Alcoholism, which is also known as “alcohol dependence syndrome,” is a disease that is characterized by the following elements:
- Craving: A strong need, or compulsion, to drink.
- Loss of control: The frequent inability to stop drinking once a person has begun.
- Physical dependence: The occurrence of withdrawal symptoms, such as nausea, sweating, shakiness, and anxiety, when alcohol use is stopped after a period of heavy drinking. These symptoms are usually relieved by drinking alcohol or by taking another sedative drug.
- Tolerance: The need for increasing amounts of alcohol in order to get “high.”
Alcoholics Can’t Just Quit
Alcoholism has little to do with what kind of alcohol one drinks, how long one has been drinking, or even exactly how much alcohol one consumes. But it has a great deal to do with a person’s uncontrollable need for alcohol.
This description of alcoholism helps us understand why most alcoholics can’t just “use a little willpower” to stop drinking. He or she is frequently in the grip of a powerful craving for alcohol, a need that can feel as strong as the need for food or water.
While some people are able to recover without help, the majority of alcoholic individuals need outside assistance to recover from their disease. With support and treatment, many individuals are able to stop drinking and rebuild their lives.
Many people wonder: Why can some individuals use alcohol without problems, while others are utterly unable to control their drinking? Recent research supported by NIAAA has demonstrated that for many people, a vulnerability to alcoholism is inherited.
Genetics, Environment Play a Role
Yet it is important to recognize that aspects of a person’s environment, such as peer influences and the availability of alcohol, also are significant influences. Both inherited and environmental influences are called “risk factors.”
But risk is not destiny. Just because alcoholism tends to run in families doesn’t mean that a child of an alcoholic parent will automatically develop alcoholism.
“If we have not peace within ourselves, it is in vain to seek it from outward sources.”