Alcohol abuse and alcohol addiction, which are often known colloquially as alcoholism, can damage a person’s life and is the fourth leading cause of preventable death. Alcoholism takes many forms and can have a wide variety of effects on a person’s health, mental well-being, and behavior. Understanding the causes of alcoholism and the nature of the condition is crucial to recovering from this potentially life-threatening disorder.
While alcoholism goes by many names, today it is most commonly referred to by its clinical name, alcohol use disorder. Individuals who suffer from alcohol use disorder find it difficult to stop abusing alcohol even when doing so repeatedly leads to negative consequences. These harms can include social isolation and conflict, health problems, legal problems, losing one’s job, and severe mental health disorders.
People with alcohol use disorder often recognize these harms and have a strong desire to quit drinking, but they generally find that they are unable to do so for any extended period of time, if at all.
Alcoholism has no single cause, and there are a wide variety of factors that contribute to the development of alcohol use disorder. Alcohol use disorder is a legitimate and deeply debilitating medical condition, but it is treatable with outside help. Recognizing alcohol use disorder and seeking treatment, however, is often the most significant hurdle people face.
Part of the difficulty lies in the fact that alcohol plays an important role in our culture. Not only does drinking play a role in social events, work, dating, and religious ceremonies, but the practice of drinking excessively is valued and normalized in many circumstances. People who suffer consequences from alcohol abuse are therefore often criticized for “not handling their liquor,” and those who develop alcohol addictions are often left feeling like they have insufficient willpower or self-control.
As a result, many people spend years trying with little success to conjure up the will power they believe they need to manage their drinking problem. The social stigma surrounding addiction, and around alcohol addiction in particular, prevents many people from seeking help when they most need it.
It cannot be emphasized enough that alcohol use disorder cannot be managed by exerting more self-control or will power. In fact, alcohol use disorder’s very nature makes it impossible for a person to exercise self-control in this area of their lives. Addiction affects the brain on a neurological level. Trying to use one’s brain to combat addiction is like trying to heal a broken leg by running a marathon. As with any severe and progressive medical condition, the only way to recover is to seek outside help and get the treatment you need.