Alcoholism is a disease which is chronic, progressive, resistant to treatment, prone to relapse after treatment, and if unchecked, is fatal. People with active alcoholism think about alcohol constantly and continue to drink even though it causes problems in their lives. They drink more and more to get the same effect, or sometimes just to feel “normal.” Denial of alcoholism is part of the problem. An active alcoholic can’t predict how much or how long he will drink, or what consequences will happen when under the influence. An alcoholic who stops drinking will have withdrawal symptoms such as nausea, shaking, and irritability. Some people have problems with alcohol but it isn’t alcoholism – yet. Binge drinking speeds up the progression to alcoholism.

Symptoms and Diagnosis

An alcoholic feels compelled to drink, with inability to limit the amount consumed. “Blackouts” occur, in which the drinker cannot recall events which happened while drinking. Alcoholics drink alone or hide their drinking.

One drink is defined as 12 ounces of beer, 8-9 ounces of malt liquor, 5 ounces of wine, or 1.5 ounces of liquor which is more than 40 percent alcohol. Diagnosis is made based on history. One of the most useful tools for diagnosis is a simple series of questions asked by family, friends, health professionals, or the drinker himself, which uses the word “CAGE”. The “C” is about attempts to CUT back on consumption. The “A” is about the drinker feeling ANNOYED when concerns are expressed by others. The “G” is for feeling GUILTY about drinking. The “E” is about needing an EYE opener in the morning. A yes answer to even one of the questions indicates there is a strong possibility the drinker is an alcoholic. Taking a step back, if anyone is triggered to ask the questions, there is a problem. When there is no problem, it does not occur to anyone to ask the questions.

There are no specific laboratory tests for alcoholism. The diagnosis applies when there is evidence of tolerance, meaning more alcohol is required to get the same effects. Withdrawal symptoms, drinking more and longer than is intended, wanting to cut back on consumption but the drinker is unable to do so, spending large amounts of time drinking, giving up important activities, and continuing to use alcohol despite health, social, financial, employment and relationship problems, are all signs and symptoms of alcoholism.


Alcoholism runs in families. There are also social, emotional, and psychologicfactors which contribute to the development of alcoholism. Chemicals in the brain related to pleasure, judgement, and control respond differently to alcohol than does the brain in non-alcoholics. Risk factors include age, depression or other mental illness, continuous drinking over time, family history, social and cultural norms, and mixing alcohol with medications. Continue reading for Prevention and Treatment Information . . .

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