Alcoholism - Statistics, Hereditary & Symptoms | Everyday Health What are the causes of alcoholism.
Alcoholism is a chronic disease in which you're dependent on, or addicted to, alcohol.
The disease was once considered distinct from alcohol abuse (drinking alcohol in a way that causes problems in your life), but has since been integrated into a single disorder called alcohol use disorder.
Alcohol use disorder is defined in the fifth edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5), a mental-health guide published by the American Psychiatric Association.
Alcoholism causes a physiological need for alcohol, a loss of control of alcohol use, and a decline in physical and/or social functioning, ultimately affecting your life and relationships.
What Is Alcohol?
Most commonly known simply as alcohol, ethyl alcohol (ethanol) is an intoxicating substance found in wine, beer, and distilled spirits (liquor).
Alcohol is highly flammable and is produced through the biological process of fermentation, in which yeast (a type of fungus) breaks down simple sugars into ethanol and carbon dioxide.
The body rapidly absorbs alcohol from the stomach and small intestine into the bloodstream.
Although enzymes in the liver metabolize (break down) alcohol, the liver can only metabolize a small amount of alcohol at a time. Excess alcohol circulates through the bloodstream to the rest of the body, affecting every organ.
In the United States, 16.3 million adults — 10.6 million men and 5.7 million women — ages 18 and above suffered from alcohol use disorder (AUD) in 2014, according to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA).
But AUD isn't restricted to adults. The same year, an estimated 367,000 girls and 311,000 boys ages 12 to 17 had AUD in the United States.
More recent estimates suggest that AUD may be more common than previously believed.
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An August 2015 NIAAA study in the journal JAMA Psychiatry found that 29.1 percent of American adults misuse alcohol — and meet the DSM-5's diagnostic criteria for AUD — at some point in their lives.
What's more, in a given year, 13.9 percent of American adults have AUD.
What Is Binge Drinking?
According to the NIAAA, binge drinking involves consuming a lot of alcohol in a relatively short period of time — enough to bring your blood alcohol concentration above 0.08 percent (the legal limit, above 0.08 percent, you're considered to be driving under the influence (DUI), or driving while impaired (DWI)).
Women typically reach binge-drinking status after consuming four drinks within about two hours, while for men it typically takes five drinks.
A standard drink consists of 12 ounces of regular beer, 5 ounces of wine, or 1.5 ounces of distilled spirits.
Binge drinking does not necessarily indicate alcoholism. Most people who drink excessively are not alcohol dependent, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
Is Alcoholism Hereditary?
Alcoholism is thought to have a hereditary component, meaning that having a family history of alcohol dependence puts you at greater risk for it.
In fact, genetic factors may account for as much as half of the total risk for alcoholism, according to the NIAAA.
Physiological, psychological, and social factors can also play a role in the development of alcoholism, such as:
Low self-esteem and strong need for approval
Emotional or mental disorders
Social and cultural pressure
Age (drinking during adolescence)
In addition to these factors, heavy, long-term drinking may cause physiological changes in the brain, such as changing how you experience pleasure, that perpetuate the desire to drink.
Symptoms of Alcoholism
According to the DSM-IV, alcoholism is associated with seven classical symptoms:
Having to drink more than normal to get the desired effect (feeling "buzzed" or drunk)
Experiencing withdrawal symptoms after the effects of alcohol wear off
Having occasions when you drink more or longer than intended
Failing to cut down on — or stop — drinking more than once
Spending a lot of time drinking and experiencing the after-effects of drinking
Cutting back or giving up on other activities to drink instead
Continuing to drink even after experiencing psychological or physical health problems
What are the causes and effects of alcoholism
To be diagnosed with alcohol dependence under the DSM-IV, you needed to have experienced at least three of these seven symptoms within the past 12 months.
As mentioned earlier, the DSM-5 only recognizes alcohol use disorder. In addition to the above symptoms, people with AUD may experience a few other symptoms, most of which were previously associated with alcohol abuse in the DSM-IV:
Problems maintaining interpersonal, work, or school responsibilities because of time spent drinking or being sick from drinking
Becoming involved in situations during or after drinking that increase your risk of physical harm, such as having unsafe sex or driving under the influence
Continuing to drink even though it causes relationship problems
Wanting to drink so badly that it consumes your thoughts
Having just two of these 11 symptoms could mean that you have AUD.