Some people disagree with calling alcoholism a disease, but I have seen the effects of alcoholism first hand and only consider it a disease. Alcoholism is an addiction to the consumption of alcoholic liquor to the point of inhibiting a person’s life. My uncle suffered from alcoholism, and the effects of his addiction hindered his progress in his life for many years. He had a well-paying account job, a nice family, and a big house. He then lost the right to see his children, lost fifteen or more jobs in the three years, and moved to a rehab center in California.
Alcoholism is one of the few socially acceptable diseases. Teens see depictions of drunken stupors on Netflix and are desensitized to the effects of binge drinking. The production and availability of alcohol have also grown, and it is even acceptable to the underage. According to the CDC, about 4,300 deaths each year which were youths aged below 21 years during 2006–2010 were associated with excessive drinking (Esser et al., 2021). Young adults are especially prone to early alcohol consumption because of their engagement in risky behavior.
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Drinking from an early age can contribute to alcohol addiction. According to NIH, a study found that people who began drinking alcohol at an early age of 14 had a 47 percent chance of becoming alcoholic, compared to nine percent of those who began at 21 years (National Institutes of Health, 2021). CDC has also found “that among all drinkers, early drinking was associated with a higher risk of developing alcoholism at some point and within ten years of first starting to drink, before age 25, and within any year of adult life” (“Underage Drinking,” 2021).
There are many claims about the amount which is considered normal alcohol drinking. Some people consider this amount to be enough alcoholic liquor that will not make them tipsy. Others follow the medical recommendations, although these too differ from one source to another, ranging from one to four drinks a day (“Drinking Levels Defined “, 2021). Nevertheless, once alcohol is swallowed, it takes five to ten minutes until all the alcohol is absorbed into the body, and it takes half to one and a half hours until it peaks in the bloodstream. About 90% of the metabolism of alcohol happens in the liver, and the excess is excreted through the kidneys and sweat (Goldman et al., 2005). Some anatomical changes that occur in the blood when drinking normally are changes in pH, blood glucose, and blood gases as alcohol content increases in the blood (Carey & Hustad, 2005). Regarding the physiological impacts, alcohol interferes with brain functioning, which translates to changes in cognitive functions and related behaviors such as mood and sleep. These effects escalate when someone moves from normal drinking to binge drinking.
Binge drinking involves occasional drinking of an excessive amount of alcohol. According to CDC, “binge drinking is the most common, costly, and deadly pattern of excessive alcohol use in the United States” (CDC, 2021, par.1). The CDC also adds that binge drinking is most common among youth, which is relatable due to weekend parties, especially in colleges. Although it happens occasionally, binge drinking has an increased risk of crash accidents, violence and murder related crimes, unruly sex behaviors, SID, and other health illnesses (CDC, 2021, par.3). That is why CDC consider binge drinking as a deadly pattern of excessive alcohol use.
Besides the effects mentioned above, binge drinking has critical anatomical and physiological impacts on the human body. The anatomical and physiological impacts often vary from one person to another, depending on the amount of alcohol consumed, their pattern of consumption, and the alcohol content in the alcohol consumed (Molina & Nelson, 2018). The effects can be traced more significantly in the gastrointestinal tract, the obvious pathway for foods and drinks through digestion. According to Molina and Nelson (2018), binge drinking rapidly affects the alcohol on the gastrointestinal mucosa and contributes to injuries in the gastrointestinal tract. One of the parts severely injured during binge drinking is the epithelial cells. This was found in a study that also claimed binge drinking compromises the integrity of the gastrointestinal walls, allowing toxins into the bloodstream (Rao, 2009). In addition, binge drinking leads to increased systolic and diastolic blood pressure, aggravating high blood pressure.
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Other physiological and anatomical impacts of binge drinking include pulmonary consequences, musculoskeletal consequences, and neuropathological consequences. Firstly, binge drinking leads to “altered epithelial barrier function, suppressed immunity, impaired bacterial clearance, depleted glutathione (GSH), and impaired pulmonary epithelial ciliary function” (Molina & Nelson, 2018, p.104). In addition, binge drinking has been associated with loss of lean mass due to dysfunctional metabolism caused by a rapid increase in alcohol content, besides acute muscle injury, rhabdomyolysis. Lastly, binge drinking impairs motor skills, decision-making, and impulse control, leading to crash accidents, falls, violence, and other impulsive outcomes (CDC, 2021). While these effects seem detrimental, they are worse in a case of chronic alcoholism, or simple if one is addicted like my uncle.
When an individual consumes alcohol excessively or cannot control their drinking, the condition is called alcohol use disorder. Therefore, what differentiates binge drinking from alcoholism is the fact that people living with alcohol use disorder cannot control their drinking. According to NIAAA, alcoholism involves heavy drinking, which has been defined as consuming more than three drinks and four drinks on any day for women and men, respectively (“Drinking Levels Defined “, 2021). However, this must be differentiated from binge drinking in that it is not occasional and out of control. People living with alcohol use disorder have a dependency on it, which is the fundamental sign of addiction.
There have been debates about whether binge drinking is worse than alcoholism, but both drinking patterns are harmful to the physiological and psychological wellbeing of an individual. Also, when it comes to physiological effects, they can be short term pr long term. Short term effects include impaired vision, reflexes and loss of motor coordination, relaxation and inhibitions (Carey & Hustad, 2005; NIAAA, 2021). Long term physiological effects include dependency, loss of memory, damage to the heart, liver, pancreas and other gastrointestinal organs, cancer, and damage to brain development (NIAAA, 2021). Alcoholism causes elevated liver enzymes, inhibition and tampering of the normal functioning of the endocrine system, and reduced metaphyseal and cortical bone growth (Clark et al., 2008). These effects also relate to the psychological impacts of alcoholism which include depression, withdrawal, and dependency.
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Alcoholism can be mild, severe, or moderate. The following are symptoms of either stage of alcoholism. A drinker is unable to limit themselves from drinking once they hit the normal drinking amount. Unsuccessful attempt to stop drinking and spending too much time drinking. A strong craving for alcohol and withdrawal if the alcohol is not available. Continued drinking despite the physical or psychological consequences. Developing tolerance to alcoholic drinks such that more amount is needed to create satisfaction. Lastly, drinking alcohol in places or in scenarios that are dangerous to drink. Fortunately, it is possible to stop drinking alcohol and alcohol use disorder can be treated.
Treatment for alcohol use disorder varies from one person to another and depends on the pattern of drinking. According to Patel & Balasanova, the goal of treatment for alcohol use disorder is to “reduce and manage symptoms and improve health and functioning” (2021, p.596). Medical treatment includes the use of drugs approved by the US Food and Drug Administration, including naltrexone, acamprosate, and disulfiram (Patel & Balasanova, 2021). Non-medical treatment plans include cognitive behavior therapy (CBT), psychological counselling and support plan. Besides, alcoholics are encouraged to consider changing their social situations that encourage drinking, for instance, withdrawing from friends who are alcoholics.
In conclusion, alcoholism is a disease that concerns unhealthy patterns of drinking alcoholic drinks. While my uncle was an alcoholic, the literature reveals that other alcohol drinking patterns include normal drinking and binge drinking. Also, the majority of adolescents and youth consume alcohol either as binge drinkers or are addicted to it. In the case of addiction, medical and non-medical treatment plans include taking some approved medications or attending to a psychological counselling plan.
Carey, K., & Hustad, J. (2005). Methods for Determining Blood Alcohol Concentration: Current and Retrospective Preparation of this chapter was supported in part by a Scientist Development Award (K02 DA00426) to K B Carey, 430 Huntington Hall, Syracuse University, Syracuse, NY 13244–2340. Comprehensive Handbook Of Alcohol Related Pathology, 1429-1444. https://doi.org/10.1016/b978-012564370-2/50108-2
CDC. (2021). Binge Drinking is a serious but preventable problem of excessive alcohol use | CDC. Cdc.gov. Retrieved 23 November 2021, from https://www.cdc.gov/alcohol/fact-sheets/binge-drinking.htm.
Clark, D., Thatcher, D., & Tapert, S. (2008). Alcohol, Psychological Dysregulation, and Adolescent Brain Development. Alcoholism: Clinical And Experimental Research, 32(3), 375-385. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1530-0277.2007.00601.x
“Drinking Levels Defined “. (2021). Drinking Levels Defined | National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA). Niaaa.nih.gov. Retrieved 23 November 2021, from https://www.niaaa.nih.gov/alcohol-health/overview-alcohol-consumption/moderate-binge-drinking.
Esser, M., Clayton, H., Demissie, Z., Kanny, D., & Brewer, R. (2021). Current and Binge Drinking Among High School Students — United States, 1991–2015. CDC.gov. Retrieved 23 November 2021, from https://www.cdc.gov/mmwr/volumes/66/wr/mm6618a4.htm#suggestedcitation.
Goldman, L., Hollander, H., & Wachter, R. (2005). Hospital medicine. Lippincott Williams & Wilkins.
Molina, P., & Nelson, S. (2018). Binge Drinking’s Effects on the Body. Alcohol Research : Current Reviews, 39(1), 99–109. Retrieved 23 November 2021, from.
National Institutes of Health. (2021). Early drinking Linked to Higher Lifetime Alcoholism Risk | National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA). Niaaa.nih.gov. Retrieved 23 November 2021, from https://www.niaaa.nih.gov/news-events/news-releases/early-drinking-linked-higher-lifetime-alcoholism-risk.
NIAAA. (2021). Alcohol’s Effects on the Body | National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA). Niaaa.nih.gov. Retrieved 24 November 2021, from https://www.niaaa.nih.gov/alcohols-effects-health/alcohols-effects-body.
Patel, A., & Balasanova, A. (2021). Treatment of Alcohol Use Disorder. JAMA, 325(6), 596. https://doi.org/10.1001/jama.2020.2012
Rao, R. (2009). Endotoxemia and gut barrier dysfunction in alcoholic liver disease. Hepatology, 50(2), 638-644. https://doi.org/10.1002/hep.23009
Underage Drinking. Cdc.gov. (2021). Retrieved 23 November 2021, from https://www.cdc.gov/alcohol/fact-sheets/underage-drinking.htm.