Alcoholism has a number of definitions, depending on who is defining it. To those who witness it firsthand, it seems like a form of escalating madness. Even within the medical community there are differing viewpoints about alcoholism. Psychiatrists may focus on the psychological components of alcoholism and an alcoholic’s interaction with life and society. Other doctors may view alcoholism purely as a physical addiction and choose to treat it with drugs. Usually both approaches are used, particularly with advanced alcoholism. Various political and religious groups may choose to view alcoholism in a different light. Due to the failure of prohibition few politicians would condone a return to it, however even today some jurisdictions do limit public drinking to maintain public order.
The abuse of alcohol is probably as old as agriculture, when human beings first made alcohol. Some people believe that alcohol production became a way of purifying water. This would have protected early humans from the risks associated with catching intestinal parasites from drinking water.
Some human genes seem to cause some individuals to fail at producing chemicals within their brains that alcohol can mimic. This is what is meant when an individual is considered to have a genetic vulnerability to alcohol addiction. There have been several genes identified that are linked to this vulnerability.
Although there may be a genetic vulnerability to alcohol abuse in some people, few experts on the subject would consider genetics to be the sole cause of alcoholism. The social groups that the individual belongs to and the culture within those groups in relation to drinking, may also have an impact on the drinker. These social groups would also include relatives. It may be difficult to separate a genetic vulnerability and a tendency in some families to drink on a variety of occasions and maybe frequently. To say it runs in the family may not be identifying much in terms of exact causes.
There seems to be ample evidence to suggest that social behaviors of some groups, as well as psychological vulnerabilities of some people, can contribute to the development of alcoholism. The vulnerability of an individual may be enhanced by poor emotional health. Emotional health can be effected both by external events in an individual’s life and by their personal reaction to these events. Examples could be unhappy employment or job loss, the decay of or loss of a romantic relationship, or even health problems. Part of the issue is the problem itself, but a portion of the responsibility lies with how the individual chooses to cope with the problem.
The damage to the body, brain, social life and finances of an alcoholic can be devastating in the long run. The longer that the alcoholism goes on, the greater the resulting damage will be. With exception to drinking and driving convictions, modern societies have no mechanism to compel an alcoholic to seek treatment – regardless of how much damage they’ve done to their lives.
Cures for alcoholism always carry with them the potential of failure; a percentage of alcoholics will always start to drink again. Some organizations, such as Alcoholics Anonymous, favor complete abstinence. Others recognize that some renewed drinking, as long as it is moderate, is not necessarily a failure.
Grappling with alcoholism is a life long struggle for those who suffer from it. Unfortunately those who wrestle with this illness may suffer considerable damage before summoning the resolve to attempt recovery. Science and medicine continue to make advances in coping with alcoholism, but the real effort is in the life and resolve of each alcoholic trying to get better.