Alcoholism is a chronic physical and psychological dependence on alcohol. If left untreated, it is progressive and can be fatal. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, past studies indicate that alcoholism and addiction run in families. Scientists are working on discovering the genes that play a role in the development of this dependence. Alcoholics are at risk for being involved in mishaps such as fires, accidents and murders. They also face the possibility of dying from the physical damage caused by drinking.
Signs and Symptoms of Late- or End-Stage Alcoholism
Alcoholics in the final stages of their illness experience malnutrition, impaired concentration and memory, hallucinations, convulsions and shaking. This period is also marked by loss of control, with the alcoholic staying drunk for days. Drinking in the morning is common. The alcoholic may also be plagued by liver and heart disease brought on by drinking. Because consuming alcohol becomes an all-consuming activity for the alcoholic, possessions, careers and relationships often fall by the wayside. The personality of an alcoholic may change as well, including psychosis, fear of people and impending doom, aggression, isolation and violence.
Excessive drinking within a short period causes the liver to slow its processing of fat. Steatosis, commonly called fatty liver, is the accumulation of fat in the liver. People with fatty liver may not see any noticeable symptoms. In the late stages of alcoholism, there could be slight discomfort in the upper abdomen area, where the liver is located. Some alcoholics report feeling tired. On examination, a doctor will note that the liver is enlarged. It may be confirmed with ultrasound. With abstinence from alcohol, steatosis is reversible. However, if left untreated, it can progress into cirrhosis.
Alcoholic hepatitis is the inflammation of the liver. Alcoholics suffering from this disease may have jaundice, loss of appetite, bloating, vomiting accompanied with blood, swelling in the stomach area and fatigue. Alcohol is absorbed into the bloodstream. The liver, which cleans blood, cannot process alcohol. As a result, the liver becomes inflamed. Both heavy drinkers and alcoholics can develop this disease. Treatment consists of nutritional therapy and lifestyle changes which include abstinence from alcohol. If left untreated, alcoholic hepatitis can develop into cirrhosis.
Cirrhosis is caused by scarring in the liver. Injured liver cells are replaced with scar tissue. When enough scar tissue accumulates, the liver can no longer function correctly. Symptoms of cirrhosis include jaundice, itching, exhaustion, bloating in the legs and stomach, profuse bleeding in the nose and digestive tract, and weight loss. People with cirrhosis may also develop liver cancer. There is no cure for cirrhosis. Treatment consists of removing the cause of the liver inflammation, which in the case of alcoholics, means abstinence.
As the physical craving increases, alcoholics experience a loss of appetite. Wernicke-Korsakoff syndrome, also referred to commonly as wet brain, is caused by a thiamine deficiency. Symptoms of wet brain include confusion, vision impairment, tremors, unsteady walking, loss of memory and mobility, hallucinations and paranoia. In its earlier stages, alcoholics suffering from Wernicke-Korsakoff syndrome may be treated through taking Vitamin B-1, proper nutrition and abstinence from alcohol. If left untreated, this disease is life-threatening. Even with treatment, some people may not be able to regain full brain function.