The consumption of alcoholic beverages has become a part of social drinking. But as consumption continues to grow among people, so does alcohol addiction. There have been numerous studies that talk about alcohol abuse and binge drinking.
The US-based Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says that men are more likely to drink excessively than women. Almost 59 per cent of adult men reported drinking alcohol in the past 30 days, compared to 47 per cent of adult women. In the US, according to CDC, a standard drink contains 0.6 ounces (14.0 grams or 1.2 tablespoons) of pure alcohol. This amount of pure alcohol is found in 12 ounces of beer (5 per cent alcohol content); eight ounces of malt liquor (7 per cent alcohol content); five ounces of wine (12 per cent alcohol content); 1.5 ounces of 80-proof (40 per cent alcohol content) distilled spirits or liquor (eg rum, gin, vodka, whiskey).
How alcohol affects men and women
“Alcohol affects male and female bodies differently, with women having detrimental effects in even lesser quantities. Women consuming alcohol is on the rise, especially in an urban set-up among young adults, and so are the problems associated with it,” says Dr Suvarna Joshi, a Pune-based clinical psychologist specialising in couples and families.
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The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism is of the view that women start to have alcohol-related problems sooner and at a lower drinking level than men. They say that on average, women weigh less than men. Also, alcohol resides in body water, and pound for pound, women have less water in their bodies than men. This means that after a woman and a man of the same weight drink the same amount of alcohol, the woman’s blood alcohol concentration (BAC, the amount of alcohol in the blood) will tend to be higher, putting her at greater risk for harm.
Binge drinking can prove to be dangerous irrespective of gender. “Alcohol is used as a form of self-medication by people to deal with their stress, depression and anxieties,” points out Dr Joshi, adding that alcohol is increasingly getting replaced with substance abuse in a few countries, especially among the urban youth.
Effects of alcohol addiction
The latest factsheet of the World Health Organisation tells that ‘harmful use of alcohol is a causal factor in more than 200 disease and injury conditions.’ It is said that about three million (thirty lakh) fall victim worldwide annually due to excessive or harmful use of liquor. In percentage terms, it works out to 5.3 per cent of all global deaths.
The WHO points out that alcohol addiction could cause damage to the liver, heart and brain. It can cause complications in pregnancy, reduce fertility and cause sexual difficulties.
What makes alcohol addictive?
Dr Venkatesh Babu G M, a psychiatrist working in the field of psychiatry, neurology and behavioural medicine, Fortis Hospital, Bengaluru, says that alcohol throws light on a dependence pattern. People turn to alcohol due to several causes. Romanticism towards alcohol, lack of social support, lack of productive social engagement, personal difficulties, life stresses and boredom are some of the many reasons.
“To avoid a certain difficult emotional state, people tend to reach out to alcohol. A sizeable portion of people become alcoholic by self-medicating themselves with liquor for stress management as it has a numbing effect emotionally,” says Dr Joshi. Positive genetic history (via family) can also lead to alcoholism. Having a genetic history plays a crucial role in alcohol usage in the subsequent years of life; a person can turn from a social alcohol user to a dependent alcohol user.
Symptoms of alcohol addiction
Based on the seriousness, alcohol addiction can be divided into three categories– mild, moderate and severe.
According to experts, these are the symptoms:
- Inability to control the alcohol quantity
- Wasting time scouting for alcohol and drinking it
- Not able to get rid of the habit despite trying
- Insatiable craving for alcohol
- Work-life balance gets disturbed; social life gets affected
- Stammering – no clear speech or focus while speaking
- Slowly developing a tolerance to alcohol (a regular drinker may steadily need more quantities to feel the same effects)
- Disturbed sleep and feeling fatigued in the morning
Seek timely professional help
“Anyone who uses alcohol regularly for six months or more is a chronic liquor consumer. Chronic consumption could lead to direction difficulties (trouble walking effortlessly) and impaired sexual performance. This in turn results in poor sexual life; there are chances of developing interpersonal conflicts, jealousy, suspiciousness, strained marital bond, infidelity, unusual thinking, etc. This is when doctor’s intervention should come into the picture,” says Dr Babu.
During the initial stage, there will be obvious reluctance by the drinker in acknowledging he or she has a problem with alcohol. The person would justify that they have already cut down on consumption or do not drink much, even when the reality is serious. According to him, women are less likely to show up at the clinic to seek intervention for alcoholism. They come for other physiological and emotional reasons, which can also help address issues of alcohol addiction.
Alcohol addiction treatment
“In India, there is family support, which is far more than the developed nations. It helps in a big way during the treatment stage,” shares Dr Joshi.
There is a wide range of treatments available to address alcoholism. There could be two approaches to the treatment – total abstinence and controlled drinking.
Treatment includes psychological intervention and therapies as well as a mix of therapies and medication. Medical experts also recommend individual, family and group therapies to cope and recover from the ill effects of alcohol abuse.
“In India, people have a moralistic attitude towards drinking. While drinking in moderation is fine, during and after the treatment phase, the family is often reluctant to accept the person drinking well within limits,” opines Dr Joshi.
“If one can maintain consumption in limited quantities, it is acceptable. Abstinence is recommended if the drinking goes out of control or in case there is a comorbidity that may worsen due to alcohol consumption. During treatment, in the case of a dependent alcohol user, there will be withdrawal symptoms such as irritability, sleep disturbance, inability to focus, pain in muscles, headache, strong craving for alcohol and inactivity,” adds Dr Joshi.
Experts say that in more complicated cases, the withdrawal symptoms can include seizures, epilepsy, disorientation and so on.
Lapse vs relapse in alcohol addiction
Relapse is an issue that many fear. But is it important to understand the difference between lapse and relapse. “While lapses are small slip-ups, relapse is a full-blown condition of the individual getting back into the earlier disorder stage. During the recovery period, there are going to be small lapses and people would require support to arrest them,” says Dr Joshi.