The term alcoholism may be used to refer to a wide range of issues associated with alcohol. Simply put, it is a situation whereby an individual cannot stay without alcohol. An alcoholic usually drinks alcohol uncontrollably and persistently. Alcoholism usually leads to ill health and it affects relationships between the individual and the people around him. It may also be considered as a disease and may be referred to as an alcohol use disorder.
Alcohol abuse may also cause damage to vital organs in the human body including the brain and heart (Mukamal et al. 1965). Therefore, it may lead to psychiatric and medical issues. Psychiatric disorders such as depression and schizophrenia may occur. Others include phobias, dysthymia, mania and depression.
Alcoholism may also cause neurologic deficits. These deficits may be manifested through certain impairments such as brain damage and memory loss. Such individuals also have difficulty executing certain functions and may experience issues with body balance and gait.
The brain might be affected as certain changes occur in its structure and chemistry. With time, a person develops physical dependence and tolerance. This causes the inability to stop drinking and causes complications as one tries to stop the habit. This is particularly referred to as alcohol withdrawal syndrome.
Identifying alcoholics for the purpose of treatment may be difficult since such individuals may avoid seeking help due to stigmatization. However, certain factors influence the risk for the condition. These factors include mental health, depression, age, gender, ethnicity and family history (Mukamal et al. 1965). This paper will discuss the genetic and environmental factors that cause alcoholism and highlight the complications, conditions and diseases associated with the disorder.
Causes of Alcoholism
The main causes of this disorder may be categorized into two. These include the genetic and environmental factors. The genetic material that determines the metabolism of the drink also influences the risk of the disorder. Persons with a family history of the disorder may also develop it. A particular study argued that the expression of genes was influenced if an individual started using alcoholic beverages at an early stage in life (Agrawal et al. 69).
This increased the risk of alcohol dependence among such individuals. Persons with genetic disposition to the disorder would most probably start drinking at an early stage. Individuals who start drinking at an early stage are also more likely to develop alcoholism. It is also argued that 40% of alcoholics misuse alcohol by the time they are in their late adolescent stage. However, certain researchers disagree with this idea (Schwandt et al. 74).
Individuals who do not receive support from family and friends are highly likely to develop alcoholism. Therefore, some social and emotional factors may cause an ex-drinker to start drinking again. For example, mental and emotional stress can contribute to alcoholism. An individual under the influence of alcohol may not be able to feel the pain associated with stress. With the normal alcohol intake, an individual’s brain might be at some equilibrium.
When the individual tries to quit, the brain responds. This response may come in terms of stress, anxiety and depression. These feelings cause chemical imbalances that force an alcoholic to go back to drinking in order to feel better. Social and cultural pressures from media and other sources may also affect the drinking habits of an individual. The media’s portrayal of alcohol as a pleasurable and beneficial drink may encourage individuals to start drinking or cause ex-drinkers to return to their old habits (Bierut et al. 237).
The damaging effect of alcohol to the nervous system is more profound among the adolescents and those with genetic disposition to the disorder. These effects may cause the degeneration of the cerebral cortex. Consequently, this increases impulse behavior that may lead to alcoholism. Despite the severe damages to the central nervous system due to alcoholism, it is possible to reverse some of the damages through withdrawal from the drug. Another risk factor is the availability of alcohol. This drug is most commonly abused. In terms of popularity, beer may come next after water and tea.
Difference in genetic characteristics also determines the risk of developing the disorder. This is mainly because different races have certain different genetic characteristics. Therefore, they differ in terms of alcohol metabolism. The difference in genetic makeup may explain the difference in the rate of alcoholic dependence among the different races.
The genetic component that determines the rate at which alcohol metabolizes is referred to as the alcohol dehydrogenase allele. The Native Americans and African Americans are said to have an allele that is not highly associated with alcohol dependence. The Native Americans, on the other hand, are more likely to develop alcohol dependence.
Effects of Alcoholism
The effects of alcohol abuse are diverse. Consumption of excess alcohol may lead to several diseases and complications. For example, it may lead to the inflammation of the pancreas, liver disease and cancers. Alcohol-related cancers are believed to form as the elements in the alcoholic drink are converted into acetaldehyde. This is a potent carcinogen. Different parts of the body may host the cancerous cells.
These areas include the liver, breast and mouth. The larynx and the throat are also likely to be affected. Alcoholics who take tobacco have an increased risk of cancers (Bierut et al. 237). Liver cirrhosis is another condition that may occur as a result of excessive drinking of alcohol. This is manifested through the scarring of the organ to such an extent that it cannot perform its functions. However, some individuals who drink moderately have also been shown to suffer from the disease (Mukamal et al. 1965).
Pregnant alcoholic mothers may also cause problems to the unborn. Fetal alcohol syndrome may result from such habits. Excessive use of alcohol may cause impaired brain development and brain shrinkage. Although the brain normally shrinks in old age, excessive use of alcohol increases this rate. With the increased rate, such individuals are likely to develop dementia and have memory issues. Alcoholism also increases risk of cognitive and neuropsychiatric disorders.
Excessive use of the beverage may cause an increase in the level of toxic amino acid in the plasma. This may be the reason why some individuals suffer from withdrawal seizures. Alcohol abuse may also cause issues with memory and may impair learning. Alcoholism may also greatly affect the brain. For example, brain lesions are likely to occur. Alcohol-related brain damage comes about due to a combination of several factors.
Alcoholism may also cause heart attacks and strokes. Abuse of alcohol increases the risks of heart attack. Some studies have shown that drinking alcohol in moderation may offer some level of protection to individuals against heart attack (Mukamal et al. 1965). This applies specifically to individuals who had suffered heart attack before. Prolonged use of alcohol in large quantities also causes alcohol cardiomyopathy. This disease affects the muscles of the heart. As the heart muscles fail, this may lead to heart failure.
Alcoholism is also associated with alcohol-related death. Many deaths worldwide have been attributed to the excessive use of alcohol (Doll et al. 199). Individuals who use alcohol excessively are at a higher risk of death than those who take alcohol moderately. Individuals with diseases that may be augmented by the excessive use of alcohol are also at great risk of alcohol-related death. Such diseases include oral cancers and liver disease.
Another effect of alcoholism is anaemia. Excessive use of alcoholic beverages causes a reduction in the number of the erythrocytes. This condition is referred to as anaemia. Since red blood cells are used to transport oxygen around the body, the low level of oxygen due to low numbers of the cells leads to fatigue, shortness of breath and dizziness.
Alcoholism may either be caused by genetic or environmental factors. Persons with genetic disposition to the disorder are likely to start drinking and become alcoholics. Genetic variations may determine the difference in alcohol metabolism. The environmental factors that may cause alcoholism include availability of alcohol and sociocultural pressures.
Certain environmental factors lead to depression that may encourage alcoholism. The effects of alcoholism are diverse. Alcoholism may lead to diseases such as liver disease, heart disease and cancers. Excessive use of alcohol may affect almost all vital organs of the body and may eventually lead to death.
Agrawal, Arpana, et al. “Evidence for an interaction between age at 1st drink and genetic influences on DSM-IV alcohol dependence symptoms.” Alcoholism Clinical & Experimental Research 33.12 (2010): 67-80. Print.
Bierut, Laura, et al. “Co-occurring risk factors for alcohol dependence and habitual smoking.” Alcohol Research & Health 24.4 (2000): 233-241. Print.
Doll, Richard, et al. “Mortality in relation to alcohol consumption: A prospective study among male British doctors.” International Journal of Epidemiology 34.1 (2005): 199-204. Print.
Mukamal, Kenneth, et al. “Prior alcohol consumption and mortality following acute myocardial infarction.” JAMA 285.15 (2001): 1965-1970. Print.
Schwandt, Melanie, et al. “Alcohol response and consumption in adolescent rhesus macaques: Life history and genetic influences.” International Biomedical Journal 44.1 (2010): 67-80. Print.