Alcoholism (alcohol addiction) is by far the most widespread addiction worldwide. At the same time, the health risks of alcoholism are very often underestimated. Experts believe that alcohol is responsible for around 40,000 deaths in Germany alone every year. Read more about symptoms, causes, therapy and self-help against alcohol addiction.
When asked “What is alcoholism?” Or “Who is an alcoholic?” divide at the counters and in the living rooms the spirits. In fact, the lines between alcoholism, alcohol abuse and pleasure drinking are blurred. Under “Alcohol – Abuse or Enjoyment” you will find numerous facts on the subject. This alcoholism guide is about pathological alcohol addiction or alcohol addiction.
Alcoholism can no doubt be called a widespread disease. According to the yearbook Addiction 2017 of the German Center for Addiction Hazards, more than 3.3 million Germans are considered to be alcoholic. The Federal Statistical Office has given the number of addicts at least 1.6 million. But there are also experts and self-help organizations that set even these high numbers even higher: there are talk of up to 2.5 million alcohol addicts.
Different numbers circulate about the number of people with critical alcohol consumption. According to the DHS, it amounts to at least 1.7 million. In the 2015 health report, the Robert Koch Institute (RKI) even speaks of up to 10 million Germans with critical alcohol consumption.
Contrary to prejudice, alcoholism is not an exclusively male domain. Almost a quarter of the alcoholics (370,000) have girls and women – and the trend is rising. According to recent studies, women with alcoholism are particularly strongly represented with women with a high level of education and women between 45 and 54.
In young men, the risk of alcoholism increases as education ends. From the age of 45, alcohol consumption is higher in men with good education than in those with average or poor education.
According to the International Classification of Diseases (ICD), one speaks of alcoholism if three of the six following symptoms apply:
- strong or compulsive desire to drink alcohol
- Problems reliably limiting alcohol consumption
- Withdrawal symptoms when not drinking
- increased alcohol tolerance
- Neglecting other activities and obligations to drink
- Continued drinking despite existing health problems due to alcohol consumption.
Progressive alcohol consumption brings with it a variety of symptoms and illnesses that indicate an evolving or existing addiction. Some of the most obvious signs of alcoholism are:
- secret drinking
- Hiding alcohol, such as transferring alcohol into packaging of non-alcoholic beverages
- Drunk driving, driving license withdrawal due to alcohol
- Emotional derailments after alcohol consumption such as increased disputes or physical arguments while drunk
- Money worries due to frequent alcohol purchases or extensive pub crawls
- Retreat from friends, family members or life partners
- less and less social contact with non-drinkers
- Diseases of the liver and pancreas.
Alcoholics do not conform to prejudices
A prejudice about alcoholics describes alcoholic people as work shy, lazy people. In fact, the opposite is often the case. Alcoholics are very active when it comes to hiding their illness. This includes, especially during the first years of addiction, not attracting attention at work and in the private environment. That is why alcoholics in the workplace often do more than others and are considered helpful and committed contemporaries in neighborhoods or clubs. With these activities, alcoholics not only create space for their addiction externally, but also confirm themselves the image of a person who certainly has no problem with alcohol.
Although alcohol is over the counter and socially accepted as a stimulant, it is a very powerful drug. Alcohol triggers intoxications that many people find pleasant. Alcohol also has a strong relaxing and disinhibiting effect. So it is only natural if this pleasant condition is sought again and again. The engine of this behavior is our brain – and there the so-called reward system. Once in contact with an addictive substance, it always sends impulses that call for more drugs. So much for the greatly simplified brain physiological process of addiction development.
Many factors determine addiction development
But why do some become addicted and others do not? According to addiction experts, about a third of the tendency to addictive behavior is hereditary. Children of alcoholic parents have a significantly higher risk of developing alcoholism themselves. Another third of the genetic effect is enhanced when children grow up without sensitization to alcohol and the risk of addiction in general. Addiction researchers attribute the last third of the causes of alcoholism to the patient’s personal history. Traumatic experiences such as abuse, violent experiences or separations increase the likelihood of developing an addiction.
Alcoholism can also spread to loved ones. If, for example, the wife keeps saving the alcoholic man from the consequences of alcoholism or procures the alcohol, a so-called co-dependency can develop from this.
Alcoholism is an addiction that often only becomes noticeable when there are serious symptoms that can hardly be hidden. As a rule, alcoholism first manifests itself in the family or community. Family members and partners are often the driving force behind convincing an alcoholic of the need for therapy.
The path to therapy for alcoholism is often very long and can take decades. Even if there are obvious problems in the partnership or family, it takes an average of about 7 years for alcoholics to give in to the partner’s insistence and to consent to the treatment of alcoholism.
Alcoholism is not curable in the narrower sense. The addiction to alcohol persists for life. The goal of the therapy is the dry alcoholic, i.e. an alcohol-dependent person who no longer consumes alcohol.
Treatment for alcoholism usually consists of at least three steps:
- cessation therapy
Detoxification of alcoholics
Alcohol is not only an intoxicant, but also a cell poison that makes you physically addicted after a while. The metabolism changes so much that alcohol withdrawal can even be fatal without medical treatment. In the case of inpatient detoxification of alcoholics, on the one hand the metabolism is normalized and on the other hand the sometimes violent withdrawal symptoms are alleviated with medication.
A detoxification treatment follows detoxification as the first building block in the treatment of alcoholism. At least 16 weeks should be estimated for this inpatient therapy. The most successful psychotherapeutic method for alcohol withdrawal is cognitive behavior therapy. In the course of this therapy, the reasons for the addictive behavior are dealt with on the one hand, and new, constructive behaviors for a life without alcohol are practiced on the other hand. Weaning therapy is just the beginning of a process that results from alcoholism. The goal: to become a dry alcoholic.
Under “Addiction therapy – ways out of dependency” you will find detailed information on how to successfully manage addiction.
In the 16 to 20 weeks of weaning therapy, not all patterns and consequences of alcohol consumption, often for decades, can be managed. Rather, during this time, clients are given tools to continue treating the illness themselves in everyday life.
Most dry alcoholics are convinced that long-term abstinence can hardly be achieved without the help of self-help groups. Self-help groups such as Alcoholics Anonymous or the Kreuzbund (and many others) are described by addiction researchers and addiction counselors as the most successful authority for the treatment of alcoholism.
Self-help with alcoholism, even if it sounds contradictory, is hardly possible on the one hand and the only way out of addiction on the other. Without professional help, medical support for detoxification or support in the form of self-help groups, the absolute majority of those affected cannot get out of alcoholism. On the other hand, the efforts of family, friends, doctors and therapists have no prospect of success if alcoholics are not determined to help themselves.
Preventing alcoholism requires an awareness of the dangers of alcohol consumption. Alcohol is a legal and socially accepted drug that is sometimes even transformed into an indispensable stimulant. This goes so far that in many regions and social groups, for example, increased alcohol tolerance and regular drinking (2 of the criteria for alcoholism) are seen as a worthwhile expression of masculinity.
Ultimately it is up to everyone to inform themselves about these dangers at an early stage and to draw the appropriate conclusions for their own behavior – if necessary also against the expectations of society for a “real male image” or the clique of “cool girls and boys” ,
See “Alcohol: Abuse or Enjoyment” for more information on alcohol and the consequences of uncontrolled drinking.