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Alcoholism and Alcohol Abuse

Also called: Alcohol dependence

Summary

For most adults, moderate alcohol use is probably not harmful. However, about 18 million adult Americans have an alcohol use disorder (AUD). This means that their drinking causes distress and harm. It includes alcoholism and alcohol abuse.

Alcoholism, or alcohol dependence, is a disease that causes

  • Craving - a strong need to drink
  • Loss of control - not being able to stop drinking once you've started
  • Physical dependence - withdrawal symptoms
  • Tolerance - the need to drink more alcohol to feel the same effect

With alcohol abuse, you are not physically dependent, but you still have a serious problem. The drinking may cause problems at home, work, or school. It may cause you to put yourself in dangerous situations, or lead to legal or social problems.

Another common problem is binge drinking. It is drinking about five or more drinks in two hours for men. For women, it is about four or more drinks in two hours.

Too much alcohol is dangerous. Heavy drinking can increase the risk of certain cancers. It can cause damage to the liver, brain, and other organs. Drinking during pregnancy can harm your baby. Alcohol also increases the risk of death from car crashes, injuries, homicide, and suicide.

You may have an AUD if you can answer yes to two or more of these questions:

In the past year, have you

  • Ended up drinking more or for a longer time than you had planned to?
  • Wanted to cut down or stop drinking, or tried to, but couldn't?
  • Spent a lot of your time drinking, or recovering from drinking?
  • Felt a strong need to drink?
  • Found that drinking - or being sick from drinking - often interfered with your family life, job, or school?
  • Kept drinking even though it was causing trouble with your family or friends?
  • Given up or cut back on activities that you enjoyed just so you could drink?
  • Gotten into dangerous situations while drinking or after drinking? Some examples are driving drunk and having unsafe sex.
  • Kept drinking even though it was making you feel depressed or anxious? Or when it was adding to another health problem?
  • Had to drink more and more to feel the effects of the alcohol?
  • Had withdrawal symptoms when the alcohol was wearing off? They include trouble sleeping, shakiness, irritability, anxiety, depression, restlessness, nausea, and sweating. In severe cases, you could have a fever, seizures, or hallucinations.

If you have any of these symptoms, your drinking may already be a cause for concern. The more symptoms you have, the more serious the problem is. If you think you might have an AUD, see your health care provider for an evaluation. Your provider can help make a treatment plan, prescribe medicines, and if needed, give you treatment referrals.

NIH: National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism

Start Here

  • (Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research)
  • From the National Institutes of Health (National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism)
  • From the National Institutes of Health (National Institutes of Health)
  • (Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration) - PDF
  • From the National Institutes of Health (National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism)

Diagnosis and Tests

  • (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) Also in
  • From the National Institutes of Health (National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism)
  • From the National Institutes of Health Easy-to-Read (National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism) Also in

Prevention and Risk Factors

  • From the National Institutes of Health (National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism)

Treatments and Therapies

Living With

  • (American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry) - PDF Also in
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  • From the National Institutes of Health (National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism)
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Related Issues

  • (Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research)
  • From the National Institutes of Health (National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism)
  • (American Liver Foundation)
  • From the National Institutes of Health (National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism)
  • (National Center for PTSD)
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  • From the National Institutes of Health (National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke)
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Specifics

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  • (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) Also in
  • (National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence) - PDF
  • From the National Institutes of Health (National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism)

Genetics

  • From the National Institutes of Health (National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism)
  • From the National Institutes of Health Easy-to-Read (National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism) Also in

Images

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Health Check Tools

  • (Department of Veterans Affairs)
  • From the National Institutes of Health (National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism)

Videos and Tutorials

  • Video (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention)

Statistics and Research

  • From the National Institutes of Health (National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism)
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  • (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention)
  • (National Center for Health Statistics)
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Clinical Trials

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Journal Articles References and abstracts from MEDLINE/PubMed (National Library of Medicine)

Reference Desk

  • From the National Institutes of Health (National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism)

Find an Expert

  • (Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration)
  • From the National Institutes of Health (National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism)
  • From the National Institutes of Health
  • (Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration)

Teenagers

  • (Nemours Foundation) Also in

Men

  • (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention)

Women

  • From the National Institutes of Health Easy-to-Read (National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism) Also in
  • (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention)
  • (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention)

Seniors

  • From the National Institutes of Health Easy-to-Read (National Institute on Aging) Also in

Patient Handouts

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