Key Points about Alcoholism

  • Alcoholism is the chronic overconsumption and abuse of alcohol, coupled with an inability to control drinking due to physical and emotional dependence. 
  • Symptoms of alcoholism include having cravings for alcohol, needing to drink more alcohol to feel the same effects that you used to, an inability to stop drinking once you start, and spending a significant amount of money on alcohol.
  • Friends and family members of someone suffering from alcoholism may notice that person placing alcohol over important personal responsibilities, losing interest in personal hobbies, or denying their alcohol use is a problem. 
  • Chronic alcohol use can lead to heart, liver, and pancreas issues, cancer, and additional mental health problems.
  • Alcoholism also increases your risk of dying from car crashes, homicide, suicide, or other injuries. 
  • Call your doctor if you have any symptoms of alcoholism.
Common related conditions
Anxiety

Overview

 Alcoholism is a chronic overconsumption and abuse of alcohol. People suffering from alcoholism may feel that they cannot control their drinking due to physical and emotional dependence. 

Common signs of alcoholism include having cravings for alcohol, needing to drink more alcohol to feel the same affects you used to, an inability to stop drinking once you start, and spending a significant amount of money on alcohol. When someone is suffering from alcoholism, friends and family members may notice that person placing alcohol over important personal responsibilities, losing interest in personal hobbies, or denying their alcohol use is a problem. 

Alcoholism can lead to serious consequences for your health, and the safety of yourself and others. 

Treatment for alcoholism often requires long-term care and family and community involvement. In general, alcoholism treatment involves the stages of detoxification, rehabilitation, and maintenance. The licensed professionals and clinical staff and provide psychological evaluations to screen for alcoholism and can recommend and provide appropriate treatment. Call your provider if you or a loved one is experiencing signs of alcoholism.  

Alcoholism causes

Chronic drinking leads your brain to become dependent on alcohol, as it comes to rely on it to produce certain chemicals. 

This process of developing a dependency can result from several factors, including:

  • Biological factors — Genetic factors, including genes coding for specific chemicals in the brain, may put some people at an increased risk of developing alcoholism. For some people, limiting the amount of alcohol they drink is easy. For others, alcohol provides heightened feelings of pleasure that may encourage repeated alcohol consumption. 
  • Environmental factors — Increased exposure to liquor stores and advertisements glorifying alcohol consumption may increase your risk of abusing alcohol. Additionally, people from wealthy backgrounds are more likely to consume alcohol than people with low income levels. 
  • Social factors — Your family, friends, religion and culture influence your opinions on alcohol and your drinking habits. People who witnessed alcohol abuse in their family as a child are at a higher risk of developing harmful drinking habits. 
  • Psychological factors. — People with high stress levels or existing mental health conditions such as anxiety or depression may be more likely to develop alcoholism, particularly if they turn to alcohol to cope. Using alcohol as a coping mechanism in these situations can become a habit, leading your body to become emotionally and physically dependent on it. 

Alcoholism risk factors

Risk factors for developing alcoholism include:

  • Starting to drink at a young age
  • Having a family history of alcoholism or alcohol abuse
  • Exposure to pressure
  • Having high stress levels
  • Consuming alcohol frequently over a long time-period

Alcoholism symptoms

The following are signs that you may be suffering from alcoholism:

  • Inability to limit the about you drink, even if you have tried to cut back or quit
  • Inability to stop drinking once you start
  • Having cravings for alcohol
  • Prioritizing alcohol over important personal responsibilities
  • Spending a significant amount of money on alcohol
  • Constant mood changes
  • Decreased performance at work or school
  • Behaving dramatically differently after consuming alcohol, or ending up in dangerous situations
  • Losing interest in your hobbies
  • Withdrawal symptoms if you do not drink, such as irritability, anxiety, nausea, insomnia, restlessness, fever, or sweating
  • Needing to drink more alcohol than you used to, to feel the same effects
  • Denying your alcohol abuse is a problem

Alcoholism complications

Alcoholism can lead to several short-term and long-term health consequences.

Short-term effects of alcohol misuse include:

  • A slowed reaction time and hindered coordination, which makes it extremely dangerous to drive or operate other machinery while intoxicated
  • Reduced brain activity
  • Decreased inhibitions
  • Blurred vision
  • Trouble breathing
  • Feeling restless

Long-term alcohol abuse leads to an increased risk of:

  • Liver, brain, heart, and other organ damage
  • Complications with diabetes
  • Bone loss
  • Vision loss
  • Wernicke-Korsakoff syndrome
  • Fetal alcohol syndrome (FAS) or other harm to your baby if you are pregnant
  • Suicide

Alcoholism diagnosis

Clinicians may conduct a variety of screening tests and questionnaires to detect and diagnose alcoholism.

Alcoholism treatment

Recovering from alcoholism is an ongoing process. The major treatment stages for alcoholism are:

  • Detoxification — Detoxification is the process of eliminating alcohol from your body. People who stop using alcohol altogether after prolonged regular usage may experience withdrawal symptoms, particularly in the first 24 to 48 hours after stopping. Some serious withdrawal symptoms may require treatment from a specialist.
  • Rehabilitation — Patients may undergo rehabilitation in inpatient or outpatient settings. During this stage, patients may undergo a wide range of treatments and therapies, such as learning coping skills to avoid drinking after rehabilitation. 
  • Maintenance — Maintenance involves re-acclimating yourself to daily life, using the techniques you learned during rehabilitation. Support groups such as Alcoholics Anonymous offer community and peer support that can help you stay sober and make positive changes in your life. 

When to seek care

Call your provider if you have any symptoms of alcohol addiction or abuse. 

Next Steps

Use your provider to helppatients and their families suffering from alcoholism through the treatment and recovery process.