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Alcoholism and its effects on life

Dr Sanjay Agrawal
Wednesday, December 10, 2014, 08:00 Hrs  [IST]

Alcoholism is a chronic and often progressive disease that includes problems on controlling your drinking, being preoccupied with alcohol, continuing to use alcohol even when it causes problems, having to drink more to get the same effect (physical dependence), or having withdrawal symptoms when you rapidly decrease or stop drinking. If you have alcoholism, you can't consistently predict how much you'll drink, how long you'll drink, or what consequences will occur from your drinking.

It's possible to have a problem with alcohol, even when it has not progressed to the point of alcoholism. Problem drinking means you drink too much at times, causing repeated problems in your life, although you're not completely dependent on alcohol.

If you have alcoholism or you have a problem with alcohol, you may not be able to cut back or quit without help. Denying that you have a problem is usually part of alcoholism and other types of excessive drinking.

Symptoms of alcohol dependence
If you are alcohol-dependent you have a strong desire for alcohol. Sometimes the desire is overwhelming. You have great difficulty in controlling your drinking. In addition, your body becomes used to lots of alcohol. Therefore, you may start to develop withdrawal symptoms 3-8 hours after your last drink as the effect of the alcohol wears off. So, even if you want to stop drinking, it is often difficult because of the withdrawal symptoms. Withdrawal symptoms include: feeling sick, trembling, sweating, craving for alcohol, and just feeling awful. Convulsions occur in a small number of cases.

As a result, you drink alcohol regularly and depend on it to prevent withdrawal symptoms. If you do not have any more alcohol, withdrawal symptoms usually last 5-7 days but a craving for alcohol may persist longer. The severity of dependence can vary. It can develop gradually and become more severe. You may be developing alcohol dependence if you:

  • Often have a strong desire to drink alcohol and need a drink every day.
  • Need a drink to stop trembling (the shakes).
  • Drink early, or first thing in the morning (to avoid withdrawal symptoms).
  • Spend a lot of your time in activities where alcohol is available. For example, if you spend a lot of time at the social club or pub.
  • Neglect other interests or pleasures because of alcohol drinking.
Alcoholism mainly effects adversely on followings in our life:
  • Effect on sex drive
  • Effect on stress
  • Effect on appetite
  • Effect on sleep
Effect on sex drive
Many people mistakenly believe that alcohol is an aphrodisiac. However, over time too much alcohol can actually put a dampener on your sex drive. Because alcohol drinking reduces production of sex hormones. Drinking can also cause damage, if you're planning to have children. Women who drink over the government’s lower risk guidelines can take longer to become pregnant and can suffer from menstrual and fertility problems.

Alcohol increases sexual desire but inhibits sexual performance. Many people describe the dis-inhibiting properties of alcohol and how when under the influence of this substance they feel more sexual, more willing and have a stronger desire to seek out a sexual experience. In low doses, alcohol may help to alleviate some of the symptoms of anxiety about sexual performance and sexuality. However, when alcohol is chronically consumed over a long period, it can impact on a person’s sexual function. This can impact on both the person experiencing the dysfunction but also on the partner.

Cognitive interference has been found to be a factor in sexual dysfunction in people who suffer from alcoholism. Alcohol affects a person’s sexual arousal, control of arousal and rate of distraction during sexual stimulation. They will fumble, have trouble focusing and may anger a partner during a sexual experience. This may lead to further problems with sexuality and a person may begin to medicate their concerns with more alcohol.

Effect on stress
Many people goes for alcohol after a stressful day to relax but fact is that if you regularly turn to alcohol to help you cope with a hard day, it could be doing you far more harm than good. Alcohol is a depressant, which means it slows down the brain and the central nervous system's processes. Over time, heavy drinking interferes with the neurotransmitters in the brain that are needed for good mental health. So while alcohol may help deal with stress in the short term, in the long run it can contribute to feeling of depression and anxiety and make stress harder to deal with. Alcoholism leads to stress and stress leads to stress. Alcoholism and stress feeds each other.

Effect on appetite
Alcoholism can have a significant impact on one's appetite, food choices and eating habits. In some individuals, cravings for unhealthy food increase. For others, alcoholism rids them of their ability to recognize or feel hunger. Since alcoholism puts one at risk for a variety of serious conditions and diseases, including malnutrition, proper guidance and treatment is recommended for those in needs. A hormone linked to increased hunger, particularly hunger for high-fat foods, has been linked to cravings for alcohol. Thus, a person consuming vast amounts of alcohol will produce greater amounts of the hormone.

Though the effect increased gelanin has on appetite and eating behaviours varies amongst individuals, the chances that an alcoholic's desire for high-fat foods will increase runs high. Alcoholism can lead one to disconnect from his hunger or desire for food. Poorest eating habits and food choices were displayed by those who drank the most volume of alcohol.

Effect on sleep
Alcohol might help you nod off, but even just a few drinks can affect the quality of your sleep. And if you're regularly drinking, you may find you wake up the next day feeling like you haven't had any rest at all. Alcohol interferes with the normal sleep process. When you drink a lot of alcohol close to bedtime, you can go straight into deep sleep, missing out on the usual first stage of sleep, called rapid eye movement (REM) sleep. In the course of a night you usually have six to seven cycles of REM sleep, which leaves you feeling refreshed. However, if you've been drinking you'll typically have only one to two, meaning you can wake with feeling of exhausted. Alcohol may seem to be helping you to sleep, as it helps induce sleep, but overall it is more disruptive to sleep, particularly in the second half of the night

Effect on depression
We know that there is a connection – self-harm and suicide is much more common in people with alcohol problems. It seems that it can work in two ways:
  • you regularly drink too much which makes you feel depressed or
  • You drink to relieve anxiety or depression.
Either way
Alcohol affects the chemistry of the brain, increasing the risk of depression.
Hangovers can create a cycle of waking up feeling ill, anxious, jittery and guilty.
Life gets depressing – arguments with family or friends, trouble at work, memory and sexual problems.
In this way alcoholism and depression makes a cycle.

(Author is medical consultant and editor-in-chief of IJMToday)


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