There is often a lot of confusion over what actually defines alcoholism. People tend to think in terms of the number of drinks they consume in an evening or think it is a matter of how regularly they drink. Alcoholism is defined neither by the amount a person drinks nor by the regularity of alcohol consumption. Alcoholism is an alcohol dependancy. If the person is dependant on alcohol, they are by definition alcoholic, regardless of how much or how often they drink.
'Alcoholism' is a disease, and a disease that affects millions of people around the globe. Moreover, it is a terrible disease that is chronic, progressive and regularly fatal. The disease first attacks the physical health of the victim and then disrupts emotional and mental equilibrium by damaging the alcoholic person's family and social life. It is a disease that is most prominent amongst men, and sadly, most especially amongst young men.
Consisten with the distinction we made above, medical practitioners distinguish between two types of alcohol-related problems - namely, 'alcohol abuse' and full-blown 'alcoholism'.
'Alchol abuse' refers to specific incidents where individuals over-indulge in alcohol consumption and so damage their health, but do not necessarily become addicted to the substance such that these incidents become a regular and unavoidable. 'Alcoholism' refers to that state of being where the consumer of alcohol has become dependant. They have lost all control over their intake, such that they continue to consume compulsively, despite the obvious damage the drug is doing to their physical and mental well-being.
There is a straightforward medical explanation as to how alcohlism develops. Regular heavy intake of alcohol causes chemical imbalances in the brain or leads to depletion of certain chemicals, which makes the body crave alcohol. Having said that, various factors generally combine to drive someone into alcoholism - both social factors as well genetic and psychological ones.
In terms of genetics, it has clearly been shown that persons with a history of alcoholism in their families are far more likely to become alcoholics themselves that those without such a family history.
Also, general high stress leves or a particular extreme emotional trauma can lead a person to drink excessively, as the alcohol has a direct effect on the stress hormones.
In terms of broader psychological factors, a low self-esteem and depression regularly contribute to increased alcohol consumption, which can lead to alcoholism.
In terms of friends and peer group, if a person mixes frequently with alcoholic persons, this will obviously make them more prone to the disease. Ironically, this can be a problem at both ends of the social spectrum. It is generally the culture of high-powered business people to drink numerous cocktails and highly-alcoholic drinks at social gatherings, and certainly obsessive alcohol consumptions can become the norm for young working class males who make it each day to the pub after work.
This is no quick and easy cure for alcoholism. Unlike other diseases, neither drugs nor surgery can do anything to remove the problem. One curious discovery though that researches have made about alcohol addiction is that the person indulging in the habit feels better, not while indulging, but at the time that the decision is made to indulge! This suggests that the most effective way to deal with alcoholism may require focusing on that moment when thought of indulging enters the brain.
If an alcoholic can displine himself such that he can divert his attention when the initial thought arises, this may be the simplest path to a cure!
Of course, given the variety of contributing factors and differing levels of self-discipline, every case of alcoholism is going to be unique, which is why treatment is generally best handled by specialized health-care professionals.