Author: Dr Ranjeet Singh
Alcoholism refers to addiction to alcohol. It is a chronic disorder in which a person is unable to refrain from frequent and excessive consumption of alcohol for physical or psychological reasons. The World health organisation (WHO) has listed alcoholism as one of the three most deadly killer disease of the 20th century.
Alcoholism is also one of the most serious social problem. It often brings poverty and certain amount of crime and results in marital and unhappiness and broken homes. It also leads to numerous traffic accidents.
Why are people addicted to alcohol?
In majority of cases, people who are addicted start out simply seeking more pleasure and joy in their life. Their life is difficult and unhappy, their relationship may be painful and unfulfilling, they may be dissatisfied, stressed at work, and they simply don’t know how to deal with the situation. So they escape from reality of their circumstances into alcohol or drugs.
Whether the addictive substance is tobacco, marijuana, alcohol or something else, it soon goes beyond a psychological escape and becomes a chemical dependency. Then, unless a certain level of the addictive substance is present in the blood, the patient’s brain doesn’t function properly.
Safe weekly limits of alcohol
For males it is 21 units per week and for females it is 14 units per week (1 unit is equals to 10 grams).
According to the “World health organisation(WHO) alcoholics are those excessive drinkers whose dependence on alcohol has attained such a degree that it shows a noticeable mental disturbances or interference with their bodily or mental health, their interpersonal relations and their smooth social and economic functions, or who show the prodermal signs of such development”.
Alcoholics have a puffy face with bloodshot eyes, a horse voice and a rapid pulse. They are suspicious, irritable and over emotional, vomiting, delirium, impaired judgement and disturbed sleep are some of other symptoms.
The chronic alcoholics who would rather drink than eat, fails to get enough vitamins. The few vitamins required by him are drained out of his system into the process of burning the alcohol in his body. Vitamin deficiency can lead to delirium, tremors, convulsions, disorders of eyes and impaired memory. Excessive drinking often causes premature graying of hair due to vitamin deficiency. Chronic alcoholism results in a depletion of minerals in the body, particularly magnesium. It’s lack produces symptoms like tremor of the hands, feet and tongue, convulsions, mental clouding and perspiration.
Excessive drinking imposes strain on the liver. It gradually destroys it’s functions and often causes cirrhosis of the liver. It leads to disorders of the stomach and bowels. It can cause brain damage as brain cells are often affected by it. Alcohol also affects the heart when becomes weak or flabby.
Effects of Alcohol on liver
1. Fatty liver
Fatty liver is defined as the presence of more than 5 gram of fat per 100 grams of liver tissue.
The patients are usually asymptomatic, the diagnosis being made when and enlarged, smooth, firm liver is present.
Nausea and vomiting with periumbilical, epigastric, right upper quadrant pain with jaundice are present in severe fatty liver.
- AST/ALT>2 in 80% of the cases due to pyridoxine deficiency
- Alkaline phosphatase is elevated
- GGT/ Alkaline phosphatase ratio is 5 or higher in 50% cases.
- Blood levels of GGT more than 30 and carbohydrate deficient transferrin more than 20U are useful serials markers of heavy drinking (specificity and sensitivity greater than 70%) these tests are also useful in monitoring abstinence.
- Other blood tests can be is useful in identifying individuals consuming 6 or more standard drinks per day include–increased MCV greater than 91 and serum uric acid greater than 7 mg/dl.
2. Acute Alcohol Hepatitis
The prominent features of alcohol hepatitis is the Mallory body or Mallory hyaline (also seen in primary biliary cirrhosis, Wilson’s disease and drug intake-amiodarone).
The usual symptoms are anorexia, nausea, malaise, weakness, vague abdominal pain, icterus, weight loss, or fever.
The physical signs are:
- Hepatomegaly (95%)
- Hepatic tenderness (50-60%)
- Signs of portal hypertension (40-70%)
- Jaundice (55%)
- Fever (50%)
- Upper GI bleeding (30%) and evidence for hepatic encephalopathy.
- Transaminases (AST, ALT) are alevated
Cirrhosis in alcoholics is of micronodular type. The formation of the nodules is often slow, because of presumed inhibitory effect of alcohol on hepatic regeneration.
It may be asymptomatic 10-20% of patients but commonly presents with complications and stigmata of cirrhosis liver disease.
Hypogonadism and feminization are common in male cirrhotic patients.
- Transaminases are increased
- Prothrombin time is prolonged
- The other features are leukopaenia, thrombocytopenia and anaemia.
- Liver biopsy and ultrasound are essential for diagnosis.
How to deal with an Alcoholics?
To effectively handle the problem of addiction, it is important to do panchakarma, an effective Ayurvedic cleansing and detox program.
2. Dose Reduction
Along with this cleansing program, slowly decrease the dose of the alcohol. According to Ayurveda, unless some strong medications are available to deal with withdrawal, it is not good to completely stop using the addictive substance all at once, or stressful withdrawal syndrome will probably occur.
Alcohol toxicity which affects the liver, we have to strengthen the affected organs so use this formula for Alcohol toxicity:
Chitrak(Plumbago zeylanica) and kutki(Picrorhiza kurrooa) ( both 3 parts). Take half teaspoon of these herbs, with 2 tablespoons of aloe vera juice, 3 times a day.
Ayurveda suggests a bitter wine made of aloe vera juice (it is called Kumari asava) in place of hard liquor or other alcoholic drinks, the person who is addicted to alcohol can take small amounts of this light, dry wine. Try 4 teaspoons diluted with an equal amount of water, then gradually reduce the amount of herbal wine in the dose, while at the same time using the above herbal formula to strengthen the damaged liver.
Most of the time, whenever there is the desire to drink, the person should go out for a walk in the fresh air or do some other exercise or go for a swim.
4. Appetite stimulation
Some people drink because they have a low appetite. Unless they have a drink, they never feel hungry. In such cases, instead of alcohol, they can have some ginger tea to stimulate the appetite or try this recipy to stimulate agni, the digestive fire.
How to prepare agni tea?
Take quarter water, 1/8th pinch Cayenne pepper, 1/2 handful minced ginger root, 2 tablespoons Sucanat or other sweetner and 1/8 to 1/2 teaspoon Rock Salt. Put all the ingredients in a pot and boil for 20 minutes. Take the pot off the Burner, cool for a few minutes, then add the juice of half a lime. Do not boil the lime juice.
Time to see the doctor?
If there is a strong alcohol addiction and the person experiences a headache, tremors, drowsiness, depression or other alcohol withdrawal symptoms when he or she stops drinking, see a doctor write away.
How to deal with Hangover?
The effects of overconsumption of alcohol-headache, dullness, inability to focus the mind clearly, nausea, dizziness and so on are symptoms of excess pitta. Drinking too much alcohol may become toxic to the stomach and liver which triggers Pitta and can eventually lead to serious illness.
The following recommendations will help you get over the effects of drinking too much alcohol the night before and will help restore normal functioning.
1. Drink a glass of water with about one teaspoon lime juice, half teaspoon sugar, and pinch of salt added. Just before drinking add half teaspoon baking soda this will immediately take care of pitta aggravation and you will feel much better.
2. A glass of fresh orange juice with one teaspoon lime juice and pinch of cumin powder can help with both alcohol and drug induced hangover.
3. If you are feeling drowsy and dull, with an aching head, a burning stomach and no appetite, try a cup of cool lassi. Blend 1 tablespoon of fresh yogurt with a cup of water and pinch of cumin powder. Drink this three or four times in a day. It will be effective to prevent dehydration, relieve nausea and soothe the burning in your stomach.
And finally, it will be advisable to follow that 10 commandments to prevent alcoholism, offered by psychiatrist Dr. William Terhune
- Never drink when you need one
- Sip slowly
- Space your drinks, taking a second drink 30 minutes after the first and third and hour after the second
- Dilute your alcohol
- Keep an accurate and truthful record of the amount and number of drinks you take
- Never conceal the amount of alcohol you drink
- Do not drink on an empty stomach
- Stopstop drinking on signal (signals are lunch, dinner, fatigue, sex stimulation, boredom, frustration and bedtime)
- Make it a rule never to take a drink to escape discomfort- either physical or mental
- Never take a drink in morning thinking it will cure hangover