Glossary of Medical Terms

Alcohol abuse

In alcohol abuse, a person continues to drink even though it causes significant problems in his or her life. Alcohol abuse is characterized by a pattern of continuous and heavy alcohol use, becoming intoxicated on weekends, or having drinking binges in between periods of not drinking.

Signs of alcohol abuse include having problems at home (such as arguments about drinking), at work (such as absences or decreased work performance), or with the law (such as arrests for driving under the influence of alcohol). Over time, health problems such as high blood pressure, liver problems, or digestive problems usually develop.

Health professionals make a clinical distinction between people who have problem drinking (alcohol abuse) and people who are addicted to alcohol (alcohol dependence). Unlike in alcohol dependence, alcohol abuse does not usually involve withdrawal symptoms, an increased tolerance of alcohol, or a compulsion to use alcohol. However, alcohol abuse can develop into alcohol dependence.

The causes of alcohol abuse and dependence involve genetic, physical, social, and emotional factors.

The best treatment for alcohol abuse is to stop drinking. Education and support can be provided by many sources, including a counselor, health professional, or a support organization, such as Alcoholics Anonymous.

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