Currently, nearly 14 million Americans -1 in every 13 adults – abuse alcohol or are alcoholic. Several million more adults engage in risky drinking that could lead to alcohol problems. These patterns include binge drinking and heavy drinking on a regular basis. In addition, 53 percent of men and women in the United States report that one or more of their close relatives have a drinking problem.
After alcohol-seeking behavior has been established, the brain undergoes certain adaptive changes to continue functioning despite the presence of alcohol. As a consequence of this adaptation, certain abnormalities occur in the brain when alcohol is removed. Thus, periods of abstinence are marked by feelings of discomfort and craving, motivating continued alcohol consumption. This kind of motivation–based not on reward but on avoidance of painful stimuli–is called negative reinforcement. Both positive and negative reinforcement are involved in the maintenance of alcoholism.
Physical dependence in alcoholism is the need for continued alcohol consumption to avoid a withdrawal syndrome that generally occurs from 6 to 48 hours after the last drink. Withdrawal symptoms include anxiety, agitation, tremor, elevated blood pressure, and, in severe cases, seizures. The withdrawal syndrome is distinct from the ongoing process of negative reinforcement described above, although both phenomena result from adaptation of the nervous system.
Source: The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (http://www.niaaa.nih.gov)
Alcohol treatment can include behavioral therapy (such as counseling, cognitive therapy, or psychotherapy), medications, or their combination. Behavioral therapies offer people strategies for coping with their alcohol cravings, teach them ways to avoid alcohol and prevent relapse, and help them deal with relapse if it occurs.
The best programs provide a combination of therapies and other services to meet the needs of the individual patient, which are shaped by such issues as age, race, culture, sexual orientation, gender, pregnancy, parenting, housing, and employment, as well as physical and sexual abuse.
Source: The National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) website (http://www.nida.nih.gov/)