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ALCOHOLISM: WHY HITTING THE BOTTLE ALWAYS IS HARMFUL

• Experts give help tips

By HENRY OKONKWO and UCHE SAMUEL

Last month’s Sallah celebration may have left fond memories with many people, but Mr. Charles Ake, a 38- year -old accountant in a bluechip company at Agbara, Ogun State, will forever remember it as one in which he had his career wrecked. He was suspended from work for suffering a hang-over after an all day binge!

His ordeal started on Tuesday when, in the spirit of the holidays declared, he went to hang out with three of his friends at a bar savouring  music and various brands of alcoholic brews. They drank to stupor and dozed off there on the table. A count on their table revealed that the four young men together had gulped 18 bottles of beer, four bottles of stout, three bottles of alcoholic bitters and one bottle of brandy.

After the holidays on Wednesday, Ake still suffered the hangover. He did not only come three hours late to work, he looked dishevelled and uncoordinated at work. Things came to a head when he threw up in the office right in front of his supervisor. The stench of his vomit engulfed the whole office and thus betrayed he suffered from intoxication. Ake’s supervisor was infuriated at the sight and slammed him with indefinite suspension.

Ake’s story exemplifies the damage and dangers of alcohol abuse. Abuse, and being addicted to alcohol are major types of alcoholism, and the sufferers are termed alcoholics. Although drinking alcohol initially elevates the person’s mood, after a long period of regular heavy drinking the person’s nervous system will become depressed, and the drinker becomes sedated by alcohol, studies show.

The effects and complications of alcohol abuse are indeed numerous. For example alcohol may undermine a person’s judgment. It can even lower inhibitions and alter the drinker’s thoughts, emotions and general behaviour. Heavy regular drinking can have a serious effect on a person’s ability to coordinate his/her muscles and speak properly. It could, in fact, make someone to go into coma.

Aside these, experts strongly insist that regular heavy drinking may cause at least one of the following problems: Fatigue, memory loss, weakening of the eye muscles, liver diseases (hepatitis and cirrhosis), gastrointestinal complications, hypertension, heart problems, diabetes, irregular menstruation, erectile dysfunction, fetal alcohol syndrome (women having birth defects in their babies), thinning bones, nervous system problems, cancer in the mouth, esophagus, liver, colon, rectum, breast, prostate and pharynx, accidents, domestic abuse, work (school) problems, suicide, mental illness, problems with the law.

The spate of alcoholism is fearsomely high. According to the World Health Organization (WHO) there are at least 140 million alcoholics in the world; unfortunately, the majority of them are not treated.

It is probably against the backdrop of these numerous ailments and statistic that countries like United Arab Emirate and India placed rigid restriction and outright ban on sale of alcohol. Though Nigeria does not have enough statistically backed data to buttress the effects of alcoholism, Franklin Ezenwa a medical practitioner at the Ezenwa Medical Centre argues that Nigeria’s alcoholism situation could even be far worse than those in the U.K and U.S.

“Alcoholics are obsessed with alcohol and cannot control how much they consume, even if it is causing serious problems at home, work, and financially. Most of us know someone who drinks too much. And it is rather sad, because our society tends to romanticise and celebrate those who can drink others under the table. Yet alcoholism is indeed a threat and a ticking time bomb,” he said.

What are the symptoms of alcoholism?

“The last person to be aware that he/she has a serious drinking problem is the alcoholic himself/herself – they are always in denial even when their condition has become critical,” said Dr. Ezenwa.

Some other signs and symptoms of alcoholism are: drinking alone and in secret, not being able to limit how much alcohol is consumed, blacking out, having rituals and being irritated/annoyed when these rituals are disturbed or commented on, dropping hobbies and activities the person used to enjoy; losing interest in them, feeling an urge to drink. Others include feeling irritable when drinking times approach. (This feeling is more intense if the alcohol is not available, or there appears to be a chance it may not be available), stashing alcohol in unlikely places, gulping drinks down in order to get drunk and then feel good, having relationship problems, problems with the law, having work and money problems, being triggered by drinking, requiring a larger quantity of alcohol to feel its effect and nausea, sweating, or even shaking when not drinking.

However, Dr. Ezenwa distinguished between an alcoholic and a person who abuses alcohol. The latter, he says, may have many of these signs and symptoms, but does not have the withdrawal symptoms like an alcoholic does, nor the same degree of compulsion to drink.

What causes alcoholism?

Alcoholism is a gradual process which can take from a few years to several decades to become a problem. “Eventually, gradual and regular alcohol consumption can disrupt the balance of the brain chemical GABA (gamma-aminobutyric acid), which controls impulsiveness, as well as glutamate, which stimulates the nervous system”, explains Charles Odionye, of the iWell medical consultancy. He adds: “Brain levels of dopamine are raised when we consume alcohol – dopamine levels may make the drinking experience more gratifying. Over the long- or medium-term, excessive drinking can significantly alter the levels of these brain chemicals, making the person’s body crave alcohol in order to feel good and avoid feeling bad.”

Other risk factors that may also be linked to excessive drinking are:

Genes – scientists say there are specific genetic factors which may make some people more likely to become addicted to alcohol, as well as other substances. They revealed that alcoholics are six times more likely than nonalcoholic to have blood relatives who are alcohol dependent.

A study found that people who started drinking alcohol before age 15 were much more likely to have an alcoholic problem later in life. “Underage drinking in Nigeria is alarmingly common, which shouldn’t be” said Dr. Odionye. “It’s a serious and persistent public health problem that puts our young people and our communities in danger. Even though drinking is often glamourised, the truth is that underage drinking can lead to poor academic performance, sexual assault, injury, and even death.”

Some other major triggers of alcoholism are: Easy access to cheap alcohol, stress, peer drinking, low self-esteem, depression, media and advertisers’ glamorous portrayal of alcohol intake.

Treatment for alcohol dependency:

“The first step for treating alcoholism is for the alcoholic to acknowledge that there is an alcohol dependency problem,” Dr Odionye buttresses. The next step, he says, is to get help, adding that there are several support groups and professional services available.

Researchers from the Center for Imaging of Neurodegenerative Diseases, San Francisco in October 2012 linked smoking to a higher risk of alcohol abuse relapse. They added that smoking while trying to give up drinking impairs memory, learning and other cognitive skills, which undermine successful sobriety.

The following are recognised treatment options for alcoholism: Do-it-yourself, counseling, treating underlying problems, residential programs like expert professional help and family involvement, drug that provokes a severe reaction to alcohol to serve as a deterrent to further intake and then striving to remain abstinent.

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