Because the disease of addiction changes the brain in complex ways, individuals lose the ability to totally control their addictive behavior. The structure and function of the brain can be affected by addictive drugs such as alcohol, nicotine, and cocaine. Similar to an electrical system, drugs can change the circuits in the brain that control emotions and motivation, thereby impairing an addicted person's power of choice. The structure and shape of brain cells and the connections between them change radically with repeated use of the addictive substance. The brains of non-addicts are very different than those of addicts. View a brain image comparison.
90% of adults in the United States have had some experience with alcohol at some time in their lives. Use of alcohol varies widely from total abstinence to alcohol dependence (alcoholism).
8% to 10%, or 17 million adult Americans, either abuse alcohol or are dependent on alcohol. The diagnostic criteria for these alcohol use disorders are described below.
Alcohol DependenceDefined as three or more of the following in the past year:
Drinking increases the risk of on-the-job injuries and automobile accidents. Alcohol related problems cost society approximately 185 billion dollars a year. The cost to individual and family well-being and happiness cannot be measured.
Alcohol: Damaging Effect on the Liver and Blood Cells (mp3)
Alcohol: How does it Affect the Heart and Brain? (mp3)
Alcohol: Links to Insomnia (mp3)
Alcoholism: Hypertensive Effects of Heavy Drinking (mp3)
Alcohol Abuse and Alcohol Dependence Treatment
Treatment for alcohol abuse and alcohol dependence usually includes a combination of 12-step, self-help groups (Alcoholics Anonymous), medications and psychosocial therapies. Motivational enhancement therapy, couples therapy, brief interventions, and cognitive behavior therapy are specific psychosocial therapies that can be effective in treating alcohol abuse and dependence.
In the past few years, clinical research has focused on the development of medications that act on brain chemicals to reduce cravings and aid in preventing relapse. Naltrexone was approved by the FDA in 1995 and is used in conjunction with psychosocial therapies to treat alcoholics. Other medications are currently under investigation at CDAP and other research centers.
Alcohol: Genetic Variance and Different Treatment Outcomes (mp3)
Alcohol: Medications for Alcoholism (mp3)
Alcohol: Types of Psychotherapy to Treat Alcoholism (mp3)
Alcohol: Use of Naltrexone (mp3)