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Alcohol Abuse

Last updated April 13, 2018

Approved by: Maulik P. Purohit MD, MPH

Alcohol is one of the most dangerous substances on the planet. Someone dies from alcohol use every ten seconds, and one night of binge drinking can take a huge toll on your immune system. Dr. Samuel Ball of the National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University (CASAColumbia) reveals the myriad effects alcohol has on your brain and body.


What are the other Names for this Condition? (Also known as/Synonyms)

  • Abuse of Alcohol

What is Alcohol Abuse? (Definition/Background Information)

  • Alcohol Abuse is a term which indicates that the user is not physically addicted to alcohol; however, the level of consumption has started to interrupt their daily functioning.
  • Alcohol Abuse is observed in men at a much higher incidence rate than women (about five times). A family history of alcoholism, use of alcohol at an early age, psychiatric issues, and poor family support are some of the risk factors associated with the condition.
  • The treatment may be a lifelong and involved process that begins with the acceptance of the drinking problem by the user. Counseling is highly encouraged, along with regular attendance of alcoholic anonymous meetings.
  • Alcohol Abuse can be prevented by avoiding heavy consumption of alcohol, avoiding events where alcohol is the main attraction, and not drinking while highly stressed.
  • Alcohol Abuse is the precursor to alcohol dependence. If addressed early on, Alcohol Abuse may be overcome before dependence occurs.

Who gets Alcohol Abuse? (Age and Sex Distribution)

  • Alcohol is consumed worldwide, though people in certain regions are observed to consume more alcohol than others
  • Drinking alcohol may set in at an early age, as early as 15 years. Though, the condition affects teens and young adults between the ages 18 to 29 years the most. The incidence is lowest among those aged 65 years and older
  • Men are five times more likely to be afflicted by alcohol dependence than women

What are the Risk Factors for Alcohol Abuse? (Predisposing Factors)

Risk factors associated with Alcohol Abuse include:

  • Family history of alcoholism
  • Abuse of other drugs
  • Use of alcohol at early age
  • Gender - being male
  • Social and cultural values
  • Psychiatric issues
  • Poor family support

It is important to note that having a risk factor does not mean that one will get the condition. A risk factor increases ones chances of getting a condition compared to an individual without the risk factors. Some risk factors are more important than others.

Also, not having a risk factor does not mean that an individual will not get the condition. It is always important to discuss the effect of risk factors with your healthcare provider.

What are the Causes of Alcohol Abuse? (Etiology)

There is no one specific cause linked to Alcohol Abuse and why it affects some individuals more than others. Research has shown that alcoholism may be a genetic condition in some cases. The causes of Alcohol Abuse may include:

  • High stress or anxiety levels
  • Social and cultural values and beliefs
  • Peer pressure from other users who consume alcohol

What are the Signs and Symptoms of Alcohol Abuse?

Signs and symptoms of Alcohol Abuse may include:

  • Drinking alone and in privacy, drinking in risky situations such as while driving a car
  • Nausea
  • The drinking continues regardless of negative consequences
  • Flushed skin
  • Memory loss or blackouts
  • Mood swings, anxiety
  • Family or friends verbalize concern regarding drinking habits
  • Poor performance at work or school, absenteeism

How is Alcohol Abuse Diagnosed?

Alcohol Abuse is diagnosed according to the following criteria: A maladaptive pattern of drinking, leading to dramatic impairment of functioning or distress, as a result of which at least one of the following factors take place within a 12-month period.

  • Recurrent use of alcohol resulting in a failure to uphold responsibilities at work, school, or home
  • Consistent alcohol use in situations in which it is physically hazardous
  • Recurrent alcohol-related legal problems
  • Continued alcohol use despite having persistent or recurrent social or relational problems caused by the effects of alcohol
  • The user may also have never met criteria for alcohol dependence

Many clinical conditions may have similar signs and symptoms. Your healthcare provider may perform additional tests to rule out other clinical conditions to arrive at a definitive diagnosis.

What are the possible Complications of Alcohol Abuse?

Complications associated with Alcohol Abuse include:

  • Liver damage
  • Increased risk of cancer such as liver cancer
  • Problems with immune system
  • Risk of brain damage

How is Alcohol Abuse Treated?

Treatment of Alcohol Abuse may be a life-long process.  The process begins with the acceptance of a drinking problem by the user. Counseling is highly recommended along with regular attendance of alcoholic anonymous meetings.

Medications can also be given to manage withdrawal symptoms. Such medications include:

  • Topiramate
  • Baclofen
  • Naltrexone
  • Acamprosate

The drug disulfiram is also prescribed to discourage alcohol consumption due to its vomiting-inducing effect when mixed with alcohol.

How can Alcohol Abuse be Prevented?

Alcohol Abuse can be prevented by:

  • Limiting alcohol consumption
  • Drinking slowly while taking any alcoholic drink
  • Surrounding oneself with friends who do not drink
  • Avoiding events or parties where there could be plenty of alcohol (as the main attraction)
  • Do not drink while being highly stressed

What is the Prognosis of Alcohol Abuse? (Outcomes/Resolutions)

  • If addressed early on, Alcohol Abuse may be overcome before alcohol dependence sets in
  • Abuse is different from dependence, because although the user may drink heavily, craving for alcohol may not necessarily be present

Additional and Relevant Useful Information for Alcohol Abuse:

  • According to World Health Organization (WHO), around 3.3 million people die annually due to the ill-effects of alcohol (2014 report). 13% of the deaths are young teens and adults in the 15-29 years age group
  • Per WHO, alcohol is one of the five leading risk factor for disease and death globally
  • The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism estimates 14 million Americans (1 in of every 13 adults) either abuse alcohol or are alcoholics

What are some Useful Resources for Additional Information?


References and Information Sources used for the Article:


Helpful Peer-Reviewed Medical Articles:


Reviewed and Approved by a member of the DoveMed Editorial Board
First uploaded: May 17, 2015
Last updated: April 13, 2018