Like cancer or heart disease, alcoholism or alcohol dependence is a chronic disease with its own symptoms and causes. The disease is progressive and often fatal if not treated.
Abusing alcohol can harm many of the body's major organs and systems. It increases risks for various cancers, cirrhosis of the liver, diabetes, peptic ulcers, stroke, infertility, brain damage, and memory loss.
Recognize the symptoms
People with alcohol dependence have a reaction to alcohol that makes them have a strong need, hunger, or craving for more alcohol, and more drinking triggers more craving.
Heredity seems to play a major role in alcoholism. Studies show that children of alcoholics are at greater risk for the disease. Other risk factors are family and social environment, personality, and psychological makeup.
Some alcoholics start out as moderate drinkers, increasing their use and dependence on alcohol over time. Others crave more from the start. Moderate drinking is defined as one drink a day or less (or seven drinks or fewer per week) for women. For men, it's two drinks a day or less (or 14 or fewer drinks per week).
Late-onset alcohol dependence often occurs when a moderate drinker suddenly experiences a stressful event, such as losing a job or spouse, and starts drinking more due to the stress, pain, or boredom.
When you reach the point where you lose control of your drinking, you may have alcohol dependence and professional help is usually needed.
Check your patterns
Few alcoholics will admit they have a problem. It's a characteristic to believe you're OK—everything and everybody else are wrong. Those willing to face facts usually find plenty of clues that their drinking is out of control. These are signs that indicate you may suffer from alcohol dependence:
You have experienced problems on the job, with the law, or with your family because of your drinking.
You avoid parties or places where liquor isn't served.
You look forward to a set time in the day when you can start drinking.
You worry alcohol won't be available when you want it.
You periodically try to slow down or stop drinking.
You always have a "good reason" why you need a drink—perhaps a tough day at work, an argument, or stress.
You experience symptoms of withdrawal with brief periods of abstinence.
Friends, family members, and/or others have talked to you about your drinking.
Seek help if you abuse alcohol. Contact Alcoholics Anonymous or a local substance-abuse facility for information about programs in your area.
Quitting drinking is essential to recovery, but it's only part of the process. Treatment is a learning experience in which you build self-esteem, reduce stress, and perhaps, develop your spirituality.
It's a matter of rebuilding yourself through small but positive changes. Step by step, you become strong enough to take control of your life.