Alcoholism can fall into two separate categories: problem drinking and actual physical dependence on alcohol. Problem drinking is commonly emotional in its roots, whereby the alcoholic uses drink to avoid feeling. Alcohol dependence is where the person needs alcohol in order to function.
Generally four times as many men than women are affected, however, alcohol use and abuse is quickly on the rise with females and younger adults, even children. Women are more affected by alcohol than men due to lower body weight, lower water content, higher fat content and less of the enzyme that breaks down alcohol. Not only do women develop liver disease from a lesser amount of alcohol, they are at a higher risk of developing osteoporosis as alcohol adversely affects bone metabolism.
The overall rate of premature death related to alcoholism is 50 to 100 percent higher for women than for men. Women are also more likely to have psychological troubles such as anxiety, eating disorders and depression, which can often be occurring prior to drinking becoming a problem. Thus, treating the alcohol dependency does not mean the emotional and mental difficulties are immediately cured. Actually, as the person has lost her ?crutch?, dealing with the strains of life may even be more difficult than previously experienced.
Alcoholism tends to run in families, and this is for a couple of reasons. First, there is the physiological dependence alcohol can have on the body. Heredity is involved in almost fifty percent of the risk of becoming an alcoholic. Environment also plays a large role because too often the normal emotional development of a child has not been allowed, due to the constant upheaval caused by the alcoholic?s behaviour. There is little stability, and children of alcoholics can find themselves either taking on too much or too little responsibility, possibly leading to emotional or relationship troubles further on in life. Socially, the family may feel the need to hide the alcoholic?s problem, not speaking about it and leading to the ?enabling? behaviour that can affect the family?s ability to reach out and ask for help. There is a social stigma attached to alcoholism, which if properly understood, would be treated as a disease and not a result of poor willpower.
The body sees alcohol as a poison. Some of the effects of chronic alcohol use include damage to the liver, brain, duodenum, pancreas and central nervous system. The brain is affected because the amount of oxygen is reduced to the brain in addition to alcohol harming the cells themselves. This can result in disorientation, amnesia, hallucinations, emotional swings and in severe cases, seizures and neurological complications. Every cell in the body is damaged metabolically and the immune system is depressed by alcohol. If an alcoholic continues to drink, the life span can be shortened by up to fifteen years.
95 percent of alcohol is processed by the liver at the rate of about ? to ? ounce per hour. Continued use of alcohol reduces the liver?s ability to produce digestive enzymes, resulting in poor assimilation and use of proteins, fats, B vitamins and fat-soluble vitamins A, D, E and K. Amino acid deficiencies occur, reducing the body?s store of zinc, vital for immunity. Excessive amounts of fat are then accumulated in the liver, as they are not being metabolised. In time, the liver cells can become inflamed and may die, which is hepatitis. The final stage is cirrhosis, a disease whereby the liver is inflamed, hardens and scars, preventing the normal passage of blood through the liver. This impairs the vital function of detoxification, the liver?s primary function. An estimated one out of five alcoholics is affected by cirrhosis.
The liver is not the only organ to show damage from alcohol. The peripheral nervous system can be inhibited, resulting in a loss of sensation in the hands and feet, with difficulty walking. Chronic drinking inflames the pancreas, leading to an even further reduction in digestion and can lead to diabetes. There is an increased risk of mouth, throat, stomach and colon cancer due to the toxicity of alcohol. Add to the common partner in crime, smoking, and you increase the risk of cancer by 50 percent. High blood pressure, reduced testosterone, enlargement of the heart and visible dilation of blood vessels just beneath the skin?s surface are results of alcohol and can often lead to heart failure.
Drinking while pregnant can lead to foetal alcohol syndrome. This can present with lower birth weight, stunted growth, smaller brains, lower intelligence and even retardation. The liver of the foetus is not developed and cannot handle the alcohol; therefore it remains in the circulation, depressing the central nervous system of the developing baby. In addition, joints, fingers, limbs, and facial features can be deformed, plus heart and kidney defects. Some children will become hyperactive and have learning disabilities – all this from even moderate amounts of alcohol taken during pregnancy, especially in the first three to four months.
Alcoholics who quit drinking suddenly may suffer withdrawal symptoms. Shaking, insomnia, hallucinations, convulsions, anxiety, rapid pulse, fever, profuse perspiration and emotional mood swings can occur. There are various medical terms for these stages of withdrawal. Delirium tremens (DTs) usually covers the symptom picture of anxiety, confusion, nightmares, and possibly terrors. The floor can feel as though it is moving, the walls are falling or the room is rotating. It is vital to recognize that delirium tremens can be fatal and should be treated under medical supervision. There can also be hepatic coma, as the alcohol-damaged liver cannot rid the body of toxic substances. It is suggested that patients be given Vitamin B injections, which will help support the nervous system while they are withdrawing. With proper nutritional supplementation, there is the possibility of liver regeneration, so long as the damage has not been too severe.
In the UK, there are one million registered alcoholics and drug addicts. Considering that only 1/5 of all addicts will register, the appropriate figure is somewhere around 5 million people with an addiction. Then multiply this number by five – the parent, spouse, child, friend or work colleague whose life is affected by the alcoholic?s disease, and you have roughly 25 million people trying to cope with this destructive behaviour. Half the population of the UK is directly involved and there is no sign of it slowing down.
Homeopathic remedies to help recover from alcohol addiction include Nux vomica and especially Avena sativa used for detox and nervous system support. Other support remedies to consider are Opium and Quercus if it fits the case. Use daily in a low potency such as a 6c with a liver support remedy in mother tincture such as Chelidonium, Carduus marianus, Taraxacum or Hydrastis. Deeply suppressed emotions will probably need to be addressed as well. Think of Carcinosin, Aurum, Staphysagria, the Natrums, Lycopodium, Lachesis and Sepia. If there is a family tendency towards alcoholism look at the nosodes, especially Syphilinum. The important thing to remember is that recovery is a process, and treating alcoholism is rarely straightforward.
Adrianna Holman BSc, LCH, RSHom
Adrianna Holman is a Registered Homeopath and practises in London, England. See her website www.homeopath.moonfruit.com