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Most people drink alcohol and of those who do most are able to drink it in moderation. However, there are a minority that suffer from alcoholism. Those that suffer from this condition are unable to control the amount of alcohol they consume and suffer negative consequences as a direct result.
If you or a loved one suffer from alcoholism there are many facts relating to this condition that you may not have considered or known. There are also many myths and stigmas attached to the disease of alcoholism that need to be dispelled.
Here at Delamere we believe in educating people on the facts of alcoholism, providing evidence based information so that you can make your own informed choices around your drinking habits.
Many people that suffer from alcoholism generally know that they have a problem with alcohol. It is however very easy to stick your head in the sand rather than face the cold hard facts of this deadly disease.
Facts on alcoholism are very relevant to someone who suffers from it. Alcoholism facts can also help those close to an alcoholic understand the nature of their loved ones condition better.
Alcoholism isn’t a matter of choice or being weak willed. If anything, those that suffer from alcoholism can exert a tremendous amount of willpower when it comes to getting and drinking alcohol. Alcoholism is a chronic and progressive brain disease characterised by compulsion and continuation despite negative consequences. It is medically recognised around the world as a disease and not a choice 1
In May 2013, the 5th edition of Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5) changed the terminology for conditions relating to alcoholism. The previous edition only recognised two distinct alcohol disorders – alcohol abuse and alcohol dependence. The most recent edition now integrates alcohol abuse and alcohol dependence into one single disorder called Alcohol Use Disorder (AUD) with a spectrum of subclassifications for mild, moderate and severe. Alcoholism falls into the severe subsection 2
Despite many believing that in order to be cured from alcoholism all you have to do is stop drinking for a while. The disease of alcohol addiction is not curable by any means. Even after years of abstinence from alcohol, a person suffering with alcoholism who picks up a drink will quickly lose control of their drinking once again. This happens because the brain’s pathways are permanently damaged and quickly recognise the old stimulus of alcohol. Alcoholism cannot be cured but it can be treated, recovery is maintained through continued abstinence and undergoing therapy or a recovery programme to help avoid relapse 1
Alcoholism is no different to any other kind of addiction, such as cocaine addiction or heroin addiction. The negative consequences may differ slightly due to the different substances effects but the disease of addiction, regardless of the form it presents, responds to the same evidence based treatment methods (tailored to the individual) and complete abstinence 1
Alcoholics may seemingly choose to drink. Yes they buy the alcohol and they consume it, so one would assume they do this through choice. The truth is that the disease of alcoholism in the brain compels the user to drink alcohol, even when they are trying to abstain or cut down. This is why addiction is heavily characterised by relapse and continuation despite negative consequences 1,2
Over the years it has been recognised that people who suffer from alcoholism have different treatment needs. There is no one size fits all alcohol rehabilitation programme. Alcohol treatment programmes need to consists of evidence based therapies in order to work but there are now many different methods of recovery available. What works for one person may not work for another. Treatment programmes need to be bespoke and flexible to account for this
Alcoholism and alcohol abuse are deadly conditions, especially if left untreated. Deaths by alcohol are at an all time high. In 2018 there were 7,551 alcohol specific deaths. This is the second highest rate of alcohol related fatalities since records for began in 2001 3
Death rates relating specifically to alcoholism in 2018 were highest amongst men in the 55 to 59 year age group and in women aged 60 to 64 age group 3
Statistically men are twice as likely to die from alcoholism that women. Taking population and age into account, the latest rates for alcohol specific deaths in the UK were 16.4 and 7.6 deaths per 100,000 people for males and females respectively 3
Many people think they drink too much because they suffer from anxiety or depression. To an extent this may be true but excessive drinking actually causes anxiety and depression and only exacerbates pre-existing mental health illnesses. Furthermore, drinking heavily and to excess cancels out any benefits that antidepressant medications may have to offer. Alcohol also alters how other medications are metabolised so antibiotics are less effective 4
Alcohol lowers your immune system for at least 24 hours post consumption. It also distracts other organs from working efficiently. Binge drinking regularly can leave a person vulnerable to all kinds of illnesses. Alcohol dependence in alcoholism causes the immune system to be constantly suppressed as alcohol never fully leaves the system. Alcoholic patients are far more susceptible to an infection or virus potentially progressing into sepsis or pneumonia. Due to antibiotics working less efficiently their chances of a full recovery are lessened, or at the very least delayed 5
Alcoholism puts you at high risk of 7 alcohol related cancers. Sticking to the chief medical officers safe drinking guidelines of 14 units a week substantial lowers your risk. Excessive alcohol intake has been directly linked to 7 types of cancer which are: mouth cancer, pharyngeal (upper throat) cancer, oesophageal (food pipe) cancer, laryngeal (voice box) cancer, breast cancer, bowel cancer and liver cancer 6
A healthy human liver can process one unit of alcohol per hour. However when a person binge drinks or there is a continuous presence of alcohol in their bloodstream, the liver works less efficiently as it struggles to metabolise a back lock of alcoholic units. This means that binge drinking can cause a person to still be over the legal drink drive limit well into the following day, dependent on how much alcohol they have consumed, their hydration levels, age, BMI, medications they are taking and the health of their liver 7
Alcoholic blackouts are likely to happen more frequently and more extensively in a person who suffers from alcoholism. One study found that the odds of a person experiencing an alcoholic blackout are around 50% when blood alcohol content reached 0. 22%. The higher the blood alcohol content the more impaired the memory. This happens as alcohol suppresses the limbic system in the brain ( part of the brain responsible for laying down new memories). In a person suffering from alcoholism they are at increased risk of not only suffering regular alcohol related blackouts but also long term impaired memory loss 8
Alcoholic denial is a real thing. Many family members may think that a person with alcoholism chooses to not accept they have a problem with alcohol either so they can continue to drink, or out of ego. In some cases this may be true to an extent but excessive alcohol use affects and damages the prefrontal cortex (part of the brain responsible for processing information and cognitive ability). This can lead to memory loss, loss of perspective and denial of a problem. 9
Mixing alcohol with central nervous depressant prescription medications can easily lead to overdose and death. Alcohol is a CNS depressant, mixing it with one or more other CNS depressant medications is a recipe for disaster. CNS depressant medications including benzodiazepines, sleeping tablets and opiates are also highly additive. Taking alcohol with them frequently could lead to a dual addiction where the chances of overdose and cardiac/respiratory failure are very real 10
Just stopping alcohol is only the very beginning in the long road to recovery from alcoholism. If a person suffering from alcoholism does not undergo treatment to address the issues that drive their drinking and learn healthier methods of coping with emotions, they are very likely to feel unhappy, irritable and generally dissatisfied with life. They will still continue to have cognitive and behavioural issues that enabled their drinking rather than learning new values and coping strategies to enable a full recovery 12
Alcoholism is classified not only as a chronic disease but also as a progressive disease of the brain. This means that over time, a person suffering with alcoholism will only ever get progressively worse. An alcoholic will have a tolerance to alcohol, meaning that they will need to drink ever increasing amounts and more frequently in order to feel alcohols sought after effects. The more they drink and the longer the disease of alcoholism is allowed to actively continue the more damage is sustained to the brain and other organs 1
When an alcoholic tells you they cannot stop drinking abruptly as it is not safe, they are telling you the truth. This is not merely an excuse to continue drinking. Alcoholic withdrawal from a moderate to severe alcohol dependence can cause withdrawal symptoms, that if not medically managed, can become life threatening. Alcohol withdrawal symptoms such as tachycardia, chest pain, delirium tremens, severe confusion, seizures, hallucinations, psychosis and suicidal ideation can all lead to death. The safest way to stop drinking when you suffer from an alcohol dependence is to undergo a full medical alcohol detox 11
Alcoholics may do bad things from time to time, sometimes a lot of the time. It is important to remember that they are not only intoxicated but driven by a compulsion that is beyond their control. This does not mean that their mistakes should go unchallenged or that they should not suffer consequences as a result of their drinking. In fact feeling consequences is a very important part of an alcoholic reaching a point of submission and asking for help. If you love an alcoholic it is important not to enable them and continually steer them towards professional help, just as you would if they were suffering from some other disease such as diabetes or asthma 1
Many that suffer from alcoholism cannot envisage a life without alcohol. They think life will be boring, monotonous and repetitive. Whilst this is true for those that do not undergo rehabilitation and access continued support, for those that do, life can take on a brand new meaning. They can find a purpose they never had before, can learn to love themselves and have healthy relationships with others. They can continue in a journey of personal growth and discovery that is exciting, enriching, knows no bounds and is infinite. This is why accessing the correct alcohol treatment is very important to a recovering alcoholics quality of life.
As you can see from the above facts relating to alcoholism, alcoholism is a very sinister and deadly disease.
Accessing the correct help for an alcohol problem can really be the difference between life and death.
Here are Delamere’s only purpose built addiction treatment and behavioural wellness facility in the UK, we specialise in treating all forms of alcohol use disorders and their common co occurring illnesses.
Our treatment programmes are completely bespoke, depending on our guests individual treatment needs.
If you or a loved one have a problem with alcohol and want professional help, please call our team here at Delamere. Our addiction treatment experts will provide a confidential, free of charge assessment and advise you exactly how we can help
Martin created Delamere in order to provide exemplary care in first class facilities. Find out more about Martin on our team page.
RECENT POSTSThe UK Drug and Alcohol Use Survey 2021