What is Alcholism? More of a statistical view

Getting married when you are 18 years old is young, right? Now a days, I would have to agree and say yes.  Back when I got married in the mid 1970s, age 18 would have been a typical age most young women married. Time has passed. Through the years, I have amassed many stories I can tell.   The perfect medium is the Internet via my blog.  I have a lot of life lessons to share.  Alcoholism is but one topic I have gleaned personal experience on.

What is alcoholism?  If you search out medical literature in a quest to find the answer to that question, you would find alcoholism categorized as a chronic disease? Inner turmoil digs in and takes up residence when an individual has little or no information to understand alcoholism. It is that elephant in you life; so big it first overwhelms, then takes over. Alcoholism the ‘elephant’ that takes over your life.  From my perspective, I had the belief that a person could stop drinking anytime they wanted, that is, if they really wanted to, right?  Well, I have learned a lot through the years, rearranged my thinking a bit and educated myself regarding alcoholism and other addictions.

I have been a family participant on more than one occasion when inpatient and/or outpatient therapy was the ultimate resort to address/treat drinking behavior of a family member.  My husband went through inpatient treatment, not once, but twice (you would think he would’ve got it the first time around:).  I have participated as a family member for one of my daughters, who went through an intensive inpatient treatment for alcoholism in additional to an eating disorder. I have been the staunch ‘safe’ person and advocate for my oldest daughter, who sought outpatient therapy after 10 years of self-medicating with alcohol following the tragic accident/death of her 4-year-old son.  My list goes on.  Is there more drama yet to come within my family?  Maybe, but together we can face it.

Alcohol use is divided into two disorders: alcohol abuse and alcohol dependence. Alcoholism, the term typically used by the general public, has a definition that largely overlaps alcohol dependence.  Alcoholism is defined as a primary, chronic disease with genetic, psychosocial, and environmental factors that influence its development and manifestations (The Joint Committee of the National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence).  This would appear to be a lot of verbage utilized to describe a debilitating disease that affects a person, their family and friends.  More simply put, an alcoholic is someone who has the following: impaired control over drinking, preoccupation with alcohol, use of alcohol despite adverse consequences and distortions in thinking, most notably denial.  And, if the ‘stars are aligned right’ with a first degree relative who is an alcoholic (such as your mom or dad), if you have other psychosocial conditions (i.e., depression, anxiety, loneliness, self-isolating) and/or certain environmental factors (loss of a loved one, divorce, no family support, no friends, no job etc), the stage is set for EL the elephant (AKA, alcoholism) to move in.  That huge animal that can overtake your home and space.  He is huge and once he takes up residence in your home, it will take a lot of work to get him out.

Interrelated medical conditions associated with alcoholism are depression and suicide attempts. Excessive alcohol consumption is the third leading preventable cause of death in the US. 70% of attempted suicides by college student involved frequent alcohol use in 1992. The lifetime rate of suicide attempts among frequent alcohol users in the US is 7%, well above the US adult population rate, which is 1%

Interesting and very pertinent to my family is the fact that alcohol abuse and dependence run in families. It is cyclic and unless the cycle is broken, it continues on from generation to generation.   First-degree relatives of individuals with alcohol use disorders have a three to four times higher prevalence of alcohol abuse and dependence than the general population

The literature reports a genetic influence on alcohol metabolism. The exact phenomenon is not known, but the alcohol metabolism may be mediated through the enzyme alcohol dehydrogenase (ADH), which is altered within the brain of an alcoholic making the metabolism, absorption and interactions of ethanol in the brain.  The greatest weapon against this disease is education.


If you think you (or a family member) have an alcohol problem, ask yourself the following:

  • Do you have failure to fulfill role obligations (eg, at work, school or home)
  • Do you have recurrent substance use in physically hazardous situations
  • Do you have recurrent legal problems related to substance use
  • Do you continue use despite alcohol-related social or interpersonal problems

If you have one (or more) of the above, occurring within a 12 month

period, you have a problem.


Do you have an elephant in your living room or in your life?



Acute withdrawal, protracted abstinence and negative affect in alcoholism: are they linked?  Heilig M, Egli M, Crabbe JC, Becker HC Addict Biol. 2010;15(2):169.


The definition of alcoholism. The Joint Committee of the National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence and the American Society of Addiction Medicine to Study the Definition and Criteria for the Diagnosis of Alcoholism. Morse RM, Flavin DK JAMA. 1992;268(8):1012.


Genetics and the risk for alcoholism. Schuckit MA JAMA. 1985;254(18):2614.


DSM-IV criteria for substance abuse/American Psychiatric Association



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