The American Medical Association supports a dual classification of alcoholism to include both physical and mental components. The biological mechanisms that cause alcoholism are not well understood. Social environment, stress, mental health, family history, age, ethnic group, and gender all influence the risk for the condition. Significant alcohol intake produces changes in the brain’s structure and chemistry, though some alterations occur with minimal use of alcohol over a short term period, such as tolerance and physical dependence. These changes maintain the person with alcoholism’s compulsive inability to stop drinking and result in alcohol withdrawal syndrome if the person stops. Alcohol abuse has the potential to damage almost every organ in the body, including the brain. The cumulative toxic effects of chronic alcohol abuse can cause both medical and psychiatric problems. Identifying alcoholism is difficult for the individual afflicted because of the social stigma associated with the disease that causes people with alcoholism to avoid diagnosis and treatment for fear of shame or social consequences. The evaluation responses to a group of standardized questioning is a common method for diagnosing alcoholism. These can be used to identify harmful drinking patterns, including alcoholism. In general, problem drinking is considered alcoholism when the person continues to drink despite experiencing social or health problems caused by drinking.
~ John Coleman
~ Kathleen OKeefe
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