Alcoholism Overview

For many people, alcohol can be enjoyed in moderation without any consequences. However, some people develop alcohol disorders, and their excessive drinking puts themselves and others in danger. People develop drinking problems for a variety of reasons and are affected by alcohol in a variety of physical, emotional and psychological ways. Here’s a brief overview of alcoholism and other alcohol-related problems.

What’s the Difference Between Alcohol Abuse and Alcohol Dependence?

Alcohol abuse is a drinking pattern that results in significant and reoccurring consequences. According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, alcohol abuse is diagnosed when one or more of the following problems occur within one year:

* Failure to fulfill obligations due to repeated use of alcohol (such as missing work or school, or neglecting responsibilities)

* Recurring use of alcohol in hazardous situations (such as driving under the influence or operating machines while intoxicated)

* Recurring alcohol-related legal problems (such as alcohol-related arrests and disorderly conduct)

* Continued use of alcohol despite persistent or repeated relationship problems (such as arguments about drinking behavior or physical fights)

People with alcoholism, also known as alcohol dependence, have lost control of their alcohol use. According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, alcohol dependence is diagnosed when three or more of the following problems occur within one year:

* Evidence of tolerance (needing to drink more to get intoxicated or to feel the effects of alcohol intoxication)

* Symptoms of withdrawal (such as sweating, nausea, vomiting, irritability, tremors, hallucinations and anxiety)

* Repeatedly drinking more than intended

* Repeatedly unable to cut down or stop drinking, or a constant desire to do so

* Spending a lot of time drinking alcohol, recovering from the effects of alcohol, or obtaining alcohol

* Giving up other important activities for alcohol-related activities

* Drinking alcohol despite persistent or repeated physical or psychological problems

What Causes Problem Drinking?

Genetics, physiological, psychological and social factors all play a role in whether or not a person develops a drinking problem.  Not every person is affected the same way if these factors are present, and not every person who is exposed to these factors will develop a problem with alcohol.

* Genetics: Genetic factors, such as a family history of alcohol problems, make some people more vulnerable to alcohol dependence.

* Physiological factors: Excessive drinking causes physiological changes that can cause dependence and withdrawal symptoms. Once these physiological changes occur, a person may continue drinking more as a way to avoid discomfort.

* Psychological traits: Some people who abuse alcohol possess certain psychological traits, such as low self-esteem, impulsiveness and the need for approval.  These emotional problems can lead them to cope with or self-medicate their feelings with alcohol.

* Social and environmental factors: Social factors, such as peer pressure and the wide availability and acceptance of alcohol, make it easy for people to drink and develop a problem with alcohol without them or others noticing a problem exists. Environmental factors, such as poverty, physical or sexual abuse, also increase the odds of developing a problem with alcohol.

What are the Effects of Alcoholism and Alcohol Abuse?

Excessive drinking over a prolonged period of time can damage almost every part of your body. These health effects include heart problems, organ damage, brain damage, stomach problems, cancer, reproductive problems, liver cirrhosis and memory problems. Men are much more likely than women to develop alcoholism, but alcohol affects women’s health more, even at lower levels of consumption.

Even a person’s mental health is negatively impacted by excessive drinking. Alcoholism and alcohol abuse can worsen existing conditions, or create conditions, such as depression and anxiety. Some people will use alcohol as a way to cope with or self-medicate mental health issues. This may provide a temporary escape, but alcohol use will only worsen these symptoms over time.

Finally, alcohol problems affect more than just the person drinking. Spouses and children of heavy drinkers are more likely to face family violence, suffer physical and sexual abuse, neglect and develop psychological problems. People close to the problem drinker also increase their risk of injury or death in alcohol-related accidents and assaults.

When Should Someone Seek Help for Alcoholism?

People who are dependent on or abuse alcohol rarely seek help on their own. They will often hide or deny their problem until it becomes obvious, but there are some signs to watch out for. Ask yourself the following questions:

* Do you have a problem with alcohol?

* Do you ever feel like you should cut down on your drinking?

* Have you ever been annoyed or upset by people criticizing your drinking?

* Have you ever felt bad or guilty about your drinking?

* Have you ever had a drink first thing in the morning to get rid of a hangover or steady your nerves?

If you answered yes to any of these questions, you may have a problem with alcohol. Don’t wait until the problem becomes worse. The sooner you get help, the easier it will be to reverse the problems associated with your problem drinking. Call an alcohol treatment facility today and rid yourself of the problems alcohol is causing in your life.


This blog is for informational purposes only and should not be a substitute for medical advice. We understand that everyone’s situation is unique, and this content is to provide an overall understanding of substance use disorders. These disorders are very complex, and this post does not take into account the unique circumstances for every individual. For specific questions about your health needs or that of a loved one, seek the help of a healthcare professional.