Alcohol and Your Health


Alcoholism is defined as dependence on alcohol. It is a disease that encompasses:

Tolerance - it becomes necessary to drink greater amounts of alcohol in order to feel the same effects

Loss of control - being unable to stop drinking once drinking has started

Physical Dependence - withdrawal symptoms, including sweating, shaking, nausea,.and/or anxiety after stopping drinking

Craving - the strong desire to drink

Alcoholism can be treated. Most alcoholism treatment programs use medications along with counseling to assist a person halt their drinking. This can immensely help alcoholics rebuild their lives. However, no single medication works in every case or for every person, and there are varying levels of success for all kinds of treatments. Nevertheless, it is clear that the longer someone stays away from alcohol, the more likely he or she will be able to stay sober. Alcoholics should not just limit the amount of alcohol that they drink, but should abstain from alcohol all together.

Alcohol Abuse

Alcohol abuse can be just as harmful as alcoholism, but there is a difference between the two. Someone may abuse alcohol without actually being an alcoholic; he or she may drink excessively too often but not be dependent on alcohol. There are many problems linked to alcohol abuse, including being unable to meet occupational, educational, or familial responsibilities, drunk-driving accidents and fines, and various drinking-related medical problems. Even drinking in moderation can be problematic if combined with driving, pregnancy, or taking medications.

More Information

Alcohol abuse and alcoholism affect a variety of people in the United States. Approximately 1 in every 12 adults abuse alcohol or are alcohol dependent. Usually, men are more likely than women to develop alcohol-related problems. Problems with alcohol occur in the highest quantity among young adults (ages 18-29) and in the lowest quantity among older adults (ages 65+). Studies also show that people who start drinking at a young age are at a much higher risk of eventually having problems with alcohol at some point in their life. (You can reference this study from the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism here.)

If you suspect that someone has a drinking problem, try acquiring some honest answers to the following four questions:

Have you ever felt that you should cut down on your drinking?
Have people annoyed you by criticizing your drinking?
Have you ever felt bad or guilty about your drinking?
Have you ever had a drink first thing in the morning to steady your nerves or to get rid of a hangover?

Just one "yes" answer indicates a possible alcohol problem. More than one "yes" answer may mean that it is highly likely that a problem does exist. If you think that you or someone you are acquainted with could have a drinking problem, it is imperative that they see a doctor or other health care provider. They will be able to help you determine if there is a definite problem and plan a course of action.

For the majority of adults, moderate alcohol use does not pose a problem. Moderate use means up to two drinks a day for men and one drink a day for women and the elderly. One drink is roughly equivalent to one 12 ounce bottle of beer or wine cooler, one 5 ounce glass of wine, or 1.5 ounces of 80 proof spirits.

Certain people should not drink at all. These people include:

Women or are pregnant or are trying to become pregnant
Those who plan to drive or engage in other activities that require alertness and skill (such as driving)
People who are taking medications
Those who have pre-existing medical conditions that may be worsened by drinking
Recovering alcoholics
People who are beneath the legal drinking age of 21

If you are abusing alcohol, it is important that you moderate your drinking immediately. If you cannot maintain a safe level of drinking, you need to stop entirely.