Alcohol abuse is a devastating and often progressive condition in which a person craves alcohol and drinks despite repeated alcohol related problems (like losing a job or a relationship). Chronic alcohol abuse is harmful both psychologically and physiologically. It is common for a person suffering from alcohol abuse to drink well after physical health effects begin to show themselves. The physiological effects associated with alcohol abuse include cirrhosis of the liver, pancreatitis, nutritional deficiencies, polyneuropathy, alcoholic dementia, heart disease, increased chance of cancer, sexual dysfunction, and death from many sources.
The road to alcohol abuse begins when drinking is no longer social but becomes a means of psychological escape from tensions, problems, and inhibitions. In the early stage of alcohol abuse, a person comes to depend on the mood altering qualities of alcohol. A gradual increase in tolerance develops so that it takes increasing amounts of alcohol to produce the same mood altering effects. The person may start gulping a few drinks before attending a party, need two strong drinks before dinner, or increase social drinking to 3 to 5 drinks a day. Many people might not recognize that this person is in the early stages of alcohol abuse, particularly the person who is drinking.
In the middle stage of alcohol abuse, the compulsion to drink becomes more intense. A person may start to drink earlier in the day. Tolerance continues to increase. Although not everyone who has a tolerance for alcohol becomes an alcoholic, just about every alcoholic shows an abnormal tolerance to the drug. In this phase, dependence on alcohol, rather than situational or psychological stress, motivates most of the drinking. Loss of control while drinking may not occur regularly but is gradually noticed by others. Drinkers in this stage of alcohol abuse begin to be secretly worried and ashamed about their drinking and may make repeated attempts to stop. They may shift brands of alcohol or go from hard liquor to beer. Eventually they will revert to denial so that they can continue to drink while suppressing the internal conflict. At this point they begin to blame everything except alcohol for their plight. Physical symptoms such as stomach problems, hand tremors, blackouts, and hangovers increase.
During the late stage of alcohol abuse, symptoms of the disease become quite evident. The person grows obsessed with alcohol to the exclusion of almost everything else. They drink despite the pleading of the family and stern advice from doctors. Relationships with family or work may be completely severed, but this and severe health problems may not be enough to stop drinking. The late stage alcoholic may suffer a host of fears, including crowds and public places, and use drinking to temporarily alleviate remorse and guilt. Debts, legal problems, or homelessness may complicate his or her life. If the alcohol abuse does not stop it can ultimately lead to death. People do not necessarily have to "hit bottom" and reach the extreme stages of alcohol abuse to decide to get help. Many men and women recognize their increasing powerlessness over alcohol and initiate recovery before they lose their job or family.
Alcohol abuse is a treatable condition and recovery can be a healing process. With professional alcohol abuse treatment and support, many individuals are able to put an end to their alcohol abuse problems and rebuild their lives. Often, a drug and alcohol abuse treatment program can be the difference between life and death.