Alcoholism is a chronic and often progressive disease that includes problems controlling your drinking, being preoccupied with alcohol, continuing to use alcohol even when it causes problems, having to drink more to get the same effect (physical dependence), or having withdrawal symptoms when you rapidly decrease or stop drinking.



Alcoholism signs and symptoms include those below:

— Being unable to limit the amount of alcohol you drink

— Feeling a strong need or compulsion to drink

— Developing tolerance to alcohol so that you need more to feel its effects

— Drinking alone or hiding your drinking

— Experiencing physical withdrawal symptoms — such as nausea, sweating and shaking when you don’t drink

— Not remembering conversations or commitments, the so-called ‘black out’

— Making a ritual of having drinks at certain times and becoming annoyed when this ritual is disturbed

— Being irritable when your usual drinking time nears, especially if alcohol isn’t available

— Keeping alcohol in unlikely places at home, at work or in your car

— Gulping drinks, ordering doubles or becoming drunk intentionally to feel good, or drinking to feel ‘normal’

— Have legal problems or problems with relationships, employment or finances due to drinking

— Losing interest in activities and hobbies that used to bring you pleasure


If you’ve ever wondered whether your drinking crosses the line into problem drinking or alcoholism, ask yourself these questions:

— If you’re a man, do you ever have five or more drinks in a day?

— If you’re a woman, do you ever have four or more drinks in a day?

— Do you ever need a drink to get you started in the morning?

— Do you feel guilty about your drinking?

— Are you annoyed when other people comment on or criticize your drinking habits?

If you answered ‘yes’ to even one of these questions, you may have a problem with alcohol.


Excessive drinking can reduce your judgment skills and lower inhibitions, leading to poor choices and dangerous situations or behaviours, motor vehicle accidents, domestic problems, poor performance at work or school, and an increased likelihood of committing violent crimes.

Health problems caused by excessive drinking can include liver disease, digestive problems, heart problems, diabetes complications, issues with sexual function and menstruation, birth defects, increased risk of osteoporosis, numbness, short-term memory loss, a weakened immune system and an increased risk of cancer.


Tests and diagnosis

Criteria spelled out in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM), include a pattern of alcohol use leading to serious problems, as indicated by three or more of the following at any time during one 12-month period:

— Tolerance. Indicated by an increase in the amount of alcohol you need to feel drunk

— Withdrawal symptoms. These can include tremors, insomnia, nausea and anxiety

— Drinking more alcohol than you intended

— Having an ongoing desire to unsuccessfully cut down on how much you drink

— Spending a good deal of time drinking or recovering from alcohol use

— Giving up important activities, including social, occupational or recreational activities

— Continuing to use alcohol even though you know it’s causing physical and psychological problems


Treatments and drugs

Many people with alcoholism hesitate to get treatment because they don’t recognize they have a problem. Treatment for alcoholism may include:

— Detoxification and withdrawal. Treatment for alcoholism may begin with a programme of detoxification, which generally takes two to seven days. Admission to a residential program if there is severe alcoholism.

— Psychological counselling. Counselling and therapy is an essential part of coping with the disease, preventing or dealing with relapses, and staying sober. Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) is a self-help group of people recovering from alcoholism. AA offers a sober peer group as an effective model for achieving total abstinence. The AA programme is built around 12 straightforward suggestions for people who choose to lead sober lives. They stress the necessity for honesty about the past and present. Membership is free but requires a willingness to try to remain sober.

— Oral medications. Disulfiram (Antabuse) induces negative conditioning (vomiting) when taken with alcohol. Naltrexone (Revia), a drug that blocks the ‘good feelings’ alcohol may induce.

— Medical treatment for other conditions. Including high blood pressure, high blood sugar, liver disease and heart disease. Many alcohol-related health problems improve significantly once you stop drinking.

— Alternative medicine techniques including: yoga, meditation and acupuncture which can help reduce stress and re-focus the mind, may be used.


Family Medical Practice is at 298 I Kim Ma, Ba Dinh, Hanoi and Diamond Plaza, 34 Le Duan, Q1, Ho Chi Minh City

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