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What Are Alcohol Problems?

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Updated December 03, 2011

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Question: What Are Alcohol Problems?
Many people who drink a lot wonder if they have an "alcohol problem." What they are really wondering is whether they are addicted to alcohol. But there are many different alcohol problems that can be related to alcohol use. Here are some common ones.
Answer:

The most well-known type of alcohol problem is addiction to alcohol, commonly termed "alcoholism." The technical term for this problem is "alcohol dependence syndrome." This is a complex physical and psychological condition, recognized in the DSM-IV, in which the addicted person consumes large quantities of alcohol regularly, experiences tolerance to alcohol, and withdrawal if they are unable to drink, and feels they cannot do without drinking frequently.

Although the life of a person who is addicted to alcohol revolves around drinking, they may be unaware of this, instead thinking that they have an active social life, or that they simply enjoy the taste of alcoholic drinks and the pleasure it provides. Many people who drink a lot wonder if they are addicted to alcohol, but it can take years for them to recognize the extent to which it is causing problems for them. By then, they may be suffering from physical damage from excessive alcohol use.

Another type of alcohol problem is alcohol abuse, which is also recognized in the DSM-IV. Someone with an alcohol abuse problem may not experience all of the addictive effects of alcohol dependence syndrome, but nevertheless, they drink excessively, and experience problems as a result.

Binge drinking is increasingly common. This refers to people drinking a large amount of alcohol in a short period of time, primarily for the effects of intoxication. Binge drinking can be part of both alcohol dependence and alcohol abuse, but it can also occur in one-off, sporadic or infrequent drinking episodes.

Although binge drinkers may not suffer from the addictive aspects of alcohol dependence, or even the lifestyle problems that may arise from alcohol abuse, it can be just as dangerous. Some of the reasons for this include the lack of tolerance of the body for large amounts of alcohol, the inexperience of binge drinkers in handling intoxication -- particularly if they are under-age drinkers who are bingeing prior to going out to avoid being caught drinking, and the high risk of injuries from falls, accidents and fights which occur while intoxicated.

Other alcohol problems are often recognized in relation to social problems, such as family violence, rape, and drunk driving. These problems are secondary to alcohol use, but may be a direct consequence of drinking.

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