What Is Alcoholism?
is also known as alcohol dependence and alcohol use disorder. It occurs when
you drink so much that your body eventually becomes dependent on or addicted to
alcohol. When this happens, alcohol becomes the most important thing in your
with alcohol dependence will continue to drink even when drinking causes
negative consequences, like losing a job. They may know that their alcohol use
negatively affects their lives, but it’s
often not enough to make them stop drinking.
people may drink alcohol to the point that it causes problems, but they’re not physically dependent on alcohol. This is sometimes
referred to as alcohol abuse.
What Causes Alcoholism?
cause of alcoholism is still unknown. Alcohol dependency develops when you
drink so much that chemical changes in the brain occur. These changes increase
the pleasurable feelings you get when you drink alcohol, which makes you want
to drink more often, even if it causes harm. Eventually, just like other drugs of
abuse, the pleasurable feelings associated with alcohol use go away and person with alcohol dependency will engage in drinking to prevent withdrawal symptoms, which can be quite unpleasant and even dangerous. Alcoholism typically develops
gradually over time, and it’s also known to run in families.
What Are the Risk Factors for Alcoholism?
the exact cause of alcoholism is unknown, there are certain factors that may
increase your risk for developing this disease.
risk factors for alcoholism include having:
than 15 drinks per week if you’re male
than 12 drinks per week if you’re female
than five drinks per day at least once a week (binge drinking)
parent with alcoholism
- a mental health problem, such as depression, anxiety,
may also be at a greater risk for alcoholism if you:
a young adult experiencing peer pressure
a high level of stress
in a family or culture where alcohol use is common and accepted
- have a close relative with alcohol use disorder
What Are the Symptoms of Alcoholism?
of alcoholism are based on the behaviors and physical outcomes that occur as a
result of alcohol addiction.
with alcohol use disorder may engage in the following behaviors:
more to feel the effects of alcohol (having a high tolerance)
violent or angry when asked about their drinking habits
eating or eating poorly
work or school because of drinking
unable to control alcohol intake
excuses to drink
to drink even when legal, social, or economic problems develop
- giving up important social, occupational, or
recreational activities because of alcohol use
with alcoholism may also experience the following physical symptoms:
symptoms when not drinking, including shaking, nausea, and vomiting
(involuntary shaking) the morning after drinking
in memory (blacking out) after a night of drinking
- illnesses, such as alcoholic ketoacidosis (includes dehydration-type
symptoms) or cirrhosis (scarring) of the liver
Definition of Alcoholism and of Being an
Self-Testing: Am I an Alcoholic?
it can be hard to draw the line between safe alcohol use and alcohol abuse or
suggests that you may have a problem with alcohol if you answer “yes” to some of the following questions:
you need to drink more in order to feel the effects of alcohol?
you feel guilty about drinking?
you become irritable or violent when you’re drinking?
you have problems at school or work because of drinking?
- Do you think it might be better if you cut back on your
National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence and the Partnership at Drugfree.org offer more comprehensive self-tests.
These tests can help you assess whether you have a problem with alcohol.
doctor or healthcare provider can diagnose alcoholism. They will do a physical
exam and ask you questions about your drinking habits.
doctor may ask if you:
when you’re drunk
missed work or have lost a job as a result of your drinking
more alcohol to feel “drunk” when you drink
experienced blackouts as a result of your drinking
- have tried to cut back on your drinking but could not
doctor may also use a questionnaire that assesses alcoholism to diagnose your
a diagnosis of alcoholism does not require any other type of diagnostic test.
There is a chance your doctor may order blood work to check your liver function
if you show signs or symptoms of liver disease. Alcohol abuse can cause serious
and lasting damage to your liver. Your liver is responsible for removing toxins
from your blood. When you drink too much, your liver has a harder time
filtering the alcohol and other toxins from your bloodstream. This can lead to
liver disease and other complications.
How Is Alcoholism Treated?
for alcoholism varies, but each method is meant to help you stop drinking
altogether (abstinence). Treatment may occur in stages and can include the
or withdrawal to rid your body of alcohol
to learn new coping skills and behaviors
to address emotional problems that may cause you to drink
groups, including 12-step programs such as Alcoholics Anonymous (AA)
treatment for health problems associated with alcoholism
- medications to help control addiction
are a couple of different medications that may help with alcohol addiction:
- Naltrexone (ReVia, Vivitrol) is used only after
someone has detoxed from alcohol. This type of drug works by blocking certain
receptors in the brain that are associated with the alcoholic “high.” This type
of drug, in combination with counseling, may help decrease an individual’s
craving for alcohol.
- Acamprosate (Campral) is a medication that can help
re-establish the brain’s original chemical state before alcohol dependence.
This drug should also be combined with therapy.
- Disulfiram (Antabuse) is a drug that causes
physical discomfort (such as nausea, vomiting, and headaches) any time the
individual consumes alcohol.
may need to seek treatment at an inpatient facility if your addiction to
alcohol is severe. These facilities will provide you with 24-hour care as you
withdraw from alcohol and recover from your addiction. Once you’re well enough to leave, you’ll
need to continue to receive treatment on an outpatient basis.
What Is the Outlook for a Person with
from alcoholism is difficult. Your prognosis will depend on your ability to
stop drinking. Many people who seek treatment for alcoholism are able to
overcome addiction. A strong support system is helpful for making a complete
outlook will also depend on the health complications that have developed as a
result of your drinking. Alcoholism can severely damage your liver. It can also
lead to other health complications, including:
in the gastrointestinal (GI) tract
to brain cells
in the GI tract
of the pancreas (pancreatitis)
- changes in mental status, including Wernicke-Korsakoff
syndrome (a brain disease that causes symptoms such as confusion, vision
changes, or memory loss)
How Can You Prevent Alcoholism?
can prevent alcoholism by limiting your alcohol intake. According to the National
Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, women should not drink more than one
drink per day, and men should not drink more than two drinks per day. See your
doctor if you begin to engage in behaviors that are signs of alcoholism or if
you think that you may have a problem with alcohol. You should also consider
attending a local AA meeting or participating in a
self-help program such as Women for Sobriety.