Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (cont.)

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What causes alcoholism? Is alcoholism hereditary?

One frequently asked question about alcoholism is if it is hereditary. As with most other mental disorders, alcohol addiction has no one single cause and is not directly passed from one generation to another in families. Rather, it is the result of a complex group of genetic, psychological, and environmental factors.

What are alcohol use disorder symptoms and signs in teenagers, women, men, and the elderly?

Signs that indicate a person is intoxicated include the smell of alcohol on their breath or skin, glazed or bloodshot eyes, the person being unusually passive or argumentative, and/or a deterioration in the person's appearance or hygiene. Other physical symptoms of the state of being drunk include flushed skin. Cognitively, the person may experience decreased ability to pay attention and a propensity toward memory loss.

Alcohol, especially when consumed in excess, can affect teens, women, men, and the elderly quite differently. Women and the elderly tend to have higher blood concentrations of alcohol compared to men and younger individuals who drink the same amount. Alcoholic women are more at risk for developing cirrhosis of the liver and heart and nerve damage at a faster rate than alcohol-dependent men. Interestingly, men and women seem to have similar learning and memory problems as the result of excessive alcohol intake, but again, women tend to develop those problems twice as fast as men.

Elderly people who drink excessively are at risk for having more serious illnesses, doctor visits, and symptoms of depression, with less life satisfaction and smaller social support networks compared to senior citizens who have never consumed alcohol. While binge drinking is often thought to be a symptom of young people, an often unknown fact is that a significant percentage of middle-aged and elderly individuals also engage in binge drinking. This behavior increases the risk for driving drunk, no matter what the age. That, in turn, puts the individual at risk for being arrested for driving under the influence (DUI) of alcohol.

Teenagers who consume alcohol excessively have been found to be at risk for abnormal organ development as the possible result of the hormonal abnormalities caused by alcohol. This is particularly a risk to their developing reproductive system. Just a few of the other many dangerous effects of alcohol abuse and alcoholism in teenagers include the following:

  • In contrast to adults, teens tend to abuse alcohol simultaneously with other substances, usually marijuana.
  • Male teens who drink heavily tend to complete fewer years of education compared to male teens who do not drink.
  • The younger a person is when they begin drinking, the more likely they are to develop a problem with alcohol.
  • Each year, almost 2,000 people under 21 years of age die in car crashes in which underage drinking is involved. Alcohol is involved in nearly half of all violent deaths involving teens.
  • More than three times the number of eighth-grade girls who drink heavily said they have attempted suicide compared to girls in that grade who do not drink.
  • Teens who drink are more likely to engage in sexual activity, have unprotected sex, have sex with a stranger, or be the victim or perpetrator of a sexual assault.
  • Excess alcohol use can cause or mask other emotional problems, like anxiety or depression.
  • Drinking in excess can lead to the use of other drugs, like marijuana, cocaine, or heroin.
Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 1/21/2014

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