What is Chronic Alcoholism?

chronic alcoholism

For years, alcohol has been heavily marketed as a necessary ingredient in social situations and to have a good time. However, chronic alcohol use can have multiple negative effects on almost every aspect of a person’s life. The American Medical Association (AMA) defines chronic alcoholism as “a primary, chronic disease with genetic, psychosocial and environmental factors influencing its development and manifestations.” 


Differences Between Alcoholism and Alcohol Use Disorder (AUD)

Although the AMA definition of alcoholism still exists, medical professionals have moved toward using terminology that better describes problematic alcohol use over the years. Alcohol use disorder, or AUD, is a term used by medical professionals to describe a medical condition characterized by an impaired ability to stop or control alcohol use despite adverse social, occupational or health consequences. The term alcoholism is now considered a colloquial term that is often used by members of Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) and people not in medical professions. The term alcoholism is encompassed by AUD, along with the terms alcohol abuse, alcohol dependence and alcohol addiction. AUD can be mild, moderate or severe. 


Determining Mild, Moderate or Severe Alcohol Use

Medical professionals use the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition (DSM-5) to determine if someone has an AUD and its severity. A healthcare provider might ask a series of questions to assess a person’s symptoms. Severity is based on the number of criteria met: mild (2–3 criteria), moderate (4–5 criteria) or severe (6 or more criteria). Any of these can indicate a problem and the need to seek help.


Key Components of Alcoholism

Signs of chronic alcoholism are: 

  • Craving alcohol
  • Physical dependence—if the person does not drink, they will start to feel uncomfortable and sometimes life-threatening withdrawal symptoms 
  • Tolerance-over time—it will take more and more alcohol to reach the same level of intoxication

Other signs of a possible problem with alcohol use are school or employment issues, getting into dangerous situations due to alcohol use, problems with family or friends resulting from drinking, and continuing to drink despite negative legal consequences. 


Risk Factors of Chronic Alcohol Use

The causes of alcoholism are not fully understood, but risk factors increase someone’s chances of chronic alcoholism:

  • Heavy drinking or binge drinking over time can lead to chronic alcoholism.
  • Drinking at an early age is a risk factor. Females who drink at an early age are at higher risk than males.
  • Genetics play a significant role in problems with alcohol, but a family history, such as parents’ drinking patterns, influence future alcoholism in a child. 
  • Psychiatric disorders can increase the risk. People who have endured childhood trauma are also at higher risk for chronic alcoholism.


Different Categories of Drinking

The “Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2020-2025,” U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and U.S. Department of Agriculture states that adults of legal drinking age can choose not to drink or to drink in moderation—limiting intake to two drinks or less in a day for men and one drink or less in a day for women. Consuming less is better for health than drinking more. The dietary guidelines also clarify that if a person doesn’t drink at all, it is recommended that they do not start drinking. 

Many people can drink in moderation and it does not cause health issues or life disruptions. Other people have difficulty controlling their alcohol use, which can be caused by various reasons. Alcohol use can be broken down into levels based on the amount consumed and drinking patterns. Problem use falls into the following levels:

  • Binge drinking: The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) defines binge drinking as a pattern of drinking alcohol that brings blood alcohol concentration (BAC) to 0.08 percent – or 0.08 grams of alcohol per deciliter, or higher. This pattern corresponds to consuming five or more drinks (male), or four or more drinks (female) for a typical adult, in about 2 hours. The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) defines binge drinking as five or more alcoholic drinks for males or four or more alcoholic drinks for females on the same occasion (i.e., at the same time or within a couple of hours of each other) on at least one day in the past month.
  • Heavy use: Defined by the NIAAA as consuming more than four drinks on any day or more than 14 drinks per week for men, and for women, consuming more than three drinks on any day or more than seven drinks per week. SAMHSA defines heavy alcohol use as binge drinking on five or more days in the past month.


Screening Tools for Alcohol Use

Several screening tools are available to help medical and behavioral health professionals assess patients for problematic alcohol use. They vary in length and whether they are self-reported or administered by a clinician. These tools include questions about symptoms, behaviors and explanations for those behaviors. 


Recovery Is a Reality

It is possible to overcome alcoholism and lead a healthier, happier life. There is no cure for alcoholism, but effective treatment is available. Specific behavioral therapies and medications have proven to treat alcoholism. Mutual support groups and complementary therapies are also options. Treatment is offered in a variety of levels of care, from inpatient detoxification to outpatient therapy. A great resource, to begin with, is a person’s primary care physician. They can be a wealth of information on treatment options and provide referrals for care when a person is ready to seek help. 


Alcohol use in moderation is not a problem for most people. However, many people cannot drink in moderation, and alcohol use becomes a problem that affects many aspects of their lives. Many factors lead to chronic alcoholism. It is a disorder, and not a character flaw or a personal failing. At Casa Palmera, we believe in showing empathy, compassion and respect to each of our patients. We search deeper and look beyond the medical components of substance use and mood disorders. We treat the whole person and help guide them as they undergo a comprehensive physical, spiritual and emotional recovery. Casa Palmera offers complementary therapies alongside the best evidence-based medicine for a complete, holistic treatment experience. When you are ready to start a life free from alcohol, call Casa Palmera at (855) 508-0473


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.