What is Alcoholism? - Definition of Alcoholism
Alcoholism is a Disease
Many people ask, "what is alcoholism?" Alcoholism is a disease characterized by the habitual intake of alcohol. The definition of alcoholism is chronic alcohol use to the degree that it interferes with physical or mental health, or with normal social or work behavior.
Alcoholism is a disease that produces both physical and psychological addiction. Alcohol is a central nervous system depressant that reduces anxiety, inhibition, and feelings of guilt. It lowers alertness and impairs perception, judgment, and motor coordination. In high doses, it can cause loss of consciousness and even death. Alcoholism is a disease that damages the brain, liver, heart, and other organs (short-term, long-term effects of alcohol).
What is Alcoholism? - Signs and Symptoms
Spotting the signs and symptoms of alcoholism is not always easy. Alcoholism is a disease that can be seen through drinking-related arrests or job loss, but they tend to happen late in the disease.
Many signs occur earlier, yet are harder to detect. These signs include:
- An increasing tolerance to the effects of alcohol. You may have heard the expression that someone can "hold their liquor." This is not a sign that this person will not have problems with alcohol; in fact, this may be an early sign of alcoholism as a disease.
- A growing preoccupation with or interest in drinking. Also drinking alone or drinking before an activity where there will be drinking. It may seem as though one simply enjoys drinking. We now know that these can be part of the definition of alcoholism.
- A person will dispute their drinking is a problem. This symptom, called denial, is almost always present in the disease of alcoholism. See alcoholic denial.
Later, difficulties in relationships, on the job, or with the law often occur.
Other signs and symptoms closely matching the definition of alcoholism are:
- Hiding alcohol or sneaking drinks
- Gulping the first few drinks
- Wanting to drink more, or longer, than the rest of the crowd
- Losing control of drinking, leading to attempts to control it ("going on the wagon")
More detailed information on alcoholism symptoms and warning signs of alcoholism.
What is Alcoholism? - Getting Help
It is very important to seek help early as alcoholism is a disease. As the disease progresses, severe health problems can occur in almost every body system.
If you want to learn more about the signs and definition of alcoholism, consult your healthcare provider or look in the yellow pages for "alcoholism" or "alcoholism treatment." You may also wish to contact the National Council on Alcoholism at (800) NCA-CALL for more information. Most cities and towns have AA and Al-Anon meetings. These are meetings for people who have a family member with a drinking problem. If you go, you'll learn more about how alcohol, as a disease, affects families and what you can do.
Read comprehensive information on alcoholism treatment.
- DSM IV - American Psychiatric Association
- National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism
For more in-depth information on signs-symptoms, causes and treatment of alcoholism, click the "next" article below. For information on:
- Alcohol Relapse: Signs, triggers, prevention.
- Alcoholics: What is an alcoholic? Signs. How to deal with and help an alcoholic.
- Alcohol Abuse: Determining if you have a drinking problem and what do to about it. Statistics on alcohol use.
- Effects of Alcohol: short and long-term, physical and psychological. Plus alcohol withdrawl.
Last Updated: 20 June 2016
Reviewed by Harry Croft, MD