Alcoholism

Alcoholism is a condition resulting from excessive drinking of and dependence on beverages that contain alcohol. Alcoholism, also known as alcohol dependence, is a disease with physical, psychological, and social health issues. Those affected experience:

Physical dependence--withdrawal symptoms, such as nausea, sweating, shakiness, and anxiety after stopping drinking

Tolerance--the need to drink greater amounts of alcohol to get "high"

Craving--a strong need, or urge, to drink

Loss of control--Not being able to stop drinking once drinking has begun

According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA), nearly 20% of patients treated in general medical practices report drinking at levels considered "risky" or "hazardous." They may be at risk for developing alcohol-related problems as a result.
The NIAAA defines risky drinking by both daily and weekly consumption of “standard drinks,” with one standard drink equal to about 12 ounces of beer, 5 ounces of wine, or 1.5 ounces of hard liquor. For men, 5 or more drinks a day or 15 or more a week is considered risky, while for women it is 4 or more a day or 8 or more a week. People’s response to alcohol is individual, however, and may be affected by their size, age, general state of health, and by the medications they are taking. In some, fewer drinks can still cause health problems. Since there is no known “safe” alcohol level for pregnant women, the Surgeon General advises women who are, or are planning to be, pregnant to abstain from drinking.

The major health risks of alcoholism include liver disease, heart disease, certain forms of cancer, pancreatitis, and nervous system disorders. These conditions often develop gradually and may become evident only after long-term heavy drinking. The liver is particularly vulnerable to diseases related to heavy drinking, most commonly, alcoholic hepatitis (inflammation) or cirrhosis (scarring of the liver). Women tend to be more sensitive to the effects of alcohol and may develop alcohol-related health problems sooner and after consuming less alcohol than men do. Alcohol use in pregnant women can lead to miscarriages, and to the malformation of organs (such as the brain and heart) in their unborn children. According to the March of Dimes, up to 40,000 babies a year are born with some degree of damage related to alcohol.

Experts have defined a second problem, called alcohol abuse, as something different from alcoholism. The difference is that those who abuse alcohol do not have an extremely strong craving for alcohol, loss of control over drinking, or physical dependence. People who abuse alcohol also can develop the physical symptoms related to alcoholism, however, and suffer from its effects. Alcohol abuse is defined as a pattern of drinking that results in particular situations, such as failure to fulfill major work, school or home duties, or having recurring alcohol-related legal problems, such as arrests for driving under the influence of alcohol.

Related Pages
On This Site
Tests: GGT
Conditions: Liver disease, Heart disease