Risk factors for alcoholism include social, genetic, environmental and cultural factors. Dysfunctional families characterized by marital problems, financial problems, illness, lack of cohesion and frequent moves produce a disproportionate number of alcoholics. Also, research suggests that those with a previous history of physical or sexual abuse have higher incidence of alcohol abuse compared to their peers. In fact, one study shows that 24% percent of all female alcoholics have experienced sexual abuse in their childhood.
Researchers have developed pathways of risk for children who may eventually develop into alcoholics. The three main risk factors for alcoholism among adolescents are: 1) discipline problems, 2) internalized stress and 3) tolerance to alcohol's effects. Predicting alcohol abuse is very important since the early onset of drinking is strongly correlated with eventual alcohol abuse.
Children who suffer from ADHD, hyperactivity, and other conduct disorders show increased incidence of alcohol use. Other studies indicate that children who lack the ability to cope with adversity and are reared in unstable homes that lack formalized rules and religion are also more likely to use alcohol. Substance abuse by parents and peers is another risk factor for problem drinking among adolescents since children in this age group frequently imitate the behavior of individuals with which they have a close relationship.
Heavy, chronic drinking can harm every organ of the body. Health problems caused by alcoholism include the following:
Liver: Acute alcoholism is the largest cause of diseases of the liver, including cirrhosis and alcoholic hepatitis.
Cancer: The strongest link between alcohol and cancer involves the oral cancers of the digestive tract, esophagus, mouth, pharynx and larynx.
Cardiovascular: Acute drinking is also associated with numerous cardiovascular diseases (including cardiomyopathy). Alcohol is both a risk factor and a potential beneficial factor for cardiovascular disease. However, an important distinction should be made between "moderate" and "heavy" drinking. Some studies appear to suggest that blood pressure increases as alcohol consumption increases.
Gastrointestinal: Problems in the gastrointestinal tract can occur causing nausea and vomiting due to erosion of an alcohol abuser's stomach lining.
Women's Health Issues: Alcohol consumption has numerous unique health consequences for women, including infertility and birth defects. For more information on women and alcohol health issues, please refer to the pages entitled Alcohol and Women, Alcohol and Pregnancy, Alcohol and Breast Feeding, Alcohol during pregnancy and ADHD.
Other problems: Nutritional deficiencies can occur among alcoholics because vitamins are not being absorbed properly. Excessive drinking can lead to sexual dysfunction which can lead to erectile dysfunction (ED) in men and cessation of menses in women
Alcohol-induced sleep disorders are recently receiving more attention due to the rapid emergence of sleep-disorders medicine. Excessive alcohol consumption can lead to sleep disorders. Rates of insomnia among alcoholics undergoing treatment range from 36% to 72%, compared to only 10% in the general population. Frequently, alcohol induced insomnia occurs because high alcohol consumption disrupts the second portion of the nocturnal sleep phase.
The complete nocturnal sleep cycle can be broken down into four distinct phases according to the size and speed of a person's brain waves. Nocturnal sleep deprivation in turn exacerbates daytime sleepiness and results in a loss of concentration. These alcohol induced sleep disturbances can cause deleterious health, vocational and social consequences for the alcoholic.
The alcohol withdrawal process can also cause sleep disturbances. Research has shown that insomnia and increased sleep fragmentation frequently occur when alcoholics undergo recovery. Often sleep disturbances continue weeks into an individual's abstinence. Moreover, drugs used to treat alcoholism (such as benzodiazepines) can disrupt a patient's sleep when he/she discontinues the medication.