Alcoholism is a disease of the body, thinking, emotions and spirit. Progressive damage to these four aspects interact in various ways such that a person is increasingly compelled to drink. Also, once drinking starts they cannot ‘always’ guarantee when they will stop or how much they will drink.
A genetic predisposition. Fifty percent of alcoholics have an inherited genetic makeup that almost guaranteed they would become alcoholic when they began to drink heavily. For example, the brain chemistry of some children or grandchildren of alcoholics actually encourages heavier drinking.
Alcohol Metabolism. Alcohol is metabolized differently by some people. As a result the body and brain requires more alcohol to have the same effect than normal drinkers would need.
Cell alteration. All heavy drinkers undergo changes at the cellular level of the brain. Where the brain cells meet extra receptor positions grow to receive the heavy dose of alcohol related chemical messengers. When not drinking these extra receptor positions demand to be filled thus creating a craving for alcohol.
Brain damage. Alcohol, in any quantity, is poisonous to brain cells and kills off cells in their millions. The most critically affected parts of the brain are those that deal with short term memory, decision making and rational thinking. Women heavy drinkers develop brain damage with less drinking than men.
Liver Damage. The most common liver disease of alcoholics is cirrhosis (scarring) of the liver. This disease results in reduced and corrupted chemicals being sent to the body which can result in damage to other organs. Women suffer liver damage with less alcohol consumption than men.
Alcoholic Hepatitis (AH). AH is caused by other liver diseases most notably cirrhosis of the liver. More than 60% of persons who develop both AH and cirrhosis will die within four years. AH can cause changes in sleep patterns, mood, and personality; psychiatric conditions such as anxiety and depression; shortened attention span; and problems with coordination may occur.
Brain Chemicals. The body and especially the brain relies on the liver to filter important body fluids and excrete wastes. As a result of contaminated chemistry from a damaged liver the brain does not function properly. Typically a person will have cloudy and slowed thinking.
Heart Damage. Heavy drinking causes damage to the heart muscles. The heart pumps less blood and an abnormal heart beat may develop. Women suffer heart damage with less alcohol consumed than men.
Skeletal Muscles. Heavy drinking causes muscles in the arms and legs to shrink. For example, an alcoholic may have legs that are out of proportion, skinnier, than the rest of their body. Sufferers may become embarrassed about their body shape.
Cancer. The risk of cancer increases with greater alcohol consumption – more so in women. Cancer can develop in the upper airways, the liver, breasts and the bowels.
Sexual Organs and Sexuality. Heavy alcohol use shrinks the testicles. In men and women the breasts grow larger. Men produce more female hormones and women produce more male hormones. Men become less virile and women become less feminine. As a result a persons sexuality and libido is altered.
They may sense change in their sexuality and over compensate by becoming more sexually active. Indiscriminate or intoxicated sexual activity raises the risk of getting sexually transmitted diseases.
As detailed before various damaged body organs and altered chemistry affect how the brain thinks.
This buildup of thinking changes occurs over an extended time period. These small changes are usually unseen by the sufferer. The person reacts by adjusting their reasoning and behavior to accommodate their new ways of thinking. Alcoholics always adjust their thinking in ways that are harmful to themselves. And further, they cannot see the impact of their new coping style.
Typically they begin to adopt a siege mentality. Inner-self feedback, and from other people, indicates they are not quite at one with their ‘inner’ selves or the person they once were. Their experiences seem to paint a picture to the sufferer that people around them are against them, or are better than them, or are just different from themselves. They become insecure, angry, ashamed, depressed and anxious about their altered attitudes and actions.
This siege mentality generates a self-centered perspective to protect their self concept. They become takers and non-givers. "I want what I want and I want it now", sort of thing; "I need a drink, now"; regardless of the needs of others. And, when they do not get it they assert themselves even more, becoming more demanding as the disease progresses.
Alcoholics will increasingly try to cope by drinking more alcohol to take away the pain of their perception of being isolated in thinking and behavior. They slowly adopt a denial attitude to their real condition, which they eventually believe is reality for them.
The alcoholic drinks more due to a different brain chemistry and metabolism, has craving for more alcohol due to cell alteration and organ damage, and drinks more to cope with the effects of their changed thinking and behavior. They are drinking to feel normal.
From the above it can easily be seen that their emotions become strained and twisted. They become emotionally dependent on achieving and keeping a state of denial of their true situation. They deny it to themselves and others. If their alcoholism is in threat of being exposed or their alcohol supply is threatened they may protect themselves with anger, bluff, self-pity, manipulation, depression, running away & etc.
They ‘feel’ as if they must continue their current emotional and thinking stance at all costs. Alcohol has become their best friend and they are loyal to it.
The spirit of a person is the centre of their personality. If, as seen above, the person is not thinking, feeling or acting as their true self would, not aligned with their spiritual self, they are spiritually ill at ease; or dis-eased.
The progression of the disease must be arrested by stopping drinking and restoration of health in all four areas - body, thinking, emotions and spirit.
It is the dis-eased spiritual state that is targeted by the most successful treatment service world wide – Alcoholics Anonymous (AA). Through the Twelve Steps of recovery each person finds their inner, spiritual self by stripping away the effects of alcoholism and fixing up the wreckage of past thinking and actions. They begin to live a life of freedom from alcohol that has had them enslaved.
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© Copyright Robin J. Foote 2006