Excessive alcohol consumption can be diagnosed as a real disease: symptoms, aetiology, short- and long-term effects, associated epidemiology. Suffice it to say that in the last year there were 208 million people with alcohol disorders worldwide (source: WHO); a study of the US population showed that 7% to 10% suffer from alcoholism. But what is this dangerous disease made of? How do we distinguish it from moderate consumption? What is the line between normal and abusive and, most importantly, what are the symptoms and associated harms? Let’s take a look together in the following paragraphs.
Among the symptoms of alcoholism, in order to be defined as a disorder by the DSM-5, at least two must be found, in a continuous form, for 12 months:
- almost constant desire to consume alcohol (craving);
- failure to abstain from alcohol consumption;
- severe hangover symptoms;
- impairment of the affected individual’s functioning in everyday areas: personal, emotional, work life;
- abandonment of most other activities except alcohol intake;
- alcohol intake even under dangerous conditions;
- tolerance symptoms, i.e. an increasing need to take the substance in order to equate its effects over time;
Effects of alcohol use disorder
These are the symptoms of alcohol use disorder, which affects men more frequently than women (2 to 3 times more).
The effects on the body and psyche of an individual suffering from such a disorder are obviously very worrying.
Obviously, while not everything can be defined as an alcohol disorder, it is nevertheless interesting to understand scientifically what the effects of alcohol are, which take place on two levels depending on the stage of alcohol consumption:
A first series of effects takes place in the short term: these are all those that we also experience when we consume alcohol normally, from mild doses to moderate and high doses.
Another series of effects, on the other hand, manifests itself in the long term, and these are the more serious and damaging ones for the psycho-physical part, since they are often associated with compulsive consumption and thus with the disorder proper.
We will now look at them together. As far as short-term effects are concerned, alcohol intake is associated with a scale that can be measured in alcohol units: these correspond, for example, to one glass of wine, one of spritz or an average beer. For daily health, the WHO has set a daily limit consumption of one alcoholic unit for women and two for men. Exceeding more than three units of alcohol per day triggers the main short-term effects of alcohol, on a scale of severity and alcohol quantity:
- motor impairment; mild drowsiness;
- impairment of judgement;
- unsteady walking; speech difficulties; social disinhibition;
- memory loss;
- delirium and lethargy, up to ethyl coma
With regard to constant intake, the following effects may occur in the long term
- gastrointestinal and digestive tract disorders;
- optic neuritis;
- cirrhosis of the liver;
- heart disease;
- severe amnesia and brain disorders (Korsakoff syndrome);
- a whole series of social behaviour disorders, obviously due to previous alterations in the individual, which are, however, exacerbated by disinhibition due to alcoholism. This is why many rapes, murders and crimes in general are associated with alcohol consumption and occur contiguously with it.
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