What is alcohol abuse?
Many people enjoy drinking alcohol in social settings or to relax. But sometimes people may find they're drinking too much. And when heavy drinking leads to health, work, or relationship problems, it's a form of alcohol abuse. Experts say that alcohol abuse is marked by one or more of the following problems: continuing to drink despite alcohol-related problems; indulging in hazardous behavior such as drinking and driving; or failing to fulfill work, school, or home obligations because of heavy drinking.
What are the symptoms of alcohol abuse?The most prominent signs of alcohol abuse are the following:
- Mood swings. Someone who abuses alcohol may have an explosive temper or become unusually aggressive.
- Drinking as a crutch. If someone is drinking more frequently in order to relax, to escape problems, or to feel "normal," these may be signs of alcohol abuse.
- Lack of control. Alcohol abusers will keep drinking until they become very drunk. Often, drinking bouts result in temporary blackouts and an inability to remember events that happened while drinking.
- Problems at work, school, or home.
It is common for alcohol abusers to drink to the point of becoming unruly and irresponsible. They often drive while drunk, become drunk in public, and miss work or have problems doing their job when they are at work. Friendships and family relationships are likely to suffer, and although the drinkers may know it, they continue to drink anyway.
How does alcohol abuse differ from alcoholism?
The two disorders have many symptoms in common (see Alcoholism), so the line is difficult to draw. However, most experts agree that alcoholism is a disease marked by a physical dependence on alcohol. Alcoholics have a greater tolerance for alcohol than other people and must consume more to get high as the disease progresses; they eventually develop a physical craving for alcohol and suffer withdrawal symptoms such as nausea, sweating, shakiness, and anxiety when they stop drinking.
Alcohol abuse, in contrast, is considered more of a psychological phenomenon. Not all alcohol abusers are alcoholics by any means, but in some cases alcohol abuse eventually progresses to alcoholism.
Source: Health Day; Alcohol Abuse By Paige Bierma, M.A.
Drinking too much – on a single occasion or over time – can take a serious toll on your health. Here’s how alcohol can affect your body:
Sources: National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism / National Institutes of Health
Drinking a lot over a long time or too much on a single occasion can damage the heart, causing problems including:
- Cardiomyopathy – Stretching and drooping of heart muscle
- Arrhythmias – Irregular heart beat
- High Blood Pressure
Heavy drinking takes a toll on the liver, and can lead to a variety of problems and liver inflammations including:
- Steatosis (Fatty Liver)
- Alcoholic Hepatitis
Alcohol causes the pancreas to produce toxic substances that can eventually lead to pancreatitis, a dangerous inflammation and swelling of the blood vessels in the pancreas that prevents proper digestion.
Drinking too much alcohol can increase your risk of developing certain cancers, including cancers of the:
Drinking too much can weaken your immune system, making your body a much easier target for disease. Chronic drinkers are more liable to contract diseases like pneumonia and tuberculosis than people who do not drink too much. Drinking a lot on a single occasion slows your body’s ability to ward off infections – even up to 24 hours after getting drunk.
Where can I get help and information about alcohol abuse or alcoholism?
- The National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence (NCADD) is an independent volunteer organization that provides free information and referrals for counseling and support; 244 East 58th Street, Fourth Floor, New York, NY 10022. Call the group's 24-hour "hope-line" at 800/622-2255 to be referred to a local NCADD affiliate, or visit their Web site at www.ncadd.org.
- Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) has over 100,000 chapters worldwide. Check their Web site or your local phone book, or call 212/870-3400 to find a group near you; P.O. Box 459, Grand Central Station; New York, NY 10163; www.aa.org.
- Rational Recovery Systems also provides nonreligious support for people who want to be sober; Box 800 Lotus, CA 95651; 530/621-4374; www.rational.org.
- The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) is a public institute within the US Department of Health and Human Services. Its Web site features links to the latest research, government publications, and answers to frequently asked questions about alcohol and alcohol abuse; 5635 Fishers Lane, MSC 9304, Bethesda, MD 20892; 301/443-3860; www.niaaa.nih.gov.