When I think of an alcoholic, I typically envision a middle-aged guy with a bright red nose, telling stories a little too loudly at a bar. So, when I recently heard 50 percent of alcohol dependence starts before age 21 and 75 percent starts before age 25, according to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA), I was shocked. Alcoholism, it seems, has become a disorder of young people, far too young.
In some ways, it is not surprising, given that your risk of alcoholism is 60 percent genetically determined and only about 40 percent environmentally determined, according to NIAAA. While it is not guaranteed the child of an alcoholic will become one, it certainly is more likely. If you have a history of alcohol abuse in a parent or sibling, you have a fourfold greater risk than someone without that family history.
What is also amazing is the earlier you start drinking, the more likely you will continue to drink your entire life. Your brain actually adapts in some ways to the alcohol. Think of it like this -- you have two counteracting forces in the brain. One is the devil on your shoulder telling you take a sip -- that is called the amygdala. The other is the angel, warning you of the dangers -- that is the frontal lobes. In children who start drinking, the frontal lobes throw in the towel early and let the amygdala, or devil, control their actions.
That may have been what happened to Richard Preston, a 61-year-old you will meet on tonight's show. He only drinks ice tea now, after ten whiskies a day for much of his life. It seems the liver transplant finally scared him enough to stop. He tells us first hand, however, what his life was like as someone who was completely dependent on alcohol. The ravaging headaches, remarkable weight gain, and dulled senses.
Have you ever wondered what alcohol really does to your body and to your liver? I will show you tonight, and I warn you -- it is not pretty. For many doctors, treating alcoholism is not about blame or circumstance, it is understanding the science of alcoholism. Yes, there is a science to it, and if you learn it, it may just keep you away from another drink.