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Alcohol Use Problems and Alcoholism

Some people continue to drink excessive amounts of alcohol even though it causes problems in their lives. These people have an alcohol use problem.

  • Early problems usually develop at home (such as arguments about drinking), at work (such as absences or decreased work performance), or with the law (such as arrests for driving under the influence of alcohol).
  • Later, health problems (such as high blood pressure, liver problems, or digestive problems) usually develop.

Most people refer to people who drink too much alcohol as having a drinking problem. Health professionals distinguish between people who have problem drinking (alcohol abuse) and people who are dependent on alcohol (alcohol dependence or alcoholism). The causes of alcohol use problems and alcoholism are complex and involve physical, social, and emotional aspects.

People with alcoholism may not drink alcohol every day, but they usually drink heavily when they drink and have withdrawal symptoms if they stop drinking.

Alcoholism is a lifelong disease that often causes health, emotional, behavioral, and social problems. If untreated, it can even lead to death from the effects of alcohol on the heart, liver, and other parts of the body. Alcoholism cannot be cured, but it can be successfully treated.

By Healthwise Staff
Primary Medical Reviewer E. Gregory Thompson, MD - Internal Medicine
Specialist Medical Reviewer Peter Monti, PhD - Alcohol and Addiction
Last Revised January 18, 2012

WebMD Medical Reference from Healthwise

Last Updated: January 18, 2012
This information is not intended to replace the advice of a doctor. Healthwise disclaims any liability for the decisions you make based on this information.