Alcoholism is a disease that is rarely initially self-diagnosed.
In other words, persons who suffer from alcoholism rarely realise that they are contracting the disease until it is well advanced. Indeed, the path to alcoholism is generally paved with protestations such as, "I only drink socially" and "I can stop drinking any time I like". For this reason it is important that friends and family members are able to recognise the symptoms of alcoholism, so as to help the alcoholic person come to terms with the nature of their condition.
Alcoholism is a state in which the body is completely dependent on alcohol to feel normal and good. In alcoholism, the individual completely loses control over alcohol intake and continues to consume it desspite the severe health problems it is causing.
Typically, an alcoholic shows four signs that are characteristics of alcoholism: his body craves alcohol, he loses control over alcohol intake, he becomes physically dependent upon alcohol, and he has a reduced tolerance level to alcohol. These four symptoms are briefly described below:
Craving: The patient suffers from the strong urge to drink all the time.
Loss of control: The patient fails to control his alcohol intake and, as a result, repeatedly gives in to excessive drinking.
Physical dependence: The patient shows withdrawal symptoms like nausea, dizziness, profuse sweating, and anxiety when he has not had a drink for a while.
Tolerance levels: The patient�s tolerance to alcohol decreases, as his body gradually loses its ability to process alcohol. Hence, he gets intoxicated very easily, even with little alcohol consumption.
It should be added to this last point, that while the alcoholic person's tolerance to alcohol may decrease, their ability to mask their drunken state may proportionally increase. In other words, it may become more difficult for people to tell when the alcoholic person is drunk.
If you or a family member are showing these symptoms, the first rule is not to panic. Remember that a proper diagnosis of the problem is the first step towards healing!
The healing process always begins with detoxification, which means the complete abstinence from alcohol. Some persons will have the strength and self-discipline to get through this on their own but generally it is a good idea to detox in an environment where there are trained medical professionals present. This is particularly important in cases of advanced alcoholism, where there can be severe symptomatic reactions to alcohol withdrawl, such as 'delirium tremens', which needs to be treated with drugs.
After the physical detoxification is comlete, the patient needs to address the social and psychological factors that led them to alcoholism, in order to stop themselves repeating the same pattern and slipping back in to the disease. Specialised counselling is readily available in most Western countries, and groups such as 'Alcoholics Anonymous' are ready to give ongoing support to alcoholic persons.
Remember that the first step towards healing is recognising the disease. Be aware of the symptoms, though be careful how you first confront an alcoholic friend with their problem. Alcoholics almost always initially deny their condition and can become aggressively defensive. A true friend though will persist in helping an alcoholic loved-one come to terms with their condition.