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Alcoholism

Alcoholism Facts

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 the focus on illegal drugs of abuse such as cocaine, alcohol remains the number-one drug problem in the United States. Nearly 17 million adults in the U.S. are dependent on alcohol or have other alcohol-related problems, and about 88,000 people die from preventable alcohol-related causes.

In teenagers, alcohol is the most commonly abused drug. Fifty percent of teens have had at least one drink by age 15, and more than 70% have had a drink by age 17. Over 10 million report drinking more than "just a few sips" in the past month.

Withdrawal, for those physically dependent on alcohol, is much more dangerous than withdrawal from heroin or other narcotic drugs. Alcohol abuse and alcohol dependence are now grouped together under the diagnosis of alcohol use disorder.

  • Alcohol abuse refers to excessive or problematic use with one or more of the following:
    • Failure to fulfill major obligations at work, school, or home
    • Recurrent use in situations where it is hazardous (such as driving a car or operating machinery)
    • Legal problems
    • Continued use of alcohol despite having medical, social, family, or interpersonal problems caused by or worsened by drinking
  • Alcohol dependence refers to a more serious kind of alcohol use disorder and involves excessive or maladaptive use leading to three or more of the following:
    • Tolerance (need for more to achieve the desired effect, or achieving the effect with greater amounts of alcohol)
    • Withdrawal symptoms following a reduction or cessation of drinking (such as sweating, rapid pulse, tremors, insomnia, nausea, vomiting, hallucinations, agitation, shaking, anxiety, or seizures) or using alcohol to avoid withdrawal symptoms (for example, early morning drinking or drinking throughout the day)
    • Drinking more alcohol or drinking over a longer period of time than intended (loss of control)
    • Inability to cut down or stop
    • Spending a great deal of time drinking or recovering from its effects
    • Giving up important social, occupational, or recreational activities
    • Continuing to drink despite knowing alcohol use has caused or worsened problems

Binge drinking (consuming several drinks over a short period of time) can occur in either or both alcohol abuse or dependence.

Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 7/17/2014

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