Alcoholism – Causes and Treatments

The term alcohol comes from the Arabic ‘al kuhl’, meaning fine powder of antimony or other distilled substance. Its over-use can lead to extreme impairment in physical, social and occupational functioning. Disorders associated with its chronic abuse include cirrhosis, fatty liver, alcoholic hepatitis and liver failure.

Malnutrition may become apparent as those afflicted forget to eat in their quest for more drink and since alcohol robs the body of important micronutrients, including vitamins B, C and E, nutritional status is impaired. B vitamins are particularly important for the nervous system, which is often adversely affected. On top of this, the amount of psychological, emotional and social problems resulting from this disturbing condition may lead to untold damage to the individual and those they share close relationships with. It has to be admitted that if alcohol is used sensibly, it is unlikely to become a problem. If controlled, it is a pleasurable social activity. If can promote a feeling of well being and help in the inter-action between friends and colleagues in an informal environment. It can be found to be useful over a drink, in making new acquaintances at a formal function, where you may be uptight or on a date, particularly if your personality is not an outgoing one.

There in lies a problem, because if your confidence is boosted with alcohol, you may take the view that a little more taken more often might have a better affect on your social life. The down side of this attitude is that if you succumb, you will find yourself in the stage known as “functional state”. At this point, you will be able to perform your work well and indeed it has been noted by Dr Martin Bland, Director of Alcohol Research Project at the University of Edinburgh, those drinkers are often focused on ensuring that their drinking does not impinge on their work.

The Medical Council on alcoholism defines alcohol dependence as the reliance on alcohol intake such as its withdrawal leads to physiological discomfort and/or physical disorders. In the stage of functional alcoholism, the individual does not yet suffer any withdrawal symptoms. They certainly would find it hard to go to a party and not drink as drink to them is their normal social lubrication and they do not drink during working out. They do, according to Dr Andrew McNeil co director of the Institute of Alcoholic studies – when on a drinking spree need to drink more than normal to feel drunk. This is called the tolerance affect – as you drink your body becomes used to it, as you need more to get drunk they achieve this by either drinking more than everyone else or by taking double measures. The interval between functional state and the stage of addiction can be recognised by the definite change in habit. Even personality, which is usually noticed by others, rather than the person concerned, particularly in the early stage of transition. Domestic arguments may become more serious and frequent. They may get into altercations, even a fight and not care about drinking and driving – the “I’m all right attitude”. He will gulp his drink down, he will begin to under-perform at work and may be reprimanded. The may turn up to work the worse of wear. If this change of behaviour pattern denotes, he is now entering a future phase which his bleak and in the extreme, that it alcoholic dependence.

We have become in the UK, only too aware of the insidious problem of alcohol abuse. The statistics are almost incredible. Over the past 20 years the admission of alcohol treatment departments in psychiatric hospitals has increased 25 fold. Approximately 1 in 5 male admissions to acute medical wards is directly or indirectly attributed to alcohol abuse. These statistics are serious enough but the effect on the medical staff and other patients on some wards has also been recognised. Physical abuse has reached such a peak that it is now being considered that police posts are to be established within hospitals. Alcoholic dependence or abuse carries with it serious complications. After a 10 year period of drinking, damage will have occurred to all bodily functions and these changes are seen earlier in women than in men.


Damage is caused by the effect of alcohol on nutrition and direct tissue toxicity. Cardio Vascular Toxic effects on the heart are cardiomathy, (heart enlargement and arrhythmia’s) which means the heartbeat becomes erratic in time and force. Neurological Directly due to toxicity – protaxia (in co-ordination of muscular movement), falls causing head injury and internal haemorrhage, epilepsy (ATS, dementia (loss of mental faculties). A specific syndrome karsakofs syndrome – has been identified. This occurs because of a Vitamin B deficiency (Thyomine) , the clinical features of which are multiple – confusion, ataxia (staggering) nystogmus (erratic eye movement or nerve pulses). Untreated, the patient become drowsy, slips into a coma and dies.

Treatment is given of vitamin injections, even although the diagnosis is only considered. Gastro Intestinal Liver Damage: Inflammation of the pancreas, inflammation of the oesophagus (gut) and there is a chance of developing cancer in that area. Haematology: The blood system – anaemia Physchiatric: Depression, serious possibility of suicide. Social, marital and sexual problems – impotence. Employment problems, financial problems, eventual homelessness and definitive problems.

Dietary and Lifestyle Factors

As far as possible a balanced diet should be aimed for to provide good sources of protein and complex carbohydrates for slow burning energy, including whole grains, pulses such as lentils and beans, pasta and rice. Fresh fruit and vegetables also ensure good supplies of vitamins, minerals and fibre. Perhaps most importantly, make sure that you get enough water on a daily basis, aiming for at least 2.5 litres per day.

These above mentioned complications are horrendous and must be avoided at all costs. They can be avoided if alcohol is used sensibly and of course will never arise if not taken in the first place. The mainstay of treatment for alcoholism is abstinence. This may be easier said than done, but drugs are available to make withdrawal less arduous. Non-profit making groups and associations, such as Alcoholics Anonymous, offer support, helping people stay on the wagon.

Individuals who are moderate drinkers should stick within the Department of Health recommendations. It is advised that the consumption of alcohol should not exceed 14 units per week (women) and 21 unit per weeks (man). One unit of alcohol means, and is equal to, one measure of spirits (one glass of sherry, single vodka, whisky or gin) one glass of wine, half a pint of standard type of beer or lager. One bottle of wine is considered to be nine units!