Alcoholism is a disease. It is often diagnosed more through behaviors and adverse effects on functioning than by specific medical symptoms. Only 2 of the diagnostic criteria are physiological (those are tolerance changes and withdrawal symptoms).
* Alcohol abuse and alcoholism are associated with a broad range of medical, psychiatric, social, legal, occupational, economic, and family problems. For example, parental alcoholism underlies many family problems such as divorce, spouse abuse, child abuse and neglect, welfare dependence, and criminal behaviors, according to government sources.
* The great majority of alcoholics go unrecognized by physicians and health care professionals. This is largely because of the alcoholic’s ability to conceal the amount and frequency of drinking, denial of problems caused by or made worse by drinking, the gradual onset of the disease, and the body's ability to adapt to increasing alcohol amounts.
* Family members often deny or minimize alcohol problems and unwittingly contribute to the continuation of alcoholism by well-meaning behaviors such as shielding the alcoholic from adverse consequences of drinking or taking over family or economic responsibilities. Often the drinking behavior is concealed from loved ones and health care providers.
* Alcoholics, when confronted, will often deny excess consumption of alcohol. Alcoholism is a diverse disease and is often influenced by the alcoholic's personality as well as by other factors. Therefore, signs and symptoms often vary from person to person. There are, however, certain behaviors and signs that indicate someone may have a problem with alcohol. These behaviors and signs include insomnia, frequent falls, bruises of different ages, blackouts, chronic depression, anxiety, irritability, tardiness or absence at work or school, loss of employment, divorce or separation, financial difficulties, frequent intoxicated appearance or behavior, weight loss, or frequent automobile collisions.
* Late signs and symptoms include medical conditions such as pancreatitis, gastritis, cirrhosis, neuropathy, anemia, cerebellar atrophy, alcoholic cardiomyopathy (heart disease), Wernicke's encephalopathy (abnormal brain functioning), Korsakoff's dementia, central pontine myelinolysis (brain degeneration), seizures, confusion, malnutrition, hallucinations, peptic ulcers, and gastrointestinal bleeding.
* Compared with children in families without alcoholism, children of alcoholics are at increased risk for alcohol abuse, drug abuse, conduct problems, anxiety disorders, and mood disorders. Alcoholic individuals have a higher risk of psychiatric disorders and suicide. They often experience guilt, shame, and depression, especially when their alcohol use leads to significant losses (for example, job, relationships, status, economic security, or physical health). Many medical problems are caused by or made worse by alcoholism as well as by the alcoholic’s poor adherence to medical treatment.
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