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Independent medical expert answers on psychiatry and psychology

Alcoholism Stages and Causes of Alcoholism

This page abstract: It takes years to become an alcoholic.

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Independent medical expert answers on psychiatry and psychology

Alcoholism Stages and Causes of Alcoholism

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Question(s): 
Written by: Wendy Moelker, Psychologist in charge, tutor, Emergis center for mental health care, Goes, the Netherlands.
First version: 22 Jul 2008.
Latest revision: 22 Jul 2008.

How does someone become an alcoholic/alcohol addict? How does alcoholism develop? What are the stages of development of alcoholism. What are the causes of alcoholism?

Answer:

You don't get dependent on alcohol just like that. It often takes years and usually begins with drinking for the effect.

Drinking for the effect

The motor for alcohol dependence is drinking for the effect. The drinker wants to change his mood to get rid of tensions, anxiety or grimness or to get more appreciation. Most people drink every now and then to change mood, but the real drinker-to-be strives for a more intense change of mood. He wants to experience a real turn, and wants to feel good again. When he does this several times, the problem is not solved and he runs the risk that his body gets used to the alcohol.

Getting used to the alcohol, or the development of tolerance

The body gets used to the alcohol. This is called the development of tolerance. At a certain moment, the drinker doesn't feel the effect of the alcohol anymore and he needs more and more. After all, his mood has to change.

Getting blackouts

When the drinker goes on and on and gets drunk regularly, he will eventually get blackouts. A blackout means that you miss a part of your intoxication. The next day you forget, for example, what you have said or how you got home. This startles the drinker in the beginning, but later on he deals with it indifferently. This is risky; he becomes blind to the disadvantages of alcohol abuse.

The development of problems related to alcohol use

Because of the heavy drinking problems arise. These can be physical problems, losing social contacts, problems at work or school, or financial problems. The question "do I drink because I have problems, or do I have problems because I drink?" becomes of current interest. You drink because you are using a bad problem solving method. More.

Getting withdrawal symptoms

In time, the body gets so used to alcohol that it will get withdrawal symptoms if it doesn't get a certain dose. You can start to tremble, sweat, sleep badly and feel restless.

Losing control

If the drinker keeps on drinking, it will get harder each time to drink less. The drinker resolves to reduce or quit after a few drinks, but can't stick to that.

Drinking maintains itself

At a certain moment, all these symptoms maintain the addiction. The drinker gets into a number of vicious circles. There are four circles:

  1. the pharmacological one: the withdrawal symptoms are suppressed by liquor. The withdrawal symptoms disappear temporarily, but come back with great intensity. For example, drinking alcohol to drive away feelings of restlessness.
  2. the mental one: Alcohol use leads to shame and guilt. The solution is sought in more alcohol, which only increases the shame and guilt.
  3. the social one: due to his drinking, the drinker gets involved in fights and gets isolated from the people around him. He can lose his partner and his job. Loneliness, fights and problems are reasons to start drinking again.
  4. the cerebral one: the use of alcohol causes brain damage. This can lead to having less resistance to the impulse to drink.
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