see also Addiction
The modern concept of alcoholism is that it is a disease which is curable. Individual tolerance to alcohol varies widely, even among alcoholics, but tolerance increases as drinking gets heavier. Patterns of drinking also vary; some alcoholics drink constantly, others have binges lasting for several days and then don't touch a drink for a week.
In the early stages, it may be difficult to tell whether someone is an alcoholic. There is no convenient borderline between 'social drinking' and alcoholism. Social drinkers, even heavy social drinkers, may be correct in assuming that they drink simply to be sociable; they may not be constitutionally predisposed to addiction. But alcohol is no respected of motives. It is a powerful poison, affecting every cell in the body, especially those in the liver, heart, and brain and it produces increasing tolerance. It also causes nutritional deficiencies because it disrupts appetite and destroys nutrients in the gut. It can also cause foetal abnormalities. If a person is drinking more than 3 units a day (for women) or 4 units a day (for men) of alcohol (1 unit is equivalent to 1/2 pint of beer, or 1 glass of wine or 1 measure of spirits), the chances are that he or she has a drink problem.
Among the signs of growing dependence are a tendency to start drinking earlier and earlier in the day, and not just in public but also secretly; Increasing irritability and aggression, blurred recall of events in the immediate past, even blackouts, unreliability, and a general drop in performance at all levels. At this stage the person usually denies that he or she has a problem.
The later signs of dependence are more difficult to deny. At the psychological level there may be Depression, paranoia, marked difficulties with memory and concentration, and at the physical level a hush voice, flushed, red face with prominent veins bruises and contusions from falls, trembling hands chronic stomach ache due to Gastric Erosion and Gastritis, and Cirrhosis of the Liver. If the craving for alcohol is not satisfied, withdrawal symptoms set in (see delirium tremens for description and treatment).
Various studies of twins have shown that heredity plays a more powerful part in alcoholism than environment. Most at risk are people who have a parent, or parents, with a drink problem. However, a diet poor in certain vitamins and minerals, or a tendency to Hypoglycaemia, also poses a risk, and recently it has been suggested that excess lead in the diet or environment may be a predisposing factor. Alcoholism is most common among people aged 35-50, but is not unknown among adolescents. The extent of the problem is not precisely known, since far more people are affected than are diagnosed or treated, but estimates range from 1 to 4 per cent of the population.
Alcoholism requires professional medical help. It is possible to wean a person off alcohol in the short term by using vitamins, tranquillisers, various forms of aversion therapy, counselling, and so on, but that is only the first step. As most ex-alcoholics will confirm, the hard work starts when a person leaves the hospital or clinic after detoxification, and realises that he or she must never touch alcohol again. The right amount of alcohol for an ex-alcoholic is no alcohol. This is where organizations such as Alcoholics Anonymous in the UK provide invaluable support.
Homeopathy does not offer treatment for alcoholism as such, although in emergencies various homeopathic remedies can be used to relieve the, symptoms of withdrawal. However, it does offer constitutional treatment to boost general health, vitality, and self-confidence once the habit has been broken. The author unhesitatingly recommends such treatment as part of staying alcohol-free.
That said, homeopathy can offer a number of remedies for the effects of occasional over-indulgence in alcohol.
Specific remedies to be taken 1/2-hourly, or more frequently if necessary, for up to 12 doses
- Hangover in morning, especially after drinking spirits, person 'burning the candle at both ends' Nux 30c
- Stomach pain after heavy drinking Capsicum 30c
- Social bingeing, person talks too much and hates tight clothing Lachesis 30c
- Person more depressed and irritable than usual near end of tether Avena 30c
- Person apprehensive, trembling, lethargic, sensitive to noise Zinc 30c
- Solitary, drinking, abnormal flatulence, nervous exhaustion Sulphur 30c
- Nausea and vomiting after drinking beer, tendency to profuse, stringy catarrh Kali bichrom. 30c
Self-help: the role of organizations such as Alcoholics Anonymous (UK) has already been referred to; meetings take place most nights of the week in most towns of any size and anyone who thinks he or she has a drink problem can attend. Such groups offer support and counselling to the families and friends of alcoholics.
After stopping drinking it is important to eat a healthy, varied diet and to make up deficiencies of Vitamins A, B, C, D, K, folic acid, bioflavonoids, iron, manganese, potassium, and Sistine (an amino add found in dairy products, whole grains, nuts and seeds). A high-dose multivitamin and mineral supplement would be the most convenient way of doing this in the first month after stopping drinking. Regular intake of all the nutrients mentioned above is advised even for moderate social drinkers. Evening primrose oil would also be beneficial.