Conditions InDepth: Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism

Alcohol abuse is a disease characterized by a desire for alcohol and by the continuation of drinking even when there are alcohol-related occupational, legal, health, and family problems. Alcohol abuse can progress to alcoholism. Alcoholism is a condition in which a person becomes physically dependent on the effects of alcohol and drinks to avoid withdrawal symptoms.

Several factors contribute to alcohol abuse and alcoholism, including:

  • Genes
  • Brain chemicals that may be different than those normally found in the brain
  • Social pressure
  • Emotional stress
  • Pain
  • Depression and other mental health problems
  • Problem drinking behaviors learned from family and friends

Nearly 14 million people in the United States abuse alcohol or are considered to be alcoholics. More men than women are alcohol dependent or have alcohol problems. Alcohol problems are highest among young adults, age 18 to 29, and lowest among adults age 65 and older.

Risks Associated With Alcoholism

Organs That Can Be Damaged by Alcoholism


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Alcoholism can increase your risk of the following:

What are the risk factors for alcoholism?
What are the symptoms of alcoholism?
How is alcoholism diagnosed?
What are the treatments for alcoholism?
Are there screening tests for alcoholism ?
How can I reduce my risk of alcoholism?
What questions should I ask my healthcare provider?
What is it like to live with alcoholism?
Where can I get more information about alcoholism?


American Psychiatric Association. Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. 4th ed. Text Revision. Washington, DC: American Psychiatric Association; 2000.

Abnormal Psychology and Modern Life . 11th edition. Allyn and Bacon; 2000.

Grant BF, Dawson DA, Stinson FS, Chou SP, Dufour MC, Pickering RP. The 12-month prevalence and trends in DSM-IV alcohol abuse and dependence, United States, 1991-1992 and 2001-2002. Drug Alcohol Dependence. 2004;74:223-234. National Institute on Alcohol Ause and Alcoholism website. Available at: . Accessed April 15, 2007.

National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism website. Available at: .

Last reviewed April 2007 by Janet Greenhut, MD

Please be aware that this information is provided to supplement the care provided by your physician. It is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. CALL YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER IMMEDIATELY IF YOU THINK YOU MAY HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.

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