Alcohol use is the fourth leading cause of preventable death in the United States and costs the United States $249 billion per year. Approximately 88,000 lives are lost each year in the United States and 3.3 million worldwide from alcohol related deaths. Although alcohol addiction is 2.5 more prevalent in men than women, this serious addiction affects individuals of all ages, genders, social classes and nationalities. Alcohol related deaths include medical complications directly related to alcohol, motor vehicle accidents, cancers, physical assaults, suicide and overdose. Alcoholism is known to tear apart families, result in loss of a job and can cause incarceration due to illegal activity. Alcohol works on the same receptors in the brain as benzodiazepines however alcohol affects several neurotransmitters, or brain communication chemicals, and when ingested results in central nervous system depression. Alcoholism can result in overdose and also when alcohol is withdrawn for a period of time it can create central nervous system excitability resulting in seizures.

Complications from alcohol abuse

Alcohol can affect every organ system in the body including the brain, heart, gastrointestinal system, liver, bones and kidneys and many people die from medical conditions associated with chronic alcohol abuse. Alcohol is also associated with many cancers including liver, breast, esophageal, oral, and pancreatic cancers and can cause fetal alcohol syndrome in mothers who consume alcohol while pregnant. The following are known medical complications directly related to chronic alcohol addiction:

  • Acute and chronic pancreatitis
  • Esophageal tears (Boerhavve’s syndrome)
  • Cirrhosis of the liver
  • Dilated cardiomyopathy
  • Alcoholic hepatitis
  • Peripheral neuropathy
  • Gastritis
  • Osteoporosis
  • Wernicke encephalopathy
  • Korsakoff psychosis
  • Dementia

How do you I know if I am an alcohol addiction?

The diagnosis of alcoholism is based on the individual’s drinking history. There are many different assessments health care professionals use to screen individuals for alcohol use including the 10-question Alcohol Use Disorders Identification Test (AUDIT), the abbreviated 3-question Audit-Consumption (Audit-C) and the CAGE questionnaire. The CAGE questionnaire is probably the most widely used screening tool among both medical and mental health professionals and includes the following questions:

  • Have you ever felt the need to cut down on your drinking?
  • Have people annoyed you by criticizing your drinking?
  • Have you ever felt bad or guilty about your drinking?
  • Have you ever had a drink first thing in the morning to steady your nerves or to get rid of a hangover?

The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 5th Edition (DSM-V), defines alcohol use disorder as having two or more of the following in a 12-month period

  • Alcohol is often taken in larger amounts or over a longer period than was intended.
  • There is a persistent desire or unsuccessful efforts to cut down or control alcohol use.
  • A great deal of time is spent in activities necessary to obtain alcohol, use alcohol, or recover from its effects.
  • Craving, or a strong desire or urge to use alcohol.
  • Recurrent alcohol use resulting in a failure to fulfill major role obligations at work, school, or home.
  • Continued alcohol use despite having persistent or recurrent social or interpersonal problems caused or exacerbated by the effects of alcohol.
  • Important social, occupational, or recreational activities are given up or reduced because of alcohol use.
  • Recurrent alcohol use in situations in which it is physically hazardous.
  • Alcohol use is continued despite knowledge of having a persistent or recurrent physical or psychological problem that is likely to have been caused or exacerbated by alcohol.

Additionally there are many physical signs and symptoms associated with chronic alcohol use which include gynecomastia (breast enlargement in males), spider angiomas (large reddened blood vessel spots), testicular atrophy (shrunken testicles), enlarged or shrunken liver, enlarged spleen, balance and gait disturbances, hand tremors and jaundice (yellowing of the skin).