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Abuse of Alcohol


Alcohol abuse

  • is unhealthy drinking behavior. You may drink too much at one time once a week, or continue to drink too much daily. You continue to drink even though it causes problems. The problems can be alcohol related legal problems or problems with work or family.
  • If you drink too much at one time, you are binge drinking. Binge drinking is when you have a large amount of alcohol in a short time. Your blood alcohol concentrations (BAC) goes above 0.08 g/dLlevel during binge drinking. For men, this usually happens with more than 4 drinks in 2 hours. For women, it is more than 3 drinks in 2 hours. A drink is 12 ounces of beer, 4 ounces of wine, or 1½ ounces of liquor.

Common signs and symptoms of alcohol abuse include:

Each person that abuses alcohol may have different symptoms. The following are common signs and symptoms of alcohol abuse:

  • Loss of interest in activities, work, and school
  • Decreased interest in family and friends
  • Depression
  • Constant thoughts about drinking
  • Not able to control the amount you drink
  • Restlessness, or erratic and violent behavior

Call 911 for any of the following:

  • You have sudden chest pain or trouble breathing.
  • You have a seizure or have shaking or trembling.
  • You feel like you could harm yourself or others.
  • You were in an accident because of alcohol.

Seek care immediately if:

  • You have hallucinations (you see or hear things that are not real).
  • You cannot stop vomiting or you vomit blood.

Contact your healthcare provider if:

  • You need help to stop drinking alcohol.
  • You have questions or concerns about your condition or care.

Long-term effects of alcohol abuse:

  • Blackouts
  • Memory loss
  • Dementia
  • Liver disease
  • Thiamine (vitamin B1) deficiency

Treatment for alcohol abuse

may include the following:

  • Detoxification (detox) and withdrawal is a program that helps you to safely get alcohol out of your body. Detox can also help get rid of the physical need to drink. Healthcare providers monitor the physical symptoms of withdrawal. They may give you medicines to help decrease nausea, dehydration, and seizures. Healthcare providers will also monitor your blood pressure, heart and breathing rates, and your temperature. Symptoms of anxiety, depression, and suicidal thoughts are also monitored and managed during detox. Healthcare providers may give you medicines for these symptoms and therapy sessions will be available to you. Detox is usually done at a detox center or in a hospital. Healthcare providers do not recommend that you try to detox at home or by yourself. Withdrawal symptoms may become life threatening. The center can help you find 12 step programs or an individual therapist to help with emotional support after detox.
  • Inpatient and outpatient treatment focus on your personal needs to help you stop drinking. Treatment helps you understand the reasons you abuse alcohol. Counselors and therapists provide you with support and help you find ways to cope instead of drinking. You may need inpatient treatment to provide a controlled environment. You may need outpatient treatment after your inpatient treatment is complete.
  • Alcohol aversion therapy takes away the desire to drink by causing a negative reaction when you drink. Healthcare providers may give you medicines that cause nausea and vomiting when you drink alcohol. They may instead give you a medicine that decreases your urge to drink alcohol. These medicines are used to help you stop drinking or reduce the amount you drink. They can also help you avoid relapse.

Risks of alcohol abuse:

Alcohol abuse increases your risk for gastrointestinal cancers, brain damage and problems with your immune system. It also increases your risk for heart, kidney, and lung damage. The risk of stroke increases with alcohol abuse. If you are pregnant and drink alcohol, you and your baby are at risk for serious health problems.

Avoid alcohol:

You should stop drinking entirely. Alcohol can damage your brain, heart, and liver. It also increases your risk for injury, high blood pressure, and certain types of cancer. Alcohol is dangerous when you combine it with certain medicines.

Do not drive if you drink alcohol:

Make sure someone who has not been drinking can help you get home.

Get support:

Most people need support to stop drinking alcohol. Mental health providers, support groups, rehabilitation centers, and your healthcare provider can provide support.

For more information:

  • Alcoholics Anonymous
    Web Address:
  • Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration
    PO Box 2345
    Rockville , MD 20847-2345
    Web Address:

Follow up with your healthcare provider as directed:

Write down your questions so you remember to ask them during your visits.

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The above information is an educational aid only. It is not intended as medical advice for individual conditions or treatments. Talk to your doctor, nurse or pharmacist before following any medical regimen to see if it is safe and effective for you.

Further information

Always consult your healthcare provider to ensure the information displayed on this page applies to your personal circumstances.

Learn more about Abuse of Alcohol (Ambulatory Care)

Associated drugs

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