What is Alcoholism?

Acupuncture, the insertion of hair-thin needles under the skin, may relieve cravings for alcohol and alleviate some of the symptoms of alcohol withdrawal, such as tremors and fatigue. Acupuncture may also reduce anxiety and depression, which lead some people to drink alcohol.

Also known as Alcohol Abuse, alcohol addiction, alcohol dependence, Chronic Alcoholic Intoxication
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Alcoholism information from trusted sources:


Alcohol problems vary in severity from mild to life threatening and affect the individual, the person's family, and society in numerous adverse ways. Despite all of the focus on drugs such as cocaine, alcohol remains the number one drug problem in the United States. According to community surveys, over 13% of adults in the United States will experience alcohol abuse or dependence (also referred to as alcoholism) at some point in their lives. Withdrawal, for those physically dependent on alcohol, is much more dangerous than withdrawal from heroin or other narcotic drugs.

Alcohol Dependence

For most adults, moderate alcohol use is not harmful. However, nearly 17.6 million adults in the United States are alcoholics or have alcohol problems. Alcoholism is a disease with four main features: Alcoholism carries many serious dangers. Heavy drinking can increase the risk of certain cancers. It can cause damage to the liver, brain and other organs. It can cause birth defects. It increases the risk of death from car crashes and other injuries as well as the risk of homicide and suicide.



Alcoholism is a chronic disease that makes your body dependent on alcohol. You may be obsessed with alcohol and unable to control how much you drink, even though your drinking is causing serious problems with your relationships, health, work and finances.


Alcohol abuse

Alcohol dependence (alcoholism) is a condition in which a person becomes physically dependent on alcohol [Table 1]. Physical or psychological repercussions from drinking, rather than the amount of alcohol consumed or frequency with which a person drinks, define alcohol abuse and dependence. With increased consumption, a person can develop a tolerance to alcohol, and will require greater quantities of alcohol to achieve a "high" feeling. A person with alcohol dependence may also experience symptoms of withdrawal with reduced alcohol intake.



To determine if a person has consumed ethanol and to measure the amount of ethanol present


Alcohol misuse

Alcohol misuse is when a person drinks levels of alcohol that can cause them physical, psychological, and social problems - both in the short-term and the long-term.


Alcohol and diet

Alcohol comes from fermenting starches and sugars. Alcohol has about 7 calories per gram. These are considered "empty" calories because alcohol contains no beneficial nutrients, such as vitamins and minerals.


Alcohol Withdrawal

Alcohol withdrawal refers to symptoms that may occur when a person who has been drinking too much alcohol every day suddenly stops drinking alcohol.


Alcohol poisoning

Alcohol poisoning is a serious and sometimes deadly consequence of consuming large amounts of alcohol in a short period of time. Drinking too much too quickly can affect your breathing, heart rate and gag reflex and potentially lead to coma and death.


Alcohol Intoxication

Alcohol intoxication, also called drunkenness, is a temporary (short-term) condition after drinking too much alcohol. Alcohol is made up of a chemical called ethanol which may come from grains, or fruits such as grapes. It is found in beer, wine, liquor, such as vodka and whiskey, or other adult drinks. With alcohol intoxication, the amount of alcohol you have taken is more than what your body can handle. Alcohol intoxication may cause abnormal body changes and you may not be able to think, act, or talk properly. Diagnosing and treating alcohol intoxication as soon as possible may relieve your symptoms and prevent more serious problems.



Alcohol addiction physical dependence on alcohol occurs gradually. Over time, drinking alcohol alters the balance of some chemicals in your brain, such as gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA), which inhibits impulsiveness, and glutamate, which excites the nervous system. Alcohol also raises the levels of dopamine in the brain, which is associated with the pleasurable aspects of drinking alcohol. Excessive, long-term drinking can deplete or increase the levels of some of these chemicals, causing your body to crave alcohol to restore good feelings or to avoid negative feelings.

Alcohol depresses your central nervous system. In some people, the initial reaction may be stimulation. But as you continue to drink, you become sedated. Alcohol lowers your inhibitions and affects your thoughts, emotions and judgment. In sufficient amounts, alcohol impairs speech and muscle coordination. Too much alcohol can severely depress the vital centers of your brain. A heavy drinking binge may even cause a life-threatening coma.

Coping and support
Many people seeking to end their alcohol dependence or abuse, and their family members, find that participating in support groups is an essential part of coping with the disease, preventing or dealing with relapses, and staying sober.

Exams and Tests
Those at risk for developing alcoholism include:Men who have 15 or more drinks a week; Women who have 12 or more drinks a week; Anyone who has 5 or more drinks per occasion at least once a week; Do you ever drive when you have been drinking?; Do you have to drink more than before to get drunk or feel the desired effect?; Have you felt that you should cut down on your drinking?; Have you ever had any blackouts after drinking?; Have you ever missed work or lost a job because of drinking?; Is someone in your family worried about your drinking?; A toxicology screen or blood alcohol level (this can tell whether someone has recently been drinking alcohol, but it does not necessarily confirm alcoholism); Complete blood count (CBC); Folate tests ; Liver function tests ; Serum magnesium ; Total protein; Uric acid

Medical advice
Because denial is frequently a characteristic of alcoholism, it's unlikely that people who are dependent on or who abuse alcohol will seek medical treatment on their own. Often it takes family members, friends or co-workers to persuade them to undergo screening for alcoholism or to seek treatment.

Outlook (Prognosis)
Only 15% of people with alcohol dependence seek treatment for this disease. Starting drinking again after treatment is common, so it is important to maintain support systems in order to cope with any slips and ensure that they don't turn into complete reversals.

Possible Complications
Alcohol consumption during pregnancy can cause severe birth defects. The most serious is fetal alcohol syndrome, which may lead to mental retardation and behavior problems. A milder form of the condition that can still cause lifelong problems is called fetal alcohol affects.

Knowing and recognizing a family history of alcoholism for you or others is an important step toward seeking treatment before alcohol use or alcohol abuse progresses to alcoholism.

Risk factors
Steady drinking over time can produce a physical dependence on alcohol. Drinking more than 15 drinks a week for men or 12 drinks a week for women increases the risk of developing dependence on alcohol. However, drinking by itself is just one of the risk factors that contribute to alcoholism. Other risk factors include: Age. People who begin drinking at an early age by age 16 or earlier are at a higher risk of alcohol dependence or abuse. Genetics. Your genetic makeup may increase your risk of alcohol dependency. Sex. Men are more likely to become dependent on or abuse alcohol than are women. Family history. The risk of alcoholism is higher for people who had a parent or parents who abused...

Support Groups
Support groups are available to help people who are dealing with alcoholism. Alcoholics Anonymous is a self-help group of recovering alcoholics that offers emotional support and a model of abstinence for people recovering from alcohol dependence. There are local chapters throughout the United States.

Before treatment or recovery, most people with alcoholism deny that they have a drinking problem. Other signs of alcoholism and alcohol abuse include: Drinking alone or in secret; Being unable to limit the amount of alcohol you drink; Not remembering conversations or commitments, sometimes referred to as "blacking out"; Making a ritual of having drinks before, with or after dinner and becoming annoyed when this ritual is disturbed or questioned; Losing interest in activities and hobbies that used to bring pleasure; Feeling a need or compulsion to drink; Irritability when your usual drinking time nears, especially if alcohol isn't available; Keeping alcohol in unlikely places at home, at...

Tests and diagnosis
To be diagnosed with alcoholism, you must meet criteria spelled out in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM), published by the American Psychiatric Association.

Treatments and drugs
Many people with alcoholism or those who abuse alcohol enter treatment reluctantly because they deny that they have a problem. Health problems or legal difficulties may prompt treatment. Intervention helps some people recognize and accept the need for treatment. If you're concerned about a friend or family member, discuss intervention with a professional.