions. His performance at work declines; he loses regularity and order; slackness; starts coming late to office and demonstrates increased absenteeism, and deterioration of the quality of performances; increased conflicts, increased defects in concentration etc. All this may result in some kind of warning issued to the person concerned as his addiction is affecting the performance and morale of the team and the company.
- Last stage of alcoholism
Some refer to this as the crisis stage of alcoholism. This is where the person as well as the rest of people around him has come to realise that he is suffering from alcoholism. He himself is aware of it but pretends that others do not know. He is now suffering from the medical issues associated with alcoholism which is now evident. He is nearly totally dependent on the alcohol and the negative effects of alcohol are difficult to reverse now.
As of now, the only way to combat alcoholism, which is the most effective, is to not allow oneself to get addicted to it in the first place. Hence, abstinence is the main remedy. This is specially the case, when the patient is suffering from serious medical conditions and alcohol may worsen the condition or interfere with the medicine. But this is not easy. Moderation may be recommended for people with less habituation and dependency on alcohol.
It requires a lot of will power and motivation from the person’s own side as well as enormous social support and motivation from friends and family. With such a lot of support, it is possible for alcoholics to remain abstinent for at-least one year and if the support and motivation continues, the abstinence can extend to a life long state.
The treatment involves three stages:
- Detoxification- this is the initial stage of treatment and involves removing the toxins from the body, which has been accumulated owing to prolonged usage. This may take a few days. This phase is accompanied by withdrawal symptoms, which can be severe and may need treatment. Symptoms can inckude delirium, seizures and hallucinations, headaches, shaking, sweating, nausea, restlessness, diarrhoea, heart and bp issues. It can be pretty challenging.
This is the next phase, where once the detoxification process is complete, the alcoholic has to be rehabilitated and reinstated back into normal life.
- Maintenance of sobriety
This is a very difficult thing to maintain. In fact, drugs may be needed at times to maintain this as otherwise relapse may occur in those who have achieved complete abstinence. However, what happens is that many alcoholics end up undergoing a relapse within 2-3 years of treatment. This is owing to the fading motivation (both from within the person himself or herself), lack of social support and psychological disorders which makes it difficult for the person to get out of the alcoholism habit). There are medications, which are often given for those who want to maintain their sobriety. These include acamprosate, disulfiram and naltrexone.
Leaving off alcohol may also need that you give up using alcohol-based products which remind you of alcohol. These include aftershaves, perfumes and anything, which produces alcoholic fumes. Continuing support from external organisations may be necessary for ensuring that the sobriety is maintained. A tall order, but not impossible with sufficient determination and will power.
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