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The Definition of Alcoholism

The strict definition of alcoholism is a body that is dependent on alcohol. The alcoholic is addicted to alcohol. It’s a chronic long-term disease because the people who have it are obsessed with the substance. They cannot control their consumption. This is opposed to alcohol abuse which refers to people who have not completely lost control over how much they consume and are not as dependent on it. So, the line is very thin between an alcoholic and an alcohol abuser. It’s just a matter of degree.

In the US about 15% of the people are problem drinkers. (In the UK, the National Health Service estimates that 1 in every 13 people are alcoholics.) The World Health Organization (WHO) states there are 140 million alcoholics in the world. The majority of them are not treated.

Signs of alcoholism

• Secret drinking
• Drinking alone
• Being unable to limit how much alcohol has been consumed
• Being unable to remember periods of time (blacking out)
• Having drinking urges
• Stashing alcohol
• Getting into problems with the law, relationships, work and money because of alcohol
• Becoming irritable when drinking rituals are disturbed
• Sweating or feelings of nausea when not drinking

The concern of problem drinkers is that alcoholism or abuse can remain undetected for several years while at the same time insidiously affecting an individual socially, psychologically and physically.

Alcoholism Causes

Vulnerable individuals can become addicted in just a few months. For some, it’s a gradual process that can take years to manifest itself. Over time, regular alcohol consumption can interrupt the balance of GABA (gamma-aminobutyric acid). This is a brain chemical that controls impulsiveness. Alcohol can disrupt glutamate, a substance that stimulates the nervous system.

When alcohol is ingested it also raises dopamine levels in the brain. This might make drinking more satisfying.
Excessive drinking can alter the levels of all of these brain chemicals which can cause the individual to crave alcohol.


Researchers suggest that the lack of endorphin is hereditary. This means there is a genetic predisposition to alcohol addiction. So, people who are in families where there is a history of addiction may be at higher risk to abuse alcohol. In fact, alcoholics are six times more likely than a non-alcoholic to have alcohol dependent blood relatives.

Other Indicators of Alcoholism

First Drink: A study found that individuals who began drinking prior to the age of 15 were more likely to have a problem with alcohol later in life.
Access: Where there is easy access to alcohol (inexpensive prices) there is a correlation to alcohol abuse.

Smoking: A Yale University study discovered that smokers are five times more likely than people who have never smoked, to have problems with alcohol.

Stress: Certain stress hormones have been linked to alcoholism. Stress upheavals may be blanked out by alcohol consumption. For example, military service people returning from Afghanistan and Iraq have a tendency to experience alcohol use and posttraumatic stress disorders at the same time.

Call the number at the top of your screen now or fill out the insurance verification form that appears to the right on every page if you’re struggling with alcohol abuse. Take action, take your life back – it only takes a moment.

About The Contributor
The editorial staff of Recovery First is comprised of addiction content experts from American Addiction Centers. Our editors and medical reviewers have over a decade of cumulative experience in medical content editing and have reviewed thousands... Read More