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Alcohol Abuse

What is it?

  • Many people drink beer, wine, liquor, like vodka, whiskey, or other drinks that have alcohol in them. Alcohol is so common that it is easy to forget that it is a legal drug. It can taste good and may also make you feel good. Most people can drink alcohol with few or no problems. But it can cause very serious problems if it is drunk too much or at the wrong times. These problems may affect your health, work, family, or friends.
  • Some people who abuse alcohol drink every day. But others are binge drinkers who drink large amounts of alcohol only at certain times, like weekends. And still others drink heavily for weeks or months, stop drinking for a short while, and then restart drinking. Any of these people may be abusing alcohol. With help they can stop drinking.
  • Alcohol abuse is an illness with 2 parts. These include what alcohol does to your body and what it does to your life.
    • Body changes: Drinking a lot of alcohol for a long time can make you dependent (d-pen-dent) on alcohol. This means that you feel like you have to have it. You can get sick if you stop drinking all at once. It can also cause serious damage to the liver, brain, and heart.
    • Life changes: You may lose your family or job, get hurt or hurt someone else while drunk. You may drive when drunk and may even get arrested for driving drunk.

What causes alcohol abuse?

It is not known for sure what causes alcohol abuse. You may be at a higher risk of abusing alcohol if you have parents or close relatives with a drinking problem. Men seem to be more likely to abuse alcohol than women. You may use alcohol to help depression, anxiety, loneliness, unhappiness, or other personal problems.

How much alcohol is too much?

Your age, health, size, and other things affect how your body deals with alcohol. Different people have different ideas about what "too much" means. It is important to remember that how often you drink is as important as how much you drink. Drinking often could be a sign of a problem. But you don't have to drink every day to have a drinking problem. Some people drink rarely but may have a drinking problem because they drink too much when drinking. The following may help you decide if you are a light, medium, or heavy drinker.

  • Light drinker. This means drinking less than 1 drink every day.
  • Medium drinker. This means drinking 1 or 2 drinks every day.
  • Heavy drinker. This means drinking more than 2 drinks every day.

How can I tell if I have an alcohol problem?

Alcohol may be a problem for you if it causes a problem in any part of your life. Following are signs that you may have a drinking problem or are alcohol dependent.

  • Blacking out or forgetting where you were or what you were doing.
  • Drinking to get drunk. Or, you may feel like you need to drink more to get the same feeling or "buzz."
  • Drinking to decrease pain or stress.
  • Drinking more than you had expected to drink.
  • Drinking in a pattern, like every day or every week at the same time.
  • Drinking may start to take over and destroy your life. You may not show up for work or drive when you are drunk.
  • Feeling guilty or angry when someone says something about your drinking.
  • Hallucinating (huh-lew-sin-a-ting). This is when you see or hear things that are not there.
  • Having big personality changes when drinking.
  • Planning activities around drinking.
  • Seizures (convulsions).
  • Shaking of your hands if you have not had a drink for a while.
  • Sleeping problems or bad dreams.
  • Sweating, nervousness, confusion, or depression.
  • Thinking a lot about drinking.
  • Trouble having erections in men.
  • Trying to hide how much you drink.

What about women and alcohol?

When a pregnant woman drinks alcohol her unborn baby also drinks it. The same amount of alcohol that is in the woman's blood quickly goes to her baby's blood. The more a woman drinks during pregnancy the greater the danger to her unborn baby. It is even more serious if a woman drinks during early pregnancy when her baby's body systems are being formed. Fetal alcohol syndrome (FAS) is the name given to a group of problems that a baby can have when he is born. This may happen because the baby's mother drank too much alcohol during pregnancy. The baby may have mental, behavior, and physical problems. These problems will continue throughout the baby's life.


Your caregiver may give you a check-up to see if you have any other illnesses or injuries. You may also want to see a counselor. It can take many months or years of treatment to stop drinking.


You may feel scared, confused, and anxious because of your alcohol abuse. You may blame yourself and think you have done something wrong. These feelings are common. Talk about them with your caregiver or with someone close to you. Ask your caregiver about support groups for people with alcohol abuse problems, like Alcoholics Anonymous (AA), Alateen, Alanon, or others. Such a group can give you support and information. You can also look in the phone book under "alcoholism information." For more information write or call the following organizations.

  • Alcoholics Anonymous
    Web Address:
  • National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence
    22 Cortlandt St., Suite 801
    New York City, NY 10007-3128
    Phone: 1-212-269-7797
    Phone: 1-800-622-2255
    Web Address:
  • US Department of Health & Human Services, Administration on Aging
    Phone: 1-202-619-0724
    Web Address:

Care Agreement

You have the right to help plan your care. To help with this plan, you must learn about alcohol abuse. You can then discuss your treatment options with caregivers. Work with them to decide what care will be used to treat you. You always have the right to refuse treatment.

Further information

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