Alcoholism itself is considered a disease, but many other medical conditions and diseases are affected by alcohol use. Alcohol plays a role in some cancers and tumors (notably of the esophagus and stomach, as well as the mouth), diabetes, mental health conditions, heart and digestive diseases. Drinking alcohol during pregnancy can cause birth defects or fetal alcohol syndrome (FAS). Genetic factors may also be at play; two people with similar drinking patterns may have different cancers (or one may have none at all) because of their genes. In addition to genetic inheritance, drinking patterns and the amount of alcohol consumed as well as the type of alcohol can make a difference in alcohol-related diseases.
Treatment depends on the disease, but nearly all alcohol-related diseases must include alcohol abstention. An alcoholic remains an alcoholic throughout his or her lifetime. Social drinking increases the risk of a relapse, and even after years of abstaining from alcohol, an alcoholic can relapse. Treatment of other alcohol-related diseases might include medications for diabetes, high blood pressure, and heart disease. Cancers are typically treated with surgery, radiation or chemotherapy, or various combinations of all three. Fetal alcohol syndrome cannot be treated; those with severe FAS may need lifelong care and supervision.
Alcoholism is an addiction, and, like most addictions, it includes continuing to use the substance of choice despite negative health, social, occupational and relationship effects. Whether an alcoholic begins the day with a drink, never drinks until evening or drinks constantly, the key is that he or she cannot control the behavior. Alcoholism can occur with the use of beer, wine or hard liquor, and it can occur at any age. Treatment is complex and difficult, and it usually requires help with both physical and mental health issues.
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