The official declaration from the WHO defines an alcoholic as someone who drinks more than 14 drinks a week (women) or 21 drinks a week (men). The definition is based on statistics and is somewhat arbitrary, as alcohol related damages are sometimes seen with smaller weekly consumptions. Therefore, an additional list of symptoms is also used as a guideline to determine whether or not someone qualifies as being an alcoholic. The symptoms are:
- A strong craving for alcohol.
- Reduced control of one's alcohol consumption.
- The presence of withdraval symptoms in response to abstinence from alcohol.
- An ability to consume increasingly larger doses of alcohol.
- Giving a high priority to drinking in everyday life.
- Keeping up drinking in spite of physical-, psychological-, and social side-effects.
In spite of all these guidelines, the best definition of an alcoholic may very well be the biological one, namely that an alcoholic is someone who both when he or she drinks and when not has a persistant biochemical problem; the most characteristic symptom to this being that the level of glucose in the blood falls dramatically with severe consequences to the energy supply to the internal organs, including the brain. This can trigger a biological energy crisis which will result in different symptoms, depending on which organ is the first to be struck by this shut-down in energy supply. This will cause an alcoholic to reach in desperation for anything that may restore the energy supply, most often sugar or alcohol.
The problem with using sugar and alcohol as a "first aid" to a chemical energy crisis is that even though one will experience an almost immediate sense of relief, the long-term consequences of doing this as a habit are quite damaging. The alcoholic will degrade sugar and alcohol into toxic compounds which will gradually destroy key biologic functions in the organism. Also see "Low blood sugar".
In the brain of alcoholics, the break-down product acetaldehyde is transformed into the habit-forming compound THIQ (tetrahydroisoquinoline). Contrary to non-alcoholics, alcoholics accumulate large amounts of THIQ in their brains, and as THIQ has the same habit-forming abilities as heroin, it is of utmost significance that alcoholics abstain from alcohol altogether.
So-called dipsomaniacs may have long periods of time with total abstinence from alcohol followed by short periods of intense drinking.
Alcoholism takes 10-12 years off of the average human life. Alcoholics almost always experience decreased happiness with their everyday life and have a weak constitution in practically every way.
Physical-, psychological-, and social complications to chronic alcoholism.
Alcoholism often leeds to physical-, psychological-, and social deroute. Early signs of this happening are depression, insomnia, irritability, and restlessness. In the progress of the disease even more deleterious cognital complications may follow. Typical examples are: serious mental illness, amnesia, dilirium tremens, and dementia. These are often seen together with - or precursed by - the following complications: vitamin deficiencies, neuritis, fat-liver and cirrhosis of the liver, pancreatitis, depression, gallstones, indigestion, diabetes, gastric ulcers, oesophageal varices, diarrhea, progressive myasthenia (weakening of the muscles), cardiac diseases, impotence, and mental illness.
RecommendationsGeneral advice on disease prevention and a healthy lifestyle can be found in the library article "General Advice - for healthy as well as for ill ones" in the VitaHealth section under Focus Articles. You can also test your health by taking our "Health Check".
Blood sugar must be stable
This is done by eating many small meals instead of a few large ones. The meals need to be tempting and well-prepared, as most alcoholics have a limited appetite. Between meals, it can be a good idea to have either a glass of vegetable juice or fruit juice, but one should avoid mixing the two.
Avoid heavily spiced meals and foods that do not digest easily. Avoid sugar and most importantly alcohol. Stay away from empty calories, white flour, white bread, pasta, tinned food, and as far as possible one should stay away from industrially prepared foods with additives, colouring agents, sweeteners, and preservatives. Eat many fresh vegetables, especially cabbage and carrots, herbal soups, together with lamb, liver, and dairy products if they can be tolerated.
Broad supplementation of vitamins and minerals is essential and sometimes has to be combined with single remedies in large doses.
Alcoholics can have difficulties absorbing nutrients and vitamins because of an inflamed intestinal wall. The small amounts they do absorb help, and actually help in the absorption of more nutrients.
- Vitamin B complex: Alcoholics often suffer from vitamin B deficiencies, most often of a lack of B1 but often from a lack of many B vitamins. Because B vitamins work together in the body, a B vitamin complex is recommended.
- Vitamin B3 (niacin): Under guidance of an experienced therapist, nicotinic acid therapy can reduce the need for alcohol and symptoms of abstinence.
- Hyperikum (Hyperikum perforatum): Used for detoxification and counteracts depressive tendencies.
- Tumeric (Curcuma longa): Good for an inflamed intestine
- Aloe vera: Good for weakened mucous membranes and an inflamed intestine
- L-Glutamine: Good for an intestine which is too permeable. Also helps lessen the desire for alcohol.
- DMG (dimethylglycerin): Vitamin B – like substance which reduces the desire for alcohol.
- Digestive enzymes: Can be beneficial when there are problems with digesting normal food