Alcoholism, or alcohol addiction, is a chronic disease that develops when a person is unable to stop drinking, even when they attempt to. Despite the negative consequences resulting from their addiction, someone suffering from alcoholism cannot control their drinking and will experience emotional distress when not drinking.

An individual may be suffering from alcohol use disorder (AUD) if they experience two or more of the following:

  • Attempting to quit drinking without success.
  • Drinking more and longer than intended.
  • Craving alcohol.
  • Spending a large amount of time obtaining alcohol, drinking it, and recovering from it.
  • Foregoing social or recreational activities in order to drink.
  • Drinking interferes with school, work, and/or home responsibilities. 
  • Continuing to drink despite the negative impacts on relationships.
  • Continuing to drink despite knowing it’s causing physical and/or psychological issues.
  • Drinking in potentially dangerous situations, such as driving, operating machinery, caring for children, etc. 
  • Needing to consume increasing amounts of alcohol in order to feel its effects. 
  • Experiencing alcohol withdrawal symptoms.

While each person is unique and may experience alcohol withdrawal differently, common symptoms include:

  • Anxiety
  • Cravings
  • Jitteriness and irritability
  • Depression or malaise
  • Headache
  • Dizziness
  • Insomnia and fatigue
  • Difficulties concentrating and making decisions
  • Difficulty remembering
  • Nausea and/or vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Dehydration
  • Decreased appetite and possible anorexia
  • Muscle aches
  • Tremors
  • Irregular heart rate and blood pressure
  • Sweating

Yes, a person can overdose from consuming too much alcohol. Also known as alcohol poisoning, alcohol overdose leads to the body shutting down vital functions such as breathing, heart rate, and temperature, resulting in death if not treated in time. 

Signs of alcohol poisoning include:

  • Vomiting
  • Severe confusion
  • Irregular or slow breathing
  • Bluish skin coloring
  • Low body temperature
  • Passed out and unable to be woken
  • Seizures

If you believe someone may be experiencing an alcohol overdose, call 911 immediately.

Yes, there is strong evidence that inherited genes may predispose a person to AUD. However, this does not mean that a person whose parents were alcoholics will become alcoholics themselves. There is no one reason for the development of AUD.

While the exact cause of AUD is unknown, a person’s genes and environment play a role. Childhood trauma, high levels of stress, lack of positive coping mechanisms, and an unstable home environment can all contribute to AUD development.

Drinking in excess does not necessarily mean that a person has developed AUD. Even if they can be diagnosed with AUD, they may continue to function as normal up to a point. A “functioning alcoholic” may still fulfill their personal, social, and professional obligations. People close to them may not realize that there is a problem because of how well they seem to be dealing with it. Labeling someone as a “functioning alcoholic” could undermine the severity of their situation and enable them to deny that an issue exists.

When someone says they can quit “cold turkey,” it means that they could stop their habit right this instant and never do it again. When it comes to drinking, it may be difficult for someone to acknowledge how much they depend on alcohol. While it is possible to stop drinking cold turkey, the potential for serious harm in those with a severe addiction makes it ill-advised. When trying to overcome alcohol dependence, it is best to seek medical professionals’ support to ensure safety and the likelihood of long-term success.

Like with many chronic diseases, there is no simple cure for alcoholism. However, alcohol addiction can be managed with medications, therapy, a strong support circle, and aftercare programs.

While there are many different treatment options for alcohol addiction, they may include the following:

  • Detoxification: Safely getting the alcohol out of the person’s system to obtain a stabilized condition.
  • Therapy: Counseling for individuals and their families to examine the root of addiction and learn healthier ways to cope.
  • Medication: Naltrexone, Acamprosate, or Disulfiram may be prescribed to aid alcohol addiction.
  • Education: To help patients take control of their recovery.
  • Aftercare programs: Individualized treatment to help patients stay on track can include substance abuse assessments, mental health assessments, physician visits, and therapy.
  • Self-help groups: Groups such as Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) can help recovering alcoholics learn from and support each other.

If a person engages in heavy drinking or binge drinking, they may be at a higher risk for: 

  • Chronic diseases, such as:
    • Liver cirrhosis 
    • Pancreatitis 
    • Various cancers, including liver, mouth, throat, larynx, and esophagus
    • High blood pressure
    • Psychological disorders
  • Unintentional injuries, such as:
    • Car accidents
    • Falling
    • Burns
    • Drowning
    • Firearm injuries 
  • Violent actions, such as child mistreatment, homicide, and/or suicide
  • Alcohol use disorders

Heavy drinking is typically defined as consuming 15 drinks or more per week for men, and eight drinks or more per week for women.

Binge drinking is consuming several alcoholic beverages in a short period, bringing the blood alcohol concentration (BAC) level to 0.08% or more. Binge drinking is typically five or more drinks for men, and four or more drinks for women, generally within 2 hours.

No alcohol is safer than any other type. While it’s important to be aware of a drink’s alcohol by volume (ABV), alcohol is still alcohol, no matter what type of drink it is. For example, a 12-ounce beer has about the same amount of alcohol as a 5-ounce glass of wine or a 1.5-ounce shot of liquor.

It is never advisable to operate heavy machinery after consuming alcohol, even if it’s just one drink. Alcohol can slow down your response time and cause an accident. Driving over the legal limit can also result in arrest or the loss of a driver’s license and DUI charges. All states in the United States have 0.08% as the legal limit for drivers aged 21 years or older, except Utah, which has a 0.05% legal limit. Drivers under the age of 21 are not permitted to drive with any alcohol level in their system. Alcohol levels are measured using either a blood alcohol test or a breathalyzer.

No. Anyone pregnant or planning to become pregnant should avoid drinking alcohol. Drinking while pregnant increases the chances of fetal alcohol spectrum disorders and can cause sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS) in infants whose mother consumed alcohol while pregnant.

While one standard drink a day is not known to harm infants, especially if the mother waits at least 2 hours after drinking to breastfeed, it is generally advised not to drink while breastfeeding. Exposure to alcohol through the mother can damage the infant’s growth, development, and sleep patterns. Drinking can also impair a mother’s judgment and endanger the child.