Friday, April 30, 2010

Understanding Alcoholism


A condition characterized by an uncontrollable urge to drink, a tolerance to increasing quantities of ALCOHOL, blackout episodes, and withdrawal symptoms during abstinence. Alcoholics frequently deny that they have a problem.
The costs of alcoholism to society are enormous. Excessive alcohol is involved in one out of 10 deaths in America and typically shortens the life span by 10 to 12 years. Alcoholism contributes to accidental death, crime, violence, and abuse. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, half of all fatalities due to automobile accidents have occurred in crashes in which the driver or pedestrian had been drinking. Estimates of the total cost of alcoholism to society range from $65 billion to $117 billion. Alcohol abuse occurs among young people as well as the elderly, encompasses people of all social and economic backgrounds, and women as well as men. Children of alcoholics are more likely to abuse alcohol and drugs. Individuals may be born susceptible to alcoholism due to imbalanced body chemistry; however, the social environment obviously plays an important role.
Alcoholism leads to disturbances of the GASTROINTESTINAL TRACT: Excessive ethanol directly or indirectly increases chronic intestinal inflammation associated with MALABSORPTION, comprised digestion, and “leaky gut,” in which the intestine more readily absorbs toxins and potentially harmful substances from food and microorganisms that the body recognizes as foreign (antigens). This can set the stage for FOOD INTOLERANCE and systemic effects. Alcohol affects the LIVER, where altered GLUCOSE and GLYCOGEN METABOLISM, fat formation, and fat export can lead to fatty deposits (FATTY LIVER). The ability of the liver to detoxify other potentially damaging materials can also be compromised.
The alcoholic individual faces profound health consequences in terms of MALNUTRITION, heart failure, high blood pressure, damage to pancreas, liver, stomach and brain, and increased risk of CANCER of the mouth and esophagus. Even moderate alcohol intake can cause birth defects if the mother drinks during pregnancy.
Alcoholism is treatable; however, recovery depends on the person’s willingness to accept help. Individualized recovery programs work best and may incorporate family counseling, psychotherapy, support groups, rehabilitation programs, education, behavior modification, vocational guidance, and exercise. Nutritional and medical treatment is often recommended to remedy nutritional deficiencies and alcohol-related disorders and to speed detoxification. A number of clinics treat alcoholism by incorporating lifestyle changes affecting DIET and EXERCISE, while eliminating CAFFEINE and nicotine. Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) can provide a very strong support system for recovery.

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