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Alcoholism Center

Alcohol Abuse

Alcohol abuse
Many people will drink small or moderate amounts of alcohol to relax and enhance their social activities. Using alcohol in this way generally is not considered harmful for most adults. But when does alcohol use become alcohol abuse?

What does alcohol do?
Alcohol depresses many central nervous system (CNS) functions. Involuntary functions, such as breathing, become more and more depressed as the amount of alcohol consumed increases.

What is alcohol abuse?
Negative effects on life including health, relationships, work or school and money, are usually attributed to people having an alcohol problem. These problems can range from very mild to extremely and perilously severe. The severity of an alcohol problem depends on many factors including:

  • the type of alcohol a person drinks
  • the quantity a person drinks
  • the duration in time of how long a person has been drinking

Alcohol abuse is a identifiable pattern of drinking that usually results in situations where a person fails to attend to important responsibilities at school, work, or at home. Alcohol abuse may also manifest as problems emerging in ongoing relationship problems or as the recurrence of alcohol-related legal problems. Usually this will include some sot of resulting physical injury. Alcohol abuse will usually result in alcohol dependence.

Alcohol abuse versus alcoholism
Alcohol abuse is different from alcohol dependence or alcoholism. Abusers of alcohol are not necessarily physically addicted to alcohol, but develop problems as a result of alcohol consumption and poor judgment, failure to understand the risks, or lack of concern about damage to themselves or others. Alcoholism, on the other hand, is physical dependence on alcohol to the extent that stopping alcohol use will bring on withdrawal symptoms. Alcoholism or alcohol dependence is a diagnosable disease. It is characterized by several factors. They may include:

  • strong cravings for alcohol
  • continued use even when harm or personal injury occurs
  • the inability to limit drinking
  • the need to increase the amount drunk to feel the effects.

Because they are not addicted, alcohol abusers remain in control of their behavior and can change their drinking patterns in response to explanations and warnings. However, alcohol abuse is a pattern of drinking that eventually leads to harming one's personal health, interpersonal relationships, or ability to work. Although the two are very similar, and alcohol abuse can lead to alcoholism, alcohol abuse can be seen as a precursor to the compulsive use of alcohol in daily life.

Why do people drink to excess? Although researchers are still looking into this question, recent studies have shown some promising answers. To learn more about possible genetic and behavioral causes of alcohol abuse, keep reading. The next section explains who may be at higher risk of developing problems with alcohol as well as causes of alcohol abuse and alcohol facts.

NEXT: Causes and Risk Factors >>