What Are Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism
drink alcohol in the form of beer, wine, or liquor. People drink alcohol to
relax, celebrate, and socialize. Alcohol affects people in different ways, and
people have different relationships with alcohol. Many people can enjoy a glass
of wine with food, or drink moderate amounts of alcohol in social settings,
without any problems. Having one or fewer drinks per day for women and two or
fewer drinks per day for men is defined as moderate drinking (CDC, 2013).
But drinking alcohol
too much or too often, or being unable to control alcohol consumption, can
cause or indicate alcohol abuse or alcohol dependence (also called alcoholism).
Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism says that about 18 million people in
the U.S. struggle with what it terms “alcohol use disorders” (NIAAA). These disorders can be disruptive and
People who abuse
alcohol may not have a physical dependence on alcohol. But they are more
focused on intoxication than on safely enjoying alcoholic beverages. Abuse can
affect relationships and lead to failure to meet obligations at home, work, or
school. People who abuse alcohol often have legal or financial troubles related
to their drinking. Long-term alcohol abuse may lead to alcoholism.
Alcoholism is likelier
to be a physical dependence on alcohol. It is a serious medical condition. People
with alcoholism find drinking moderately or stopping drinking very difficult. They
often struggle to live their lives normally. And they may face serious health
Who Is at Risk for Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism?
For many people,
alcohol abuse or alcoholism is caused by psychological or social factors.
Others use alcohol to cope with psychological issues or stress in their daily
lives. Alcohol abuse and alcoholism may also seem to run in families, but a
genetic tendency doesn’t guarantee problems with alcohol.
The causes of
alcohol abuse and alcoholism are not known for sure. Often, alcoholism is the
product of many factors.
Alcohol abuse is
more common at certain points in life. Men, college students, and people going
through serious life events or trauma are more likely to abuse alcohol. People
who suffer from depression, loneliness, emotional stress, or boredom could be
more likely to turn to alcohol to deal with their problems, and this can lead
to dependence (APA,
Alcohol abuse or
alcoholism may cause serious health conditions. Alcohol worsens aging disorders
such as osteoporosis. It can lead to certain cancers. And alcohol abuse may make
it difficult to diagnose other health issues, such as heart disease, because of
how alcohol affects the circulatory system.
Women who are
pregnant are advised to completely avoid alcohol. Breastfeeding mothers should
drink only with caution. Children, also, should not drink alcohol. In the U.S.,
people younger than 21 are prohibited from drinking alcohol.
What Are the Symptoms of Alcohol Use, Abuse, and Alcoholism?
high concentration of alcohol in the blood causes symptoms such as:
and motor impairment
rare cases, very high concentrations of alcohol in the blood can cause breathing
problems, coma, or death.
Many people use
alcohol with no ill effects. But even someone who is not alcoholic may
experience effects such as illness, vomiting, or hangovers. Using alcohol can
also lead to accidents, falls, drowning, fighting, or suicide. People should
not attempt to drive or operate heavy machinery while under the effects of
of alcohol abuse or alcoholism include:
strong desire to drink (cravings)
inability to control cravings
- an inability
to stop drinking
increased tolerance for alcohol
to drink without others knowing
inability to get through everyday activities without drinking
alcoholics will continue to drink even when they develop drinking-related
health problems. Loved ones often perceive a problem before the affected person
someone who is dependent on alcohol stops drinking, he or she may have
withdrawal symptoms including nausea, shaking, sweating, irritability, and
withdrawal can become a medical emergency. If seizures, severe vomiting, hallucinations,
or fevers occur, seek immediate medical help. If you are an alcoholic and have
had past difficulty with withdrawal symptoms, see a doctor before quitting.
Also see a doctor before quitting alcohol if you are an alcoholic and you have
other health conditions.
How Are Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism Diagnosed?
alcohol abuse is considered a diagnosable condition when it impacts
relationships, causes harm or injury, or has a negative effect on a person’s quality
of life. Diagnosing alcohol abuse can be subjective. Often, concerned family
and friends will help the person understand that drinking has gotten out of
control, although he or she might not believe it.
In order to
diagnose alcohol abuse or dependence, your doctor will ask you about your
drinking habits and your health history. He or she will use blood tests to
assess your overall health. A doctor will pay special attention to parts of the
body most impacted by alcohol: the brain, heart, liver, and nervous system.
How Are Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism Treated?
alcohol abuse and alcoholism usually focuses on learning to control the
disease. Most people who recover from alcohol dependence choose to abstain from
alcohol because learning to consume alcohol safely can be very challenging.
Abstinence is often the only way to manage.
The treatment is
frequently mostly psychological. Patients work on understanding their alcoholism
and underlying problems, and then they commit to staying sober or practicing healthier
drinking habits. Maintaining recovery from alcohol dependence can be a long
process. Treatment for alcohol abuse often includes therapy, leaning new coping
skills, and finding healthy ways to manage stress.
sometimes prescribe medications that lessen some symptoms of withdrawal. Other
medications can help a person quit drinking by blocking the feeling of
intoxication, making him or her feel sick when alcohol enters the body, or
Having support and seeking
professional treatment increases chances for recovery from alcohol from alcohol
et al., 2006). Groups such as Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) focus on providing
support for recovering alcoholics.
What Is the Outlook for Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism?
People who abuse
alcohol for an extended time and alcoholics may have other health
complications, such as an increased risk for cancer, mental health issues,
liver problems, brain damage, and a weakened immune system.
Even people who
successfully complete treatment will always have a risk of relapse. It’s
important to recognize warning signs and enlist support when you fear a relapse
is coming. Continued therapy and support help minimize the risk of relapse (Moos, et al., 2006).