The Dangers of Psychological Addiction

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Emotional Components of Alcoholism. Psychological addiction includes anxiety, depression, mood swings, and hallucinations when the alcoholic stops drinking.

Due to an increase in alcohol-related problems in the local public high school during the last six months, Mr. Sheller, the health teacher, decided to teach his students about alcohol abuse and alcoholism.

After presenting a definition of alcoholism and alcohol abuse and some basic information about both types of problem drinking, Mr. Sheller decided to discuss the following topic: "the emotional components of alcoholism."

"Class, I want you to realize that when a person becomes alcohol dependent, he or she experience both physical and psychological addiction."

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Physical Alcohol Addiction

"For instance, the following are some of the more common physical symptoms or signs exhibited by alcoholics:"

  • Loss of control over one' drinking. For instance, the alcoholic, after having his first drink, cannot stop drinking until he becomes intoxicated."

  • Benders. These are drunken binges that can last several days or weeks."

  • Tremors. Whereas many, if not most alcoholics have tremors of the hands, later in the disease, they exhibit tremors of their entire body."

  • Eye-openers. These are drinks the alcoholic has the first think upon wakening. Alcoholics usually say that they drink the first thing upon wakening to reduce the pain of a hangover or to calm their nerves."

  • Unsuccessful attempts to stop drinking. While some alcoholics truly want to stop drinking, most of their attempts to do so are thwarted by the alcohol withdrawal symptoms they experience a number of hours after having their last alcoholic beverage."

  • Tolerance. This term points to one of the key components that define alcoholism. Tolerance happens when the alcoholic needs to drink increasingly more alcohol in order to get intoxicated."

Psychological Alcohol Addiction

Mr. Sheller then shifted gears and informed the class that besides physical addiction, alcoholics also experience psychological addiction.

As stated by Mr. Sheller, "psychological addiction is typified by the cravings the alcoholic has for more alcohol. Indeed, people who are psychologically addicted to alcohol feel overcome by the desire for alcohol. In fact, these feelings are so powerful that psychologically addicted individuals will do just about anything to avoid alcohol withdrawals including lying, stealing, other kinds of crime, and in some instances, killing."

Mr. Sheller then discussed some of the more common psychological "signs" or "symptoms" that are manifested by alcoholics:

  • Uncharacteristic mood swings. These mood swings become increasingly more noticeable by family members and friends as the disease progresses.

  • An obsession with drinking. Alcoholics are obsessed with alcohol mainly because they need to drink in order to function on a daily basis and also because they want to avoid the alcohol withdrawal symptoms they will experience if they don't get their next alcoholic 'fix.'"

  • Loss of interest in events or activities that used to be important or fun. Due to the fact that alcoholics associate more with fellow drinkers and are preoccupied with drinking, they often lose interest in activities about which they were passionate.

  • Solitary drinking. Alcoholics often drink all by themselves. At times this is to wallow in their self pity, but most of the time, it is to hide their abusive drinking from others, especially from non-alcoholic friends and family members.

  • Blaming other for one's problems. Alcoholics often deny that they have a drinking problem. On the other hand, when they become aware of their alcohol-related problems, rather than owning their part in these problems, they frequently blame others.

  • Uncharacteristic bouts of depression. Contrary to what many people think, alcohol is not a stimulate but a depressant. This, along with the fact that alcoholics are often sad about their drinking behavior, often makes them feel depressed even though they may have been quite positive individuals before they started to drink excessively.

  • Drinking in an abusive manner in order to forget problems and deal with pain. Many, if not most alcoholics engage in excessively drinking to get away from their problems, reduce their pain, or to attempt to 'chill out' and escape from reality.

  • Making excuses for one's abusive drinking. This typically happens when a family member or a friend asks the alcoholic why he or she drinks so much. Why do alcoholics so often make excuses for their out-of-control drinking? Alcoholics do this partly because they are in denial about the seriousness of their drinking, partly because they have a tendency to blame others for their alcohol-related problems, and partly because they are ashamed about their excessive drinking.

The Best Predictor of Alcoholism

After discussing the above physical and psychological "signs" and "symptoms" of alcoholism, Mr. Sheller caught his students "off guard" when he made the following statement: "as observable as an alcoholic's psychological and physical signs and symptoms are, the "best" and most reliable way of determining whether or not a person is alcohol dependent is probably NOT by looking at his alcoholism signs and symptoms while he continues to drink but rather by observing what happens to him when he stops drinking."

Due to the fact that this statement puzzled most of his students, Mr. Sheller further explained what he meant with the following. "Depending on the signs or the symptoms the drinker exhibits, one can be fairly certain that the drinker may be alcohol dependent."

"On the other hand, when a drinker stops drinking and experiences various physical and psychological withdrawal symptoms, one can be very confident that the drinker is alcohol dependent. This is because alcoholics, and not alcohol abusers who are not dependent on alcohol, experience alcohol withdrawal symptoms when they stop drinking."

Now that the students understood what Mr. Sheller was talking about, they asked him to give some examples of alcohol withdrawal symptoms.

Mr. Sheller reminded his students that alcohol addiction has both physical and psychological components. As a result, when an alcoholic experiences alcohol withdrawal symptoms, he experiences both physical and psychological withdrawal symptoms.

Physical Withdrawal Symptoms of Alcohol

With this is mind, Mr. Sheller then gave the following examples of fairly typical physical withdrawal symptoms of alcohol:

  • Nausea. This is usually one of the first withdrawal symptoms that is physical.

  • Vomiting. Along with nausea, the alcoholic often vomits when experiencing physical withdrawal symptoms.

  • Loss of appetite. It's usually hard to have a healthy appetite when a person is feeling nauseous and is vomiting.

  • Excessive sweating, especially on the palms of the hands and on the face.

  • Pulsating headaches. According to alcoholics who have undergone alcohol withdrawal, these throbbing headaches are especially painful.

  • Seizures. While not a common as some of the other physical withdrawal symptoms, several alcoholics suffer through seizures when they stop drinking.

  • Difficulty sleeping. With all of the other pain and discomfort of alcohol withdrawal, it probably comes as no surprise that the alcoholic often has insomnia problems.

Psychological Withdrawal Symptoms of Alcohol

After discussing the physical withdrawal symptoms of alcohol, Mr. Sheller actually shocked his students when he stated that as painful and as uncomfortable as physical withdrawal symptoms were, the emotional and psychological turmoil alcoholics experience when they stop drinking can be as bad or even worse.

To substantiate this statement, Mr. Sheller asked his students to try to imagine what it must be like to experience anger, frustration, confusion, and anxiety when alcoholics try to stop drinking.

And to compound things, he asked his students to picture what it must also feel like to experience paranoia, depression, irritability, and a sense of panic due to the lack of alcohol in the alcoholic's system.

And finally, Mr. Sheller asked his students to visualize what it must feel like when alcoholics experience an inability to concentrate, rapidly vacillating emotions, an unbelievable craving for alcohol, and auditory and/or visual hallucinations, all because they are trying to quit drinking or are unable to get more alcohol.

Alcohol Treatment: The Light at the End of the Tunnel

Mr. Sheller concluded his presentation with the following: "Class, now you have a fairly good idea why most alcoholics fear physical and psychological withdrawal symptoms and usually give in to the temptation to simply resort to drinking once again in order to avoid these withdrawal symptoms."

I have intentionally painted a bleak and dreary picture of physical and psychological alcohol addiction because this is the reality that alcoholics live with on a daily basis. I want to emphasize, however, that there is some light at the end of the tunnel and a ray of hope for most alcoholics.

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Indeed, if they truly want to quit drinking and get through their physical and psychological withdrawal symptoms with as little pain and discomfort as possible, they can get professional medical assistance at their local drug and alcohol rehab facility.

This is possible because the professional staff members at alcohol treatment hospitals and clinics can prescribe various medications that help alcoholics get through their withdrawal symptoms relatively pain-free as well as rid their bodies of any remaining alcohol via the alcohol detoxification process.

At this point, if the alcoholics 'buy into' and follow their treatment plan and get the support and out-patient rehab they need after their initial phase of alcohol treatment, they can learn how to stay sober and start on the road to alcohol recovery--that is, if they get the treatment they need before their disease advances too far."

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