About Alcoholism

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Alcoholism, also known as alcohol-use disorder (AUD), alcohol addiction, or alcohol dependence, is characterized by a compulsion to drink and abuse alcohol despite ongoing negative consequences.  These consequences can include harm to one’s family and social relationships, career, and physical health. A person who is addicted to alcohol develops a physical and psychological dependence, resulting in symptoms of withdrawal and strong cravings for alcohol when drinking is stopped.

What is the Difference Between Alcohol Abuse and Alcohol Addiction?

Professionals make a distinction between alcohol abuse and alcohol addiction for the purposes of diagnosis and treatment. Alcohol abuse typically means the user has some control over their drinking, but is engaging in harmful behaviors. Over time, alcohol abuse can lead to addiction.

Alcohol abuse is characterized by the following signs and symptoms:

  • Repeatedly neglecting responsibilities due to drinking
  • Using alcohol in dangerous situations, for example, drinking and driving
  • Encountering legal problems due to drinking
  • Continuing to drink despite objections from loved ones
  • Drinking to de-stress or cope with difficult situations

Alcohol addiction is characterized by all of the symptoms of alcohol abuse, plus these signs and symptoms:

  • Tolerance – needing to drink more to feel the same effect one used to with a smaller amount.
  • Withdrawal – when the effects of alcohol wear off, physical symptoms appear such as anxiety, shakiness, nausea and vomiting, depression, insomnia, and others. Drinking to avoid these symptoms is a sign of alcoholism and addiction. Note: withdrawal from alcohol can be life-threatening and involve serious symptoms such as hallucinations, fever, confusion, seizures, and agitation. This severe form of withdrawal should be managed in the care of a physician trained in alcoholism and addiction. Learn more about detoxification>
  • Losing control over how much and how often one drinks; developing an inability to resist cravings for alcohol.
  • Neglecting activities that used to be important in favor of drinking – the majority of one’s interests and activities now involve the use of alcohol.
  • Continuing to use alcohol despite negative consequences – despite problems with career, relationships or physical health, one continues to drink.
do i have a problem with alcohol?

Do the signs and symptoms listed in the previous section sound familiar to you? Each person’s circumstance is unique, and what constitutes problem drinking varies from person to person. A good rule of thumb is: if your drinking is causing problems in your life, you have a drinking problem.

Some online resources allow you to gauge the severity of your symptoms while learning about alcohol-use disorder:

Rethinking Drinking Quiz

Alcoholics Anonymous Quiz

WebMD: Signs and Symptoms of Alcoholism

NCADD Am I Alcoholic Self Test

If you are struggling with alcohol addiction, the important thing is to do something—try any of the treatment options available, and keep trying until you find one that helps you. You have choices. There are entire networks of people standing by to help you if you will take the first step and make contact.


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