Though its purchase and consumption are legal, alcohol is a drug. And like all drugs, it can lead to dependency and addiction if not consumed responsibly. The term “alcohol abuse” is generally used when people fall into a habit of drinking so frequently or in such a manner that it affects other parts of their lives, including jobs, family and overall behavior.
Alcohol abuse is often seen as a stepping stone to alcoholism, which is defined as a chronic, potentially life-threatening addiction to alcohol. Both conditions are often classified as alcohol use disorders.
Effects of Alcohol Abuse
Alcohol use disorders in the United States are fairly widespread. When the disorder is still perceived as “alcohol abuse,” there is not yet a physical dependence on alcohol. However, alcohol abuse can still cause a number of problems. For example, people who abuse alcohol will often put themselves in dangerous situations, including driving drunk or potentially getting arrested or arguing with family and other loved ones. They will show a tendency to put their drinking ahead of more important responsibilities in their lives, like work or family.
When alcohol abuse progresses to alcoholism, it becomes a full-blown addiction. The alcoholic literally needs alcohol and will go through withdrawal symptoms like sweating, shaking and extreme irritability without it. In addition, alcoholics need ever-increasing amounts of alcohol to achieve the feeling they desire.
Treatment for Alcohol Abuse
Even if the alcohol use disorder is not full-blown alcoholism, most people with drinking problems can benefit from a formal treatment program. This will typically involve therapy, including counseling, support groups and possibly individual sessions with a therapist. Many people who get help for their alcohol abuse are able to remain alcohol free after treatment.
SOURCES: U.S. National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism; U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
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