An addiction to alcohol is a disease that is rarely initially self-diagnosed. In other words, individuals who live with an addiction to alcohol hardly ever realise that they are contracting the disease until it is well advanced.

Indeed, the path to an alcohol dependency is generally paved with declarations such as, "I only drink when I'm socialising" and "I can stop drinking any time I like". For this reason it is vital that freinds and family are able to recognise the warning signs of alcohol addiction, 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 totally dependent on alcohol to feel normal and good. In alcoholism, the individual entirely loses control over alcohol in-take and continues to consume it despite the severe health problems it is causing.

Normally, an alcoholic displays four signs that are characteristics of an addiction to alcohol: his body hungers after liquor, he loses control over alcohol consumption, he becomes physically in need of alcoholic substances, and he has a reduced tolerance level to alcoholic drinks. These four Indications are briefly described below:

Craving: The patient suffers from the strong longing 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 indicators like nausea, dizziness, prolific sweating, and worry when he has not had a drink for a while.

Tolerance levels: The patient's tolerance to alcoholic drinks decreases, as his body gradually loses its ability to process alcoholic substances. Therefore, he gets drunk very easily, even with little alcohol consumption.

It should be added to this last statement, that while the alcohol-dependant person's tolerance to liquor may drop, their ability to mask their drunken state may proportionally increase. In other words, it may become more tough for people to tell when the alcoholic person is drunk.

If you or friends and family members 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 done abstinence from alcohol. Some people will have the strength and self-discipline to get through this without external help but generally it is a good idea to detox in an environment where there are trained medical staff. This is particularly important in cases of advanced an alcohol dependency, 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 accomplished, the person needs to address the social and psychological factors that led them to alcoholism, in order to stop themselves repeating the same pattern and back-sliding back into 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.

Bear in mind that the principal step towards healing is recognising the disease. Be aware of the Signs, though be careful too how you first confront an alcoholic colleague with their problem. Alcoholics invariably initially deny their condition and can become aggressively defensive. A bona fide friend though will persist in helping an alcoholic friend come to terms with their disease.

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