Alcohol Abuse

Alcohol abuse is defined as a pattern of drinking that results in one or more of the following situations within a 12-month period:

  • Failure to fulfill major work, school, or home responsibilities
  • Drinking in situations that are physically dangerous, such as while driving a car or operating machinery
  • Having recurring alcohol-related legal problems, such as being arrested for driving under the influence of alcohol or for physically hurting someone while drunk
  • Continued drinking despite having ongoing relationship problems that are caused or worsened by the drinking.

Alcoholism, or alcohol dependence, is the most severe form of alcohol abuse. It is a chronic disease characterized by the consumption of alcohol at a level that interferes with physical and mental health and with family and social responsibilities. An alcoholic will continue to drink despite serious health, family, or legal problems.

Alcoholism is influenced by both genetic and environmental factors. Alcoholism is chronic: It lasts a person's lifetime. It usually follows a predictable course and has recognizable symptoms.

Alcohol abuse and alcoholism cut across gender, race, and ethnicity. Nearly 14 million people in the United States are dependent on alcohol. More men than women are alcohol dependent or have alcohol problems. Alcohol problems are highest among young adults ages 18-29 and lowest among adults ages 65 and older. Also, people who start drinking at an early age have a greater chance of developing alcohol problems at some point in their lives.

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Alcohol's effects vary with age. Slower reaction times, problems with hearing and seeing, and a lower tolerance to alcohol's effects put older people at higher risk for falls, car crashes, and other types of injuries that may result from drinking. More than 150 medications interact harmfully with alcohol.

Alcohol also affects women differently than men. Women become more impaired than men do after drinking the same amount of alcohol, even when differences in body weight are taken into account. In addition, chronic alcohol abuse takes a heavier physical toll on women than on men. Alcohol dependence and related medical problems, such as brain, heart, and liver damage, progress more rapidly in women.

Alcohol Abuse. Last reviewed 12/04/2007

Sources:

  • National Institute of Mental Health
  • National Institute of Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism
  • Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fourth Edition, Revised
  • National Institutes of Health (NIH) - National Library of Medicine