More than 17.5 million people in the United States abuse or are dependent on alcohol. However, substantially more men than women are alcohol dependent or experience alcohol-related problems. In addition, rates of alcohol problems are highest among adults ages 18-44. The risk of alcoholism is increased in children of alcoholics, especially when they engaged in binge drinking as adolescents and young adults. Alcoholism is viewed by most experts as a from of addiction, which means that alcoholics demonstrate physical dependence on alcohol and experience withdrawal symptoms when they do not drink. Dependency occurs when a drug, such as alcohol, becomes so incorporated into the functioning of the body’d cells that the drug becomes necessary for normal functioning. Alcohol addiction occurs over time as drinking alcohol alters the balance of some chemicals in the brain, causing a strong desire for more alcohol. These chemicals include:
- Gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA), which inhibits impulsiveness
- Glutamate, which excites the nervous system
- Norepinehrine, which is released in response to stress
- Dopamine, serotonin and opioids peptides which are responsible for pleasurable feelings.
Excessive, long term drinking can deplete or increase the levels of some of the these chemical, causing the body to crave alcohol to restore good feelings or to avoid negative feelings. Additionally, other factors come into play:
- High Stress
- Emotional pain
- Close friends or partners who drink excessively
- Sociocultural factors that glorify alcohol.
Most people seeking treatment for alcohol abuse or dependence are young adults. The most widely known treatment is Alcoholics Anonymous which was founded in Akron, Ohio in 1935 by two recovering alcoholics. Other treatment approaches include inpatient and outpatient programs at treatment centers, behavior modification, cognitive behavioral therapy, aversion therapy, motivational enhancement therapy, and acupuncture therapy. Typically the goal of these programs is abstinence.
Reference: Human Development: A Lifespan View, Fifth Edition by Robert V Kail and John C Cavanaugh. Pages 368-369
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