According to the American Medical Association (AMA), alcohol addiction or alcohol dependence is defined as a primary, chronic disease with psychological, genetic, and environmental factors influencing its manifestations and development.
Alcohol addiction is characterized by:
- Lack of ability to control use of alcohol
- An extended period of heavy, frequent alcohol use
- Physical dependence manifested by withdrawal symptoms when the individual stops using alcohol
- A variety of legal and social problems arising from the use of alcohol
- The need or tolerance to use more and alcohol to achieve the same effects
Alcoholism and alcohol dependence are other names for alcohol addiction. The initial consequences of alcohol tend to be intermittent and mild. Continued exposure to alcohol results into tolerance and the alcoholic may deny the fact that alcohol dependence causes his problems. Eventually, the effects of alcohol may lead to serious social and health problems.
Whether consumed as brandy, beer, wine, hard cider, distilled spirits, or any other form, alcohol is an intoxicating substance that has been used and often abused by millions of people throughout world history. Additionally, countless number of people has also developed an addiction to alcohol. The modern terms used to refer to alcohol addiction are alcoholism or alcohol dependence. Ancient Romans enjoyed their wine, sometimes to a considerable excess, in the same manner as ancient Egyptians copiously enjoyed their beer. In the 11th century, two physicians, Byzantine Court and Seth Simeon while conducting a research concluded that drinking wine caused liver inflammation, a condition that they treated using pomegranate syrup (Hanson, Venturelli, & Fleckenstein, 2010).
Many were surprised for many people to learn that the early pilgrims who colonized America consumed alcohol regularly, and faced a major crisis involving alcohol after landing in Plymouth Rock in 1962 (Hanson , Venturelli, & Fleckenstein, 2010). They had just run out of beer, which constituted their major source of liquid replenishment. During that period, fresh water was unavailable and there nothing existed as purified bottled water. I it pupported that William Bradford, the pilgrim’s leader pleaded with the crew and ship’s captain to give the colonists at least some portion of their own beer supply (Hanson , Venturelli, & Fleckenstein, 2010). Their first attempts were to no avail, but the captain finally agreed to give his portion of beer to the pilgrims and drink only water on their voyage back.
Alcohol has played a significant role in the US history since the time of pilgrims, and to some extent in the past, excessive drinking was rampant compared to 21st century standards. Consequently, there have been several attempts to ban the sales and consumprion of alcohol throughout the history of the US by several states, starting with the Maine Liquor Law in 1851 (Volpicelli, 2011). The most remarkable success occurred with the passage of the Eighteenth Amendment, commonly referred to as Prohibition in 1920.
The result of this was total ban on use of alcohol throughout the United States. The Eighteenth Amendment was however replaced in 1933 following the passage of the Twenty-first Amendment. The explosion of alcohol abuse despite the ban, loss of tax revenue to states, the rise in violent crime gangs selling illegal liquor, among other reasons led to the repeal of Prohibition.
People have traditionally viewed alcohol as “God’s good creature”. Cotton Mather, a Puritan preacher maintains that alcohol is a healthy substance that everyone including pregnant mothers and children should take on a regular basis. Conversely, people have radical perception of alcohol. For example, towards the end of the 21st century, alcohol in general was viewed as a wicked substance. People believed that rum was an instantly and severely addictive to any person who chose to partake it, and all right-thinking individuals should avoid drinking. In the modern period, Alcoholic Anonymous pioneers and devotees came up with the idea that alcohol is an irresistible substance for some people, and their only remedy is abstinence. A considerable number of researches now support this believe in sobriety and abstinence for alcoholics (Hanson, Venturelli, & Fleckenstein, 2010).
Today, 40 percent of car accidents in the US involve alcohol and more than 15 million Americans abuse alcohol and/or are alcoholic (U. S. Department of Health, 2012). Approximately 700, 000 people in the United States receive treatment for alcoholism. Forty percent of youths who start drinking by the age of 15 are more likely to become alcoholics in their life, compared to 25 percent of those who start drinking at the age of 17, and approximately 10 percent for those who start drinking at the ages of 21 and 22 (U. S. Department of Health, 2012). In addition, approximately 43 percent of the US adult population was exposed to alcoholism through their families, while 22 percent of Americans are former drinkers.
A research done by the National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH) on 67,500 people in the US, showed that more than one-fifth reported as binge drinkers and about seven percent reported as heavy drinkers (Hanson, Venturelli, & Fleckenstein, 2010). According to the survey result, 57 million persons above the age of 12 or 23 percent met this definition. Heavy drinking involves drinking five or more drinks more times a month. The survey conducted by NSDUH showed that 7.2 percent of the US population, approximately 18 million people above the age of 12, was heavy drinkers. For youths between the age of 18 and 25, the rate of heavy drinking and binge drinking is double that of general populations. In 2012, the rate of heavy drinking in this group was 17.4 percent and the rate of binge drinking was 46.5 percent. The results from the survey showed that the rate of binge drinking in adolescent drinkers is approximately 13.2 percent while that of heavy drinking was 27 percent.
Bio-psychological theories of alcoholism
Alcoholism has remained a serious disease that results from alcohol addiction. Alcoholics lack the ability to control the intake of alcohol once they start drinking. Signs of alcoholism include drinking when alone in secrete, the denial of the true condition, withdrawal effects, and craving for alcohol when in the process of quitting alcohol. There are group therapies, medications, and counseling available to help alcoholics overcome addictions. This paper will focus on the use gamma-Aminobutyric acid (GABA) in alcoholism. When used in conjunction with other traditional remedies, GABA has the potential of treating alcoholism. By definition, GABA is an amino acid that acts on the central nervous system in conjunction with vitamin B6 to inhibit transmission of neurons to the brain (Volkow, etal., 2008). GABA helps to inhibit neurotransmitter that mediates the effects of alcohol.
Causes of alcoholism
Regular and steady consumption of alcohol has the potential of producing dependence and has the potential of producing withdrawal symptoms during periods of abstinence. Physical dependence does not however constitute the only cause of alcoholism. Other factors also contribute to alcoholism and they include genetics, biology, culture, and psychology.
Genetic factors play a significant role in alcoholism and may account for approximately half of the total risk for alcoholism. However, the role played by genetics in alcoholism is relatively complex and high likelihood that many genes participate. Past research suggests that alcohol addiction, and other substance abuse is associated with genetic variation in 51 different chromosome regions (Volkow, N.D., Wang, G.J., Begleiter, H., et al., 2008). However, some of the inherited traits may indicate a possible but no apparent association with alcoholism. It has been reported that amygdale, a section of the brain believed to control emotional aspects of craving has been reported to be smaller in families with histories of alcoholism. People may also inherit the lack of warning signals that usually make people stop drinking. Serotonin, a brain neurotransmitter responsible for well-being and associated behaviors such as relaxing and eating exist in abnormal levels in individuals with high level of tolerance.
Even though genetic factors can be identified, they are not able to explain all cases of alcoholism. Individualism experiencing alcohol addiction should however make themselves legally responsible for their actions rather blaming genetic factors. Other factors that contribute to alcoholism include personality, environmental, and emotional factors.
Brain chemical imbalances after long-term use of alcohol
Long-term use of alcohol has widespread effects on the brain and nerve cells, blood flow within the frontal lobes of the brain and brain chemistry. Alcohol also affects the neurotransmitters in the brain. The resulting change in the manner these neurotransmitters work in the brain after persistent use may lead to dependency or relapse after quitting in two different ways: they increase the desire restore pleasurable feelings and the need to reduce agitation.
In case a person dependent on alcohol stops drinking, chemical responses create agitation and overexcited nervous system by changing the composition and level of chemicals that inhibit stress or impulsivity and excitation. High levels of norepinephrine, a chemical produced by the brain when someone stops drinking, as fact, may be the main factor for withdrawal symptoms, such as increased heart rate and blood pressure. The resulting hyperactivity in the brain produces an intense desire to use more alcohol. Alcohol consumption stimulates the release of neurotransmitters such as dopamine, serotonin, and opioid peptides that have the ability to produce feelings of pleasure such a sense of well-being and euphoria. Heavy consumption of alcohol however depletes the stores of serotonin and dopamine. As such, persistent drinking in the end fails to restore mood, even though the drinker has conditioned himself to believe that alcohol will improve spirits.
Emotional and social causes of alcohol relapse
Approximately 85 percent of people treated for alcoholism relapse even after abstaining for years. It is important for caregivers and patients to understand that relapse of alcoholism are an indication of recurring chronic illness. Factors that put people at high risk of relapse include social pressure, frustration and anger, and internal temptation.
People believe that alcohol blocks out emotional pain and people perceive it as a loyal friend whenever human relationship fails. Alcohol is also associated with freedom and loss of inhibition that offsets the boredom of daily routines. In case an alcoholic attempts to quit drinking, the brain seeks to restore what it perceives as its equilibrium. The brain achieves this perceived equilibrium through anxiety, depression, and stress, through the production of brain chemical imbalances. The presence of these negative moods continues to entice alcoholics to relapse long after treating physical withdrawal symptoms. It is important to note that even positive changes in life may cause temporary anxiety and grief. Alcoholics can overcome this condition through substitutions of healthier pleasures.
Some aspects of the relationships of ex-drinkers change when they quit drinking, which makes it hard to abstain. One of the major problems is being in company of other people who are able to drink socially without the risk of addiction. A sense of loss of enjoyment, isolation, and ex-drinker’s belief in lack of respect and pity can result into low self-esteem, loneliness, and strong desire to drink again. In some case, friends may find it hard to accept ex-drinkers. Intimate friends and even families may have trouble in changing their response to newly reformed person, and subsequently encourage a return to drinking.
Social and cultural pressures also contribute to alcoholism. The media has the tendency to portray the pleasure of drinking in programming and advertisement. The media also publicizes the health benefits of moderate drinking, which gives ex-drinkers an excuse to return to drinking for health benefits. Ex-drinkers should ignore such messages and acknowledge what they present: an attempt by the industry to profit from potentially harming individuals.
Treatment for alcoholism
Majority of people suffering from alcoholism hesitate to seek medical attention because they do not recognize that they have a problem. Intervention from family and close friends can help some alcoholic to recognize and accept that they have a problem that requires professional help (Schäfer, 2011). People concerned with family members who drink a lot should consider seeking advice from professionals on how to approach such a person.
Several treatments come into play. Depending on the condition, treatments to alcoholism may involve an individual or group counseling, brief intervention, and outpatient program, or a residential inpatient stay.
Initial step in the treatment process involve determining if a person has a problem with drinking. Some treatments involve reducing intake of alcohol for people who are able to control their use of alcohol. However, for addicts, just cutting on usage is not effective. In such case, stopping the use of alcohol in order to improve quality of life is the main treatment goal. Treatments for alcohol addiction include:
Detoxification and withdrawal
Detoxification process usually takes two to seven days. This may require the use of sedating medicines to prevent hallucinations, shaking, and other withdrawal symptoms. Patients undergo the detoxification process in an inpatient hospital or center.
Psychological counseling and therapy for individuals or groups can help people better understand their problems with alcohol enhance recovery by the psychological aspects of alcoholism.
Learning skills and establishing a treatment plan
This normally involves the intervention of alcohol treatment specialists. This may include behavior change techniques, goal setting, use of self-help manuals, follow-up care, and counseling in a treatment center.
There are medications that can reduce the urge to drink. Disulfiram, an oral drug, can help prevent drinking. When consumed, the drug produces physical reaction that includes vomiting, nausea, flushing, and headaches. Naltrexone, a drug that inhibits the good feeling produced by alcohol may reduce the urge to drink and prevent heavy drinking.
GABA is a type of receptor in the brain that produces a sedative effect. GABA Agonist is a synthetic drug that is taken to stimulate the GABA receptor. Consuming GABA Agonist by patients produces a feeling of calm, which results into reduction of anxiety. Acomprosate (Campral), which is a GABA Agonists, is an oral medication that reduces the craving for alcohol consumption (Addolorato, et al., 2012). The drug helps in stabilizing the chemical balance of the brain, and inhibits some receptors in the brain and activates others. It is believed that this medication is only effective when used in conjunction with other treatments such as attendance to support groups and abstinence.
The aim of this research was to examine the role of biopsychology in the expression and treatment of alcohol addiction. Recent research in this area has come up with both psychological and medical cures for alcohol addiction. Both remedies come in hand with the increasing scientific evidence that links alcoholism with genetics. In conclusion, more research should be conducted in order to ascertain the genes that cause alcoholism and devise remedies to inherited alcohol addiction.
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