Alcoholism - Causes, Symptoms, Diagnosis, Prevention & Treatment
Health Education


Dr.Ravi Ram Kiran Gorantla profile Authored by Dr.Ravi Ram Kiran Gorantla on 26 Dec 2014 - 11:49.

Alcoholism is a progressive and chronic disease of addiction to alcohol. It includes problems like being preoccupied with alcohol, problem in controlling drinking, consuming alcohol even if it is causing problems, physical dependence- drinking more to get the desired effect. Alcohol withdrawal symptoms appear when drinking is stopped rapidly. The people suffering from alcoholism cannot predict the amount of alcohol they are going to drink at any time.

Binge drinking is a pattern of drinking where the person drinks five or more drinks in a row which leads to problems including health risks and social problems. Binge drinking is often seen in teenagers and young adults. The more the amount of alcohol consumed, the more risk of developing alcoholism.

It is difficult for the persons suffering from alcoholism to quit drinking. It can be done only by seeking help.

The factors which influence alcoholism include genetic, social, psychological and environmental factors. The addiction to alcohol occurs gradually over a period of time depending on the amount consumed. Over time, the balance of the body chemicals and nervous system change. This change makes the person to experience pleasure after drinking alcohol which results in more craving to restore the pleasure experience.

The signs and symptoms of alcoholism include the following:

  • Feel a strong need or compulsion to drink
  • Unable to limit the quantity of the drink
  • Need more alcohol to attain the same feeling due to tolerance
  • Drinking alone or by hiding                                                                    
  • Withdrawal symptoms are experienced such as nausea, vomiting and shaking
  • Unable to remember conversations or commitments
  • Habit of drinking at specific times and getting irritated when this time is disturbed
  • Getting irritated when alcohol is not available at the usual drinking time
  • Having legal problems or problems with employment, relationships or finances
  • Loss of interest in activities which earlier were of interest.

When alcoholism is suspected, first the physician interacts with the patient about the drinking habits. The physician may also speak with the family members of friends of the patient.

There is no specific test to diagnose alcoholism. Some other tests can be carried out to test the health problems related to alcoholism.

Risk factors for alcoholism include:

  • Drinking large amounts of alcohol regularly for a long duration causes physical dependence on alcohol.
  • Starting the consumption of alcohol at an early age has a higher risk of developing alcoholism.
  • The risk of alcoholism is increased when a person’s family members are also alcohol abusers.
  • Mental health issues such as anxiety, depression or bipolar disorder increase the risk of becoming an alcoholic.
  • Some social and cultural factors are also responsible for alcoholism is people.


Alcohol abuse affects speech, muscle coordination and brain of the person. Heavy binge drinking can also lead to life threatening situations like coma or death.

Over consumption of alcohol causes reduction in the judgment skills and this puts the person in some dangerous situations such as vehicle accidents, domestic problems, poor performance at work and increased probability of committing serious crimes.

Chronic alcohol consumption also causes the following health problems:

  • Liver disease
  • Digestive problems
  • Heart problems
  • Diabetes complications
  • Erectile dysfunction in men and irregular menstruation in women
  • Eye problems
  • Birth defects
  • Osteoporosis
  • Neurological complications
  • Weakened immune system
  • Increased risk of cancer

Many of the people suffering from alcoholism don’t realize that they have a problem and therefore do not come for the treatment by themselves. An intervention from the friends or family members is very necessary to help the patient recover.

Depending on the patient’s circumstances and health condition, the treatment may vary. It involves various treatment options such as brief intervention, an outpatient program, individual or group counseling or a residential inpatient stay.

Treatment for alcoholism includes the following steps:

  • Detoxification and withdrawal: This is the first step which has to be followed to treat alcoholism, which usually takes about two to seven days of time. A sedative drug is given to the patient to prevent confusion, hallucinations and shaking. It is done in an inpatient setting or a hospital.
  • Learning skills and establishing a treatment plan: This step is done by alcohol treatment specialists and involves goal setting, use of self-help manuals, behavior change techniques, counseling session and follow-up of the patient.
  • Psychological counseling: Psychological counseling plays a very important role in the treatment of alcoholism. Family support is very important in this step of treatment.
  • Oral medications: Disulfiram is used to prevent the patient from drinking as it produces unpleasant effects such as nausea, vomiting and headaches when alcohol combines with this drug. Naltrexone is another drug which is used to treat heavy drinking as it blocks the good feelings of drinking. Acamprosate may also be used in the treatment of alcoholism. It helps to prevent the alcohol craving in the person.
  • Injected medication: Vivitrol, a similar drug to naltrexone is injected one time a month. The injectable medication is more helpful in recovering the alcoholic patients.
  • Medical treatment for other conditions: Treatment of the medical conditions which are associated with alcoholism is also done. These conditions may include high blood pressure, liver disease, high blood sugar and heart disease.
  • Spiritual practice: It makes it easier to treat the people who are involved regularly in some type of spiritual practice.

Residential treatment programs:

Residential treatment facility is needed to treat serious alcohol problems. These residential treatment programs include individual and group therapy, educational lectures, family involvement, counseling by professional staff and activity therapy.

Alcoholism in teens can be prevented by early intervention. The factors which influence the addiction include the influence of parents and peers, influence by advertisements of alcohol, early habit of consuming alcohol and genetic factors. These factors must be carefully addressed at a very early stage when symptoms of alcohol abuse are noticed.

By following the below tips one can reduce the intake of alcohol:

  • Set a limit for drinking and plan it priorly
  • Fix a limited budget to be spent on drinking
  • Reduce the intake gradually every day
  • Drink in smaller glasses or containers than in larger ones
  • Go for less stronger types of alcohol rather than strong beers and wines
  • Drink a lot of water and do not use alcohol to quench thirst
*Disclaimer This is not medical advice. The content is for educational purposes only. Please contact your doctor for any health care issues.