Alcohol Abuse

Alcohol Abuse & Alcoholism

Alcohol abuse is defined as a pattern of drinking that may be accompanied by one or more of the following problems:

  • Failure to follow through on major work, school, or home responsibilities.
  • Drinking in situations that are physically dangerous. A person might drink while driving a car or operating machinery.
  • Recurring alcohol-related legal problems. These include being arrested for driving under the influence or for physically hurting someone while drunk.
  • Continued drinking despite having ongoing relationship problems caused or worsened by alcohol.

Alcohol abuse may not always include an extremely strong craving for alcohol, loss of control, or physical dependence. Alcoholism is a disease that includes at least three of the following four symptoms:

  • Craving. A strong need or urge to drink.
  • Loss of control. Not being able to stop drinking or to control the results once drinking starts.
  • Physical dependence. Withdrawal symptoms, such as nausea, sweating, shakiness, and anxiety, are experienced when you stop drinking
  • Tolerance. The need to drink greater amounts of alcohol over time.

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Effects of Alcohol

Alcohol is considered a drug because it depresses the central nervous system and can disrupt mental and motor skills, as well as damage internal organs when used excessively. Alcohol can be harmful both physically and economically. When used in excess, it can be physically and psychologically addicting; cause impaired memory, coordination, and judgment; damage the heart, liver, and nervous system; and lead to birth defects. The abuser also places himself or herself and others at risk if he or she drives or operates machinery after drinking too much.

Alcohol abuse and dependence can start at any age, and there are no good predictors of when it may start, though a family history or current family alcohol or drug abuse problems may influence the start of personal drinking problems. Some people have been heavy drinkers for many years, but others develop a drinking problem later in life. Sometimes the onset is triggered by major life changes that cause depression, isolation, boredom, and loneliness.

Binge drinking can lead to unintentional injuries, including motor vehicle crashes, falls, burns, drowning, and hypothermia. Homicide, suicide, child abuse, domestic violence, hypertension, heart attack, gastritis, pancreatitis, sexually transmitted infections, meningitis, and poor control of diabetes also are the results of binge drinking. Alcohol poisoning can be a fatal result of binge drinking. Alcohol affects the central nervous system, slowing breathing and heart rate. It also interferes with the gag reflex, which increases the risk of choking on vomit, if the drinker passes out from excess drinking. Blood alcohol levels can continue to rise even if a person passes out. If a person who has been drinking heavily is confused, vomits, has a seizure, has pale skin, or becomes unconscious, it may be a sign of alcohol poisoning.

Even small amounts of alcohol, such as one or two standard drinks, which is equivalent to one or two 12-ounce cans of beer, can affect your judgment and coordination. This increases the chance that you will be involved in a traffic accident. Moderate amounts also affect your ability to learn and remember information. High amounts can cause alcohol poisoning, resulting in death. Women who drink alcohol while pregnant may give birth to infants with birth defects and intellectual disability.

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