Alcoholism (Alcohol Dependence): American Medical Association recognizes alcoholism as a disease

  • Continued excessive and/or compulsive use of alcohol resulting in a chronic disorder
  • A progress disease that leads to psychological and physical dependence or addiction.

There is a difference between Alcoholism and Alcohol Abuse

Alcoholism is when you have signs of physical addiction to alcohol and continues to drink, despite problems with physical health, mental health, and social, family, or job responsibilities. Alcohol may control your life and relationships.

Alcohol Abuse is when you’re drinking leads to problems, but not physical addiction. It’s important to understand that there is a fine like between alcoholism and alcohol abuse. Many people believe they just abuse alcohol and that they can stop if they want to, but if alcohol is abused long enough a person may become an alcoholic.

Alcoholism is a disease that is characterized by the following 4 factors:

  • Craving: A strong need, or compulsion, to drink.
  • Loss of control: The frequent inability to stop drinking once a person has begun.
  • Physical dependence: The occurrence of withdrawal symptoms, such as nausea, sweating, shakiness, and anxiety, when alcohol use is stopped after a period of heavy drinking. These symptoms are usually relieved by drinking alcohol or by taking another sedative drug.
  • Tolerance: The need for increasing amounts of alcohol in order to get "high."

Alcoholism can’t be totally defined by what kind of alcohol one drinks, how long one has been drinking, or even exactly how much alcohol one consumes. Alcoholism has more to do with a person's uncontrollable need or desire to drink no matter how bad the consequences of their drinking have become. Once an alcoholic starts drinking it becomes increasingly impossible to stop on their own.

This description of alcoholism helps us understand why most alcoholics can't just "use a little willpower" to stop drinking. He or she is frequently in the grip of a powerful craving for alcohol, a need that can feel as strong as the need for food or water.

While some people are able to recover without help, the majority of alcoholics as well as those who abuse alcohol need outside assistance to recover from their disease. With support and treatment, many individuals are able to stop drinking and successfully rebuild their lives.

Many alcoholics have found much success in attending an inpatient alcohol treatment center so that they can fully focus on recovery without outside influences. It is important to recognize that aspects of a person's environment, such as peer influences and memories associated with alcohol, can tempt an alcoholic to go back to drinking before they have fully built a foundation in recovery. Both inherited and environmental influences contribute greatly to one’s alcoholism.

It is also important to know that not all of the above 4 factors of alcoholism need to be present at the same time to indicate a problem with alcohol. Alcoholism is a progressive illness that will only get worse if not treated.

If you or someone you know is concerned about a drinking problem, call toll free:

1-888-814-1881 for a free assessment & referral service. All calls are free and confidential.