Alcohol abuse occurs when a person engages in excessive drinking that results in health or social problems. Alcohol may continue to be abused despite serious adverse health, personal, work-related and financial consequences. Alcohol abusers, however, may not fully lose control over the use of alcohol and progress to alcoholism. A person afflicted with alcohol dependence may experience alcohol withdrawal with symptoms such as anxiety attacks, confusion, insomnia, sweating, increased pulse rate and temperature, tremors or severe depression.
Most experts believe that it is possible to have a problem with alcohol, but not display all the characteristics of alcoholism. For instance, alcohol abuse does not necessarily involve alcohol dependence, which is the need for repeated doses of alcohol to maintain a certain feeling of well-being.
Most experts believe that steady drinking over time may produce a physical dependence on alcohol. Drinking over 15 drinks a week for men or 12 drinks a week for women increases the risk of developing dependence on alcohol. However, drinking by itself is just one of the risk factors that contribute to alcoholism.
Alcoholism is a chronic, often progressive disease that is a result of uncontrollable alcohol dependence. It is thought to develop as a result of a combination of individual genetic, psychological and social factors. Other risk factors may include:
Age: People who begin drinking at an early age (by age 16 or earlier) are at a higher risk of becoming an alcoholic.
Genetics: Genetic makeup may cause imbalances in one or more of several brain chemicals and increase risk of alcohol dependency.
Gender: Men are more likely to become alcoholics or abuse alcohol.
Family history: The risk of alcoholism is higher for people who had a parent or parents who abused alcohol.
Those with severe depression or anxiety may have a greater risk of abusing alcohol. Adults with attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder may also be more likely to become dependent on alcohol.
According to the National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence (NCADD), almost 18 million Americans abuse alcohol. Each year more than 100,000 Americans die of alcohol-related causes. Alcohol is a factor in nearly half of all United States traffic deaths. Alcoholism and alcohol abuse have also been linked to major social, economic and public health problems. A wide range of treatments is available. Self-help groups are one popular treatment option, and may provide ongoing support for people recovering from alcohol abuse and alcoholism.
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