For most adults, moderate alcohol use is not harmful. However, nearly 17.6 million adults in the United States are alcoholics or have alcohol problems. Alcoholism is a disease with four main features:
- Craving: a strong need to drink
- Loss of control: not being able to stop drinking once you’ve begun
- Physical dependence: withdrawal symptoms, such as nausea, sweating or shakiness after stopping drinking
- Tolerance: the need to drink greater amounts of alcohol in order to get “high”
Alcoholism carries many serious dangers. Heavy drinking can increase the risk of certain cancers. It can cause damage to the liver, brain and other organs. It can cause birth defects. It increases the risk of death from car crashes and other injuries, as well as the risk of homicide and suicide.
How to Know if Someone Has a Drinking Problem (Sign of Alcoholism)
There are two patterns of drinking: early and late onset. Some people have been heavy drinkers for many years, but over time the same amount of liquor packs a more powerful punch.
Other people develop a drinking problem later in life. Sometimes this is due to major life changes, like shifts in employment, failing health or the death of friends or loved ones. Often these life changes can bring loneliness, boredom, anxiety and depression. In fact, depression in older adults often goes along with alcohol misuse. At first, a drink seems to bring relief from stressful situations. Later on, drinking can start to cause trouble.
Not everyone who drinks regularly has a drinking problem, and not all problem drinkers drink every day. You might want to get help if you or a loved one:
- Drink to calm your nerves, forget your worries or reduce depression.
- Gulp down drinks.
- Frequently have more than one drink a day. (A standard drink is one 12-ounce bottle or can of beer or a wine cooler, one 5-ounce glass of wine or 1.5 ounces of 80-proof distilled spirits.)
- Lie about or try to hide drinking habits.
- Hurt yourself, or someone else, while drinking.
- Need more alcohol to get high.
- Feel irritable, resentful or unreasonable when not drinking.
- Have medical, social or financial worries caused by drinking.
Information provided by the National Institutes of Health