What is Alcoholism?


Alcoholism, also known as alcohol use disorder or alcohol dependence, is when an individual drinks so much that the body becomes addicted or dependent upon alcohol. Characteristics of alcoholism are difficulty controlling drinking, using alcohol even when it makes life problematic, and being preoccupied with alcohol or having withdrawal symptoms when you stop drinking. Outpatient care is a critical step in recovering from alcoholism.

Types of Alcoholism

There are different types of alcoholism, based on the frequency and amount of drinking. The three types of alcohol problems are:

Binge Drinking – Characterized by a pattern of drinking in which males drink more than 5 drinks in one sitting or females drink more than four drinks. Binge drinking can be extremely damaging to your health. Although binge drinking is classified as a mild form, and you may not have a severe problem, it is still alcoholism.

Alcohol Abuse – When drinking causes serious problems in your life and you still make the choice to drink, although you are not dependent on alcohol.

Alcohol Dependence – Occurs when you have been drinking so much that your body is now dependent on alcohol. You actually need alcohol to function. If you stop drinking, you will have withdrawal symptoms, which are unpleasant and can be dangerous. You are alcohol dependent if you have any of the following issues:

  • To get the same effect, you must drink more and more.
  • You can’t control how much you drink, or cut back even when you have tried.
  • Despite causing harm to your body, you continue to drink.
  • Despite having issues in relationships, or at work, school, or with family, you continue to drink.
  • You have withdrawal symptoms when you try to quit such as nausea, sweating, shaking, insomnia, anxiety and more.
  • You have a strong urge to drink.
  • Worrying you won’t get enough alcohol for an event or weekend.

Causes of Alcoholism

There are multiple factors that contribute to alcoholism. A person’s biology, psychology, and social and environmental factors play a part. Alcohol abuse and dependency can actually make chemical changes in your brain. These changes increase the good feelings you get when you drink, making you want to drink more. Like other drugs, alcohol will eventually not have the pleasurable impact it had, and you will need to drink even more to prevent withdrawal symptoms. Alcoholism is also known to run in families and, according to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, the increase in risk for first-degree relatives such as brother/sister and parent/child developing alcohol dependency ranges from four to seven times the risk compared to the general population.

Mental health issues, i.e. depression, anxiety, and bipolar disorder often go hand in hand with alcoholism. It is difficult to determine what comes first, but often people with a mental health illness self-medicate with alcohol, which in turn makes mental health more fragile. The National Alliance on Mental Illness reports that 37 percent of alcohol abusers and 53 percent of drug abusers also have at least one serious mental illness.

Warning Signs & Symptoms

Alcoholism is a disease and the signs and symptoms are often not just physical, but behavioral as well. Symptoms also often vary from one person to another, so it can be difficult to diagnose someone, particularly if that person is adept at hiding their excessive drinking. Physical signs include shaking the morning after drinking, sweating, alcohol cravings, withdrawal symptoms when not drinking, blacking out after drinking, depression and increased tolerance. Behavioral warning signs include drinking alone, neglecting social or professional responsibilities, becoming angry when asked about alcohol use, eating poorly or neglecting personal hygiene, and continuing to drink even when it is causing personal, social, financial or professional problems.

alcoholism 2

Health Complications

While excessive drinking can have adverse effects on your personal and professional life, it can also do major damage to the body’s organs. Alcohol use can complicate other illnesses, like diabetes, and interact negatively with needed medications. There are multiple health complications that arise because of alcohol use disorder such as:

  • Alcoholic cardiomyopathy (heart disease)
  • Alcoholic ketoacidosis – dehydration like symptoms
  • Anemia – decrease in red blood cells
  • Cancer
  • Cardiovascular disease
  • Central pontine myelinolysis (brain degeneration)
  • Cerebellar (brain) atrophy
  • Cessation of menses
  • Cirrhosis – scarring of the liver
  • Dementia
  • Depression
  • Erectile dysfunction
  • Gastritis
  • Gastrointestinal bleeding
  • Gout
  • Hallucinations
  • High blood pressure
  • Infectious disease
  • Malnutrition
  • Nerve damage
  • Pancreatitis – inflammation of the pancreas
  • Peptic (stomach) ulcers
  • Seizures
  • Wernicke’s encephalopathy (abnormal brain functioning)


Alcoholism is a treatable disease and there are many programs (including the 12-step program) and centers available to help alcoholics recover, although there is no medical cure. Treatment begins when the alcoholic accepts there is a problem, needs help and agrees to stop drinking. Treatment has three stages: detoxification, rehabilitation, and maintaining sobriety.

Detoxification must be done under the guidance of a treatment center or medical professional. Longtime heavy drinkers will experience withdrawal symptoms, which can be unpleasant and include shakes, seizures, hallucination and delirium tremens (DTs). About 95 percent of alcoholics have mild withdrawal symptoms that can be treated in an outpatient setting, while five percent experience severe symptoms that must be treated in a hospital setting specializing in detoxification.

Rehabilitation – After detox, maintaining sobriety focuses on the psychological, with treatment plans that include counseling, behavioral changes, and learning why you drink. Oral and injected medications also support the recovery process and help with withdrawal.

Maintaining Sobriety involves staying focused and creating a support system that includes professional counseling to help manage relapses and lifestyle changes. Another step is attending aftercare programs and support groups such as AA’s (Alcoholics Anonymous) 12 Step Program where individuals share their stories and help others to recover. Creating a strong community of like-minded people who hold you accountable is also a vital part of maintaining sobriety.

Contact The Outpatient Center Today – Compassionate Experts in Recovery

The Outpatient Center is South Florida’s answer to your alcohol recovery needs. If you or someone you love is struggling with addiction, contact or give The Outpatient Center a call at (844)211-7944 today. Experienced, compassionate counselors are available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week and are standing by to help guide you through recovery.

See our related blogs on The Serious Signs of Alcoholism and The Stages of Alcoholism.


  • http://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/alcohol-use-disorder/basics/definition/con-20020866
  • http://www.webmd.com/mental-health/addiction/alcohol-abuse-and-dependence-topic-overview#1
  • https://pubs.niaaa.nih.gov/publications/Social/Module10JFamilies/Module10J.html
  • https://www.verywell.com/treatment-of-alcoholism-66521
  • https://helpguide.org/articles/addiction/substance-abuse-and-mental-health.htm