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Alcoholism Definition Essay


Many words have different meanings depending on the context in which they are used such as in a social setting, situation, culture, or nationality. One word that people tend to interpret differently is “alcoholism”. There is considerable disparity throughout the world regarding the definition of “alcoholism”. Many people attach the meaning of the term to the degree of the detrimental effects that alcohol has on its users. The general meaning of the word “alcoholism” is the uncontrolled and compulsive consumption of alcoholic beverages (Langwith 28).

Thesis: What is the definition of alcoholism? What are the signs and symptoms of alcoholism? What factors affect the definition of alcoholism?

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In most debates regarding alcoholism, the crucial question usually is “at what extent does the excessive consumption of alcohol become alcoholism?” Some people argue that it is at the point whereby the consumption of alcohol starts to have negative effects on the health of an individual while others assert that it is at the point whereby it starts to impact negatively on personal relationships and social standing. Still, others argue that the problem does not become alcoholism until it reaches the point whereby the individual in question continues to consume alcoholic beverages despite the onset of social and health problems (Goodwin 43 – 51).

One common factor among most meanings of the terms “alcoholism” is the conception that the condition becomes alcoholism when it becomes compulsive and uncontrolled. However, I dispute this conception because it is entirely misguided. Alcoholism sets in when the victim develops alcohol dependence. This means that they experience detrimental physical withdrawal symptoms when they attempt to stop consuming alcohol excessively. At this point, excessive alcohol consumption is correctly referred to as “alcohol dependence syndrome” in medical circles. Victims of alcoholism, referred to as alcoholics, they are no longer able to lead normal lives without the constant consumption of alcohol and experience withdrawal symptoms including hallucinations, delirium tremens, life-threatening seizures, shakes, anxiety and in rare cases, heart failure when they attempt to withdraw from the habit (Moskalewicz 14-15).

One crucial factor to take into consideration is the fact that the alcohol dependence syndrome or alcoholism may begin before the onset of negative health effects due to the excessive consumption of alcohol. These negative health effects include pancreatitis, cirrhosis of the liver, heart disease, nutritional deficiencies, polyneuropathy, epilepsy, sexual dysfunction, peptic ulcers, sexual dysfunction, and alcoholic dementia. Therefore, deterioration of health is not a factor to consider when determining whether a person is an alcoholic. However, health deterioration may begin before a person becomes dependent on alcohol, or may even coincide with the onset of alcoholism. On the other hand, impairment of personal relationships and social life begins early when an individual indulges in excessive consumption of alcoholic beverages. In most cases, it begins before the onset of alcoholism or coincides with it. However, in a few cases, it may begin after the onset of alcoholism (Chen & Anthony 319-22).

Another reason why the true definition of alcoholism is hinged on alcohol dependence and not on negative health and social effects is that men and women have different thresholds for alcohol consumption. Women get intoxicated on a much smaller amount of alcohol than men do; therefore, they tend to drink lesser quantities of alcohol than men do. Therefore, men tend to develop health problems due to alcohol abuse at a slower rate than women do although alcohol dependence takes a longer time to develop. In addition, women develop social issues faster than men and develop alcohol resistance faster as well, increasing the risk of becoming alcoholic. As a result, the definition of alcoholism should be based on the onset of alcohol dependence since men and women have differing levels at which they begin to experience negative health and social effects. This simplifies the process of detecting and diagnosing alcoholism (Schomerus et al 105-112).

Finally, the definition of alcoholism should be based on alcohol dependence rather than excessive consumption and negative health and social life effects because the risk of developing alcohol dependence varies according to race. These variations occur due to genetic differences between different races. For example, genetic factors impart people of African descent and Native Americans with a greater ability to metabolize alcohol than people of other races. This places them at a lower risk of developing alcoholism than people of other races. In addition, cultural environmental effects have an influence on the risk of alcoholism. For example, Native Americans have higher rates of alcoholism than Caucasians due to high levels of trauma (Marshall 68).


Evidently, the true definition of alcohol is based on the presence of alcohol dependence and not on the quantity of alcohol consumed or the presence of negative health effects, deterioration of personal relationships or impairment of social life. The signs and symptoms of alcoholism are, therefore, the negative and undesirable physical symptoms that excessive drinkers experience due to alcohol withdrawal. In short, a person becomes an alcoholic when they are physically unable to cope without it. The severity of alcoholism varies between men and women, and between races.

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