Alcoholism and alcohol abuse

Alternative Names

Alcohol dependence; Alcohol abuse; Problem drinking; Drinking problem

Definition of Alcoholism and alcohol abuse

Alcoholism (alcohol dependence) and alcohol abuse are two different forms of problem drinking.

Causes, incidence, and risk factors

There is no known cause of alcohol abuse or alcoholism. The reason why some people drink in a responsible manner and never lose control of their lives while others are unable to control their drinking is not clear.


Signs of physical dependence include:

Signs and tests

All doctors should ask their patients about their drinking. The health care provider can get a history from the family if the affected person is unwilling or unable to answer questions. A physical examination is done to identify physical problems related to alcohol use.


Abstinence is defined as completely avoiding the use of alcohol.

Expectations (prognosis)

Only 15% of people with alcohol dependence seek treatment for this disease. Drinking again after treatment is common, so it is important to maintain support systems in order to cope with any slips and ensure that they don’t turn into complete reversals.


David B. Merrill, MD, Assistant Clinical Professor of Psychiatry, Department of Psychiatry, Columbia University Medical Center, New York, NY. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, A.D.A.M., Inc. – 4/5/2010

Liver cirrhosis, CT scan
Liver fattening, CT scan
Liver with disproportional fattening, CT scan
Alcohol and diet
Liver anatomy

ADAM Medical Encyclopedia

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