What is Alcohol Dependency?

Dependence of any sort can be explained as the need for a specific substance in order to retain a level of normalcy or perceived well-being. That said, it’s well established that this well-being comes from a lack of withdrawal effects, not from any health-related or medicinal value of the drug itself. In short, alcohol dependence develops into a need for the substance, in order for the user to avoid sickness associated with withdrawal symptoms. A sign that alcohol is a drug that is abused is found more and more.

Startling Statistics
The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (a division of the National Institute of Health) has some released data regarding the prevalence of alcohol abuse and dependency.

  • 16.6 million adults age 18 or older have an AUD (Alcohol Use Disorder)
  • 1.3 million of them are receiving, or have received help for AUD in the past
  • AUDs affect men at a rate of 2:1 over women
  • 88,000 people (62,000 men and 26,000 women) die from alcohol-related causes annually, making it the third leading cause of preventable death in the United States
  • In 2013, alcohol-impaired driving fatalities accounted for over 30-percent of all fatal car accidents

Source: National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism

If these numbers aren’t shocking enough, perhaps most surprising is the impact alcohol continues to have on society. Though we’ve been well aware of the harmful effects of alcohol for over 100 years. Despite alcohol awareness, the number of individuals struggling with alcohol addiction and dependence continues to climb each year.
Habitual Alcohol Consumption
Continued and frequent drinking of copious amounts of alcohol – also known as binge drinking – leads to habitual behavior, and ultimately, more drinking. As the user begins to drink more, they often remain unaware of what is happening to their body as it grows accustomed and dependent on this foreign substance in the bloodstream. In essence, the more you drink, the more your body craves the substance that leads to mild euphoria, reduced inhibitions, and decreased anxiety and stress levels.

Once this happens, it becomes hard to turn the corner from casual drinker to someone that struggles with alcohol dependence and addiction.

What Are the Effects of Alcohol Dependency?
Habitual or heavy drinking has a direct correlation with a number of harmful or life-threatening diseases and conditions.

Including but not limited to:

  • Heart disease
  • Cancer
  • Cirrhosis of the liver
  • Dementia
  • Depression
  • Gout
  • High blood pressure
  • Nerve damage
  • Pancreatitis
This list isn’t all-encompassing. Continued or heavy alcohol usage wreaks havoc on the body and directly correlates to these, and many other health conditions.

In addition to health issues, alcohol dependency produces withdrawal symptoms when your body isn’t receiving a regular supply of the drug it has grown accustomed to. Withdrawal symptoms are unpleasant, and often times very dangerous (even life-threatening) depending on the severity of the withdrawal.

The Stress of Alcoholism on Relationships
Alcohol is known to have many damaging effects for those who are habitual abusers of the substance. Not only does it affect the addict, but it also affects any relationships the individual may have. These relationships potentially face deep damage and severe issues. Often those that are closest to the sufferer are the people impacted the most.

Typically, the person most affected by alcoholism is the spouse or significant other of the addict. Given their close proximity and emotional connection, they often receive the brunt of any undesirable behavior. Partners of the addict may even experience harmful or violent behavior directed towards them. This abusive behavior often leads to distance within the relationship caused by large amounts of tension. This can create a vicious cycle as the addict feels the necessity to relieve this stress by drinking more.

If the partner is also an addict, the situation will only intensify. Often, the addicts will rationalize their actions based on the actions of the other party. The illicit behavior becomes cyclical for both parties, creating an environment that places blame on the other for their own actions.

If this behavior is demonstrated in front of children, it will have a lasting effect. Children may be in denial of the parent’s behavior as an attempt to ignore the reality of the addiction. They may also feel the need to compensate for their parent’s deficiencies, forcing them to behave and act as an adult during a much earlier stage of their life.

Many children who witness alcohol dependent behavior in their parents have a higher propensity to experience alcohol dependency in their adolescent or adult lives. Being raised in such an environment, children perceive the behavior as normal. A traumatic experience during childhood is one of the most common issues that lead to addictive behavior. Other children may experience trust issues, leading them to be overprotective and controlling in situations, including the parenting of their own future children.

Harmful relationships with alcoholics are not relegated to household members. Parents and extended family may also be impacted by an addict’s damaging behavior. Parents may overcompensate in parental duties in an attempt to remedy the situation. This reaction is harmful to both the parents and the addict. This may cause an unhealthy relationship dynamic between the addict and their parent.

Friends and coworkers are just as likely to be impacted by an addict’s behavior. These individuals may experience resentment as they are often required to compensate for the addict financially or within their workload. These damaged relationships could lead to a loss of work or social circles, which may also lead the individual to drink even more than before.

The effects of alcoholism are very widespread and can affect not only those directly around the addict but may have a lasting effect on intergenerational relationships, especially if proper action and rehabilitation is not taken. To rectify the situation, individuals addicted to alcohol will need to reform trust with family and affected individuals. It is often recommended for any impacted parties to participate in therapy so that they may clearly define boundaries and discuss any concerns moving forward.

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