Alcoholism is an addictive dependency on alcohol characterised by craving (a strong need to drink); loss of control (being unable to stop); physical dependence and withdrawal symptoms; and tolerance (increasing difficulty of becoming drunk).
engraving (detail) circa 1820
Alcoholism is a life-threatening problem that often ends in death, particularly through liver disease and internal bleeding. In young alcoholics however, there are still risks of death by alcohol poisioning, alcohol related accidents, or suicide.
Stereotypes of alcoholics, often as a "town drunk", are often found in fiction.
Alcohol dependence is much harder to break and much more damaging than dependence on most other addictive substances. The physical symptoms when withdrawing from alcohol are seen to be equal to those experienced during withdrawal from heroin.
Treatments for alcoholism include detoxification programs run by medical institutions. This may involve a stay of a couple of weeks in a specialized hospital ward where drugs may be used to avoid withdrawal symptoms. After this detoxification, various forms of group therapy or psychotherapy are used to deal with the underlying problems. These therapies may be supported by drugs like Disulfiram which cause a strong and prompt hangover whenever alcohol is consumed.
Another treatment program is based on nutritional therapy. Most alcoholics have been found to have a sugar handling problems, called insulin resistance, which can be treated by going on a hypoglycemic diet. Insulin resistance, also called hypoglycemia, causes an unstable supply of blood sugar levels to reach the brain. This affects behaviour and emotions so often seen among alcoholics in treatment. The metabolic aspects of alcoholism is often overlooked resulting in poor treatment outcomes. See: " class="external">http://www.hypoglycemia.asn.au The social problems arising from alcoholism can include loss of employment, financial problems, conviction for crimes such as drunk driving or public disorder, loss of accommodation, and loss of respect from others who may see the problem as self-inflicted and easily avoided. Exhaustive studies, including those by author Wayne Kritsberg, show that alcoholism affects not only the addicted but profoundly impacts the family members around them. Their children can be affected even after they are grown. The condition is usually referred to as The Adult Children of Alcoholics Syndrome.
Many people incorrectly assume that once the person quits drinking, all is well. However, a fair amount of people who have stopped drinking still refer to themselves as "alcoholics" or "recovering alcoholics."
Organisations working with alcoholics include: