Alcoholism

Synonyms: Alcohol abuse, Alcohol dependence

Medical Specialties: Family practice, Internal medicine


Clinical Definition

Alcoholism, also known as alcohol dependence or alcohol abuse, is a chronic, progressive disease characterized by excessive intake of alcohol, impaired control over drinking and compulsive drinking, despite known adverse consequences of the behavior. The onset of withdrawal symptoms occurs with cessation of use. Treatment begins with ''detox.''


In Our Own Words

Alcoholism is a disease (and a cause of many other diseases) in which a person drinks alcohol excessively with little or no internal resistance to drinking, despite the suffering relationships, neglected family responsibilities, and negative impact on the individual’s health. Alcoholics often believe they do not have a drinking problem, but may nonetheless try to hide their drinking from others.

 

The drinker typically progresses through stages--from drinking for stress relief, to denial of a problem, to years of increasingly heavy drinking, and withdrawal symptoms, such as morning shakes, when attempts are made to stop drinking. A family history of alcohol abuse increases risk, as does drinking at an early age (as a teen) and having depression or anxiety. Alcoholism can be diagnosed by a trained expert who explores a person’s drinking behavior. Treatment depends on the stage of alcoholism and may include detoxification or ''detox," to medically control the body's withdrawal from alcohol, followed by a dedicated counseling program and sometimes medical therapy as well. 

Relevant Conditions
Common Types
  • Binge drinker
  • Functional alcoholism
Side Effects
  • Blackouts
  • Planning activities around drinking
  • Denial of a drinking problem
  • Personality changes
  • Mood swings
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sources
  • Harvard Medical School. "Medical Dictionary of Health Terms." 2013. http://www.health.harvard.edu. Accessed September 2013.
  • University of Maryland Medical Center. "Alcoholism." Conditions. May 2013. http://umm.edu. Accessed September 2013.
  • The Cleveland Clinic. "Alcoholism." Disorders. June 2009. http://myclevelandclinic.org. Accessed September 2013.
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