Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism
(Alcohol Dependence; Alcohol Use Disorder)
by Debra Wood, RN
Alcohol abuse is problem drinking that negatively impacts your life. For example, you may experience one or more of these issues due to alcohol abuse:
Alcoholism or alcohol dependence is a problem pattern of drinking where you can have the same issues as alcohol abuse. Alcoholism also includes continued drinking even when there are clear problems related to alcohol that affect your physical and mental health. Relationships with family members, friends, and coworkers also suffer. Due to the more intense pattern of drinking, you may not be able to stop drinking once you start, have withdrawal symptoms if you stop drinking, and develop a tolerance (meaning you need to keep drinking more to feel the same effect).
The cause of alcohol abuse or alcoholism is unknown. The genes that you inherit from your family and the environment that you live in may play a role in developing an alcohol disorder.
Risk Factors TOP
These factors increase your chance of developing alcoholism:
It is common to deny an alcohol problem. Alcohol abuse can occur without physical dependence.
Alcohol abuse symptoms include:
Symptoms of alcoholism include:
The brain, nervous system, heart, liver, stomach, gastrointestinal (GI) tract, and pancreas can all be damaged by alcoholism.
Doctors ask a series of questions to assess possible alcohol-related problems, including:
Blood tests may be done to look for signs that alcohol use is affecting your body, including:
Treatment for alcohol abuse or alcoholism is aimed at teaching you how to manage the disease. Most professionals believe that this means giving up alcohol completely and permanently.
The first and most important step is recognizing that a problem exists. Successful treatment depends on your desire to change. Your doctor can help you withdraw from alcohol safely. This could require hospitalization in a detoxification center. Healthcare staff will carefully monitor you for side effects. You may need medicine while you are undergoing detoxification.
Medicine can help relieve some of the symptoms of withdrawal and help prevent relapse. The doctor may prescribe medicine to reduce cravings for alcohol.
Medicines used to treat alcoholism and to try to prevent drinking include:
Education and Therapy
Therapy helps you to recognize alcohol's dangers. Education raises awareness of underlying issues and lifestyles that promote drinking. In therapy, you work to improve coping skills and learn other ways of dealing with stress or pain.
Mentoring and Community Help
Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) helps many people to stop drinking and stay sober. Members meet regularly and support each other. Your family members may also benefit from attending meetings of Al-Anon. Living with an alcoholic can be a painful, stressful situation.
Relapse is common in people who are recovering from an addiction. Treatment, like taking medicine and working with a therapist, may help reduce your chance of drinking and give you the support that you need if you do have a relapse.
If you are diagnosed with alcohol abuse or alcoholism, follow your doctor's instructions.
Realizing that alcohol causes problems helps some people avoid it. Suggestions to decrease the risk of alcohol-related problems include:
The National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence
Alcohol use disorder. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: https://dynamed.ebscohost.com/ . Updated July 30, 2012. Accessed August 23, 2012.
American Psychiatric Association. Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders . 4th ed. Text Revision. Washington, DC: American Psychiatric Association; 2000.
National epidemiologic survey on alcohol and related conditions. National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism website. Available at: http://pubs.niaaa.nih.gov/publications/AA70/AA70.htm . Published October 2006. Accessed August 23, 2012.
Ringold S, Lynm C. Alcohol abuse and alcoholism. JAMA . 2006;295(17):2100.
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Last reviewed March 2013 by Brian Randall, MD
Last Updated: 03/15/2013