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Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism

(Alcohol Dependence; Alcohol Use Disorder)


Alcohol abuse is problem drinking that negatively impacts your life.
Alcoholism or alcohol dependence is a problem pattern of drinking where you can have the same issues as alcohol abuse. Alcoholism also includes continued drinking even when there are clear problems related to alcohol that affect your physical and mental health.


The cause of alcohol abuse or alcoholism is unknown. The genes that you inherit from your family and the environment that you live in may both play a role in developing an alcohol disorder.

Risk Factors

These factors increase your chance of developing alcoholism:


It is common to deny an alcohol problem. Alcohol abuse can occur without physical dependence.
Alcohol abuse symptoms include:
Symptoms of alcoholism include:
The brain, nervous system, heart, liver, stomach, gastrointestinal (GI) tract, and pancreas can all be damaged by alcoholism.
Some of the Organs Damaged in Alcohol Abuse
Alcohol damaged organs right size
Copyright © Nucleus Medical Media, Inc.


Doctors ask a series of questions to assess possible alcohol-related problems, including:
The answers to these questions will help determine if you have an alcohol problem.
Blood tests may be done to look for signs that alcohol use is affecting your body, including:


Treatment for alcohol abuse or alcoholism is aimed at teaching you how to manage the disease. Most professionals believe that this means giving up alcohol completely and permanently.
The first and most important step is recognizing that a problem exists. Successful treatment depends on your desire to change. Your doctor can help you withdraw from alcohol safely. This could require hospitalization in a detoxification center. Healthcare staff will carefully monitor you for side effects. You may need medicine while you are undergoing detoxification.
Treatments include:


Medicine can help relieve some of the symptoms of withdrawal and help prevent relapse. The doctor may prescribe medicine to reduce cravings for alcohol.
Medicines used to treat alcoholism and to try to prevent drinking include:
  • Naltrexone—Blocks the high that makes you crave alcohol
  • Disulfiram—Makes you very sick if you drink alcohol
  • Acamprosate—Reduces your craving for alcohol

Education and Therapy

Therapy helps you to recognize alcohol's dangers. Education raises awareness of underlying issues and lifestyles that promote drinking. In therapy, you work to improve coping skills and learn other ways of dealing with stress or pain.

Mentoring and Community Help

Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) helps many people to stop drinking and stay sober. Members meet regularly and support each other. Your family members may also benefit from attending meetings of Al-Anon. Living with an alcoholic can be a painful, stressful situation.
Relapse is common in people who are recovering from an addiction. Treatment, like taking medicine and working with a therapist, may help reduce your chance of drinking and give you the support that you need if you do have a relapse.
If you are diagnosed with alcohol abuse or alcoholism, follow your doctor's instructions .


Realizing that alcohol causes problems helps some people avoid it. Suggestions to decrease the risk of alcohol-related problems include:


Alcoholics Anonymous

The National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence

Moderation Management


Alcoholics Anonymous

Health Canada


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National epidemiologic survey on alcohol and related conditions. National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism website. Available at: . Published October 2006. Accessed August 23, 2012.

Ringold S, Lynm C. Alcohol abuse and alcoholism. JAMA . 2006;295(17):2100.

2/4/2010 DynaMed's Systematic Literature Surveillance DynaMed's Systematic Literature Surveillance : Schinke SP, Fang L, Cole KC. Computer-delivered, parent-involvement intervention to prevent substance use among adolescent girls. Prev Med . 2009;49;429-35.

5/14/2010 DynaMed's Systematic Literature Surveillance DynaMed's Systematic Literature Surveillance : Vivitrol (naltrexone). US Food and Drug Administration website. Available at: . Accessed May 14, 2010.

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