Alcoholism Medicine

The effects of alcoholism are quite far-reaching. Alcoholism affects every body system, causing a wide range of drinking-related health problems, including:

  • lower testosterone
  • shrinking gonads
  • erectile dysfunction
  • interference with reproductive fertility
  • weak bones
  • memory disorders
  • difficulty with balance and walking
  • liver disease (including cirrhosis and hepatitis)
  • high blood pressure
  • weakness of muscles (including the heart)
  • disturbances of heart rhythm
  • anemia, clotting disorders
  • weak immunity to infections
  • inflammation and irritation of the entire gastrointestinal system
  • acute and chronic problems with the pancreas
  • low blood sugar
  • high blood fat content, and
  • poor nutrition.

The mental health implications of alcoholism include marital and other relationship difficulties, depression, unemployment, poor performance at school or work, spouse and child abuse, and general family dysfunction.

Alcoholism causes or contributes to a variety of severe social problems, such as homelessness, murder, suicide, injury, and violent crime. Alcohol is a contributing factor in half of all deaths from motor vehicle accidents.

In fact, 50% of the 100,000 deaths that occur each year due to the effects of alcohol are due to injuries of some sort. By some estimates, alcohol-related problems cost the United States over $150 billion yearly in lost productivity and alcohol-related medical expense.

There is no cure for alcoholism. Recovery from alcoholism is a lifelong process. In fact, people who have suffered from alcoholism are encouraged to refer to themselves ever after as recovering alcoholics, never as recovered alcoholics. Alcoholism can only be arrested—by abstaining from the drug, alcohol.

The potential for relapse (returning to illness) is always there, and it must be acknowledged and respected. Statistics suggest that among middle-class alcoholics in stable financial and family situations who have undergone treatment, 60% or more can successfully stop drinking for at least a year, and many for a lifetime.

Prevention is primarily related to education and early intervention. In a culture in which alcohol is so widely accepted and used, education about the dangers of this drug is vitally important, even in early childhood.

Since alcohol is one of the easiest and cheapest drugs to obtain and one commonly used by teens, the first instance of intoxication (drunkenness) with alcohol usually occurs during the teenage years. It is particularly important that teenagers who are at high risk for alcoholism be made aware of this danger.

Those at high risk include those with a family history of alcoholism, an early or frequent use of alcohol, a tendency to drink to drunkenness, alcohol use that interferes with schoolwork, a poor family environment, or a history of domestic violence.

Peers are often the best people to provide this education, and groups such as SADD (Students Against Drunk Driving, a Marlborough, Massachusetts-based organization), appear effective.

Courts and schools sometimes provide education through local substance abuse programs, as well. Setting a good example, developing and practicing communication skills with youngsters, and having frank discussions about the consequences of drinking, are all encouraged as ways to prevent alcoholism-related problems.

Developing alternative coping skills to life’s problems is also essential, as is encouraging an objective perspective on the pervasive advertising that deceptively promotes alcohol’s health-reducing glamour.