Exploring Alcohol and Alcoholism
For many, beer, wine, and spirits conjure up thoughts of social gatherings and tipsy fun. But alcohol is a nervous system depressant and is also associated with damaging behavior as well as the emotional pain and physical disintegration of addiction. Experts debate the benefits and risks of drinking and passionately argue over whether moderation or complete abstinence is the best option for alcoholics.
Alcohol Use Disorder is a pattern of disordered drinking that can involve interference in daily tasks, withdrawal symptoms, discord in relationships, and risky decisions that place oneself or others in harm's way. More than 15 million American adults struggle with overconsumption of alcohol, according to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. Like all addictions, alcohol use disorder is inextricably linked to a complex matrix of biological, social, and psychological factors. Research highlights a genetic component to the disorder, as about half of one's predisposition to alcoholism can be attributed to genetic makeup. People may turn to alcohol as a way to cope with trauma or other, often unrecognized psychological disorders. Socially, alcoholism may be tied to family dysfunction or a culture of binge drinking. The brain's reward pathways also play an essential role: Alcohol consumption is associated with increased dopamine activity, which corresponds with pleasure, craving, and habit formation.
Excessive alcohol consumption is correlated with increased risk of stroke, liver disease, and decreased life expectancy. In fact, binge drinking during only the weekends can provide enough of an assault to damage the liver, studies show. Moderate drinking can interfere with sleep quality by interrupting circadian rhythms and REM sleep. A number of treatment options are available to address alcoholic dysfunction.