Alcoholism Quick Overview
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 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. Thirty-five percent of teens have had at least one drink by age 15. Even though it is illegal, about 8.7 million people 12 to 20 years of age have had a drink in the past month, and this age group accounted for 11% of all alcohol consumed in the U.S. Among underaged youth, alcohol is responsible for about 189,000 emergency-room visits and 4,300 deaths annually.
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.
- What was formerly called 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
- Despite negative outcomes resulting from drinking, the alcoholic continues to drink to try to attain the feeling of euphoria they first experienced when they started drinking.
- Previously called alcohol dependence, this aspect of alcohol use disorder 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, dizziness, 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 in favor or using alcohol
- 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 at any level of alcohol use disorder.
Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 2/11/2016
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