Patient education

Alcoholism PRINT BACK

Alcoholism is a disease. It can last for a long time. It can get worse too. It can become dangerous. People with it have a strong need to drink. They drink even though they know it will cause problems. These are some signs of it.

  • Craving for alcohol.
  • Loss of control.
  • An intense, physical need for alcohol.
  • Tolerance. Needing more and more alcohol to feel the same way.

People who are dependent on alcohol cannot just stop drinking. They need help. They need support. And they need treatment. This helps them rebuild their lives.

Alcohol abuse does not include a strong craving. It does not include a loss of control. Or physical need. It is the continued use of it in spite of the harm it does. Alcohol abuse can impact lives in these ways.

  • Failure to take care of work, school or home duties.
  • Drinking when it is dangerous. This could be when driving a car. Or operating machines.
  • Having legal problems related to alcohol
  • Continuing to drink despite problems in dealing with others.

Alcohol misuse and dependence are both treatable. The sooner one seeks help, the better the results.


Alcohol travels to every cell in the body. Using too much can damage the heart over time. It can raise blood pressure too. It can lead to ulcers and weak muscles. And even death. Alcohol causes changes in a person. Even small amounts can be harmful. Higher levels cause more serious problems. Long-term alcohol use can also lead to:

  • Higher risk of a number of types of cancer.
  • Liver disease.
  • Immune system problems.
  • Brain damage.
  • Depression.
  • Anger.
  • Poor relations with others.
  • Higher risk for accidents. This includes car crashes and on-the-job accidents. There is also a higher risk for homicide and suicide.


Symptoms of alcohol abuse can vary from one person to the next. But, one type of action is the most common. A person continues to drink even though it causes many bad problems.

Problem drinkers may have family histories of it. They may behave in these ways.

  • Getting drunk on a regular basis.
  • Spending too much money and time on alcohol.
  • Having hangovers or blackouts.
  • Missing work or other duties because of drinking.
  • Using poor judgment while drinking. This could include having unsafe sex with a stranger. Or breaking the law.
  • Denying there's a problem.
  • Acting badly. This could include taking off clothes at an office party. Or going to the bathroom in public.
  • Drinking in the morning. Or drinking instead of eating meals.
  • Lying or keeping secrets about drinking.
  • Drinking so much that emergency medical treatment is needed.

If any of these apply to you, it may be time to get help. There are many programs that can help you. Maybe someone you know needs help. Let them know that you care and will help them. But a person needs to want to quit. They will not do well in treatment if they do not.


Most people have an alcoholic drink now and then. However, binge drinking is not normal. It is not healthy. Binge drinking means drinking a lot of alcohol at once. This is defined as five or more servings of alcohol for men. For women, it is four or more servings.

You may have a problem if you answer yes to any of these questions,

  • Have you ever bragged that you could easily quit if you wanted to?
  • Do you crave the feelings that come with lots of drinking?
  • Do you drink alone?
  • Do you need to have a drink every day?
  • Does it seem like you can drink much more than others?
  • Have relatives or friends complained about your drinking?
  • Do you find yourself buying extra alcohol and hiding it from others?
  • Would you like to drink less often? Or in smaller amounts? But, you can’t seem to do so?
  • Have you ever blacked out?
  • Have you ever called in sick to work because of a hangover?


Alcoholism can be treated. But you are the only one who can change your alcohol use.

It helps to learn about problems related to alcohol. You’ll learn that alcoholism is an illness. It is treatable. Treatment makes the difference. It offers help and hope. And it helps a person cope.

Types of treatment include counseling and family therapy. Support groups can help too. Medicine may be also help. Settings for treatment can include hospital care and live-in treatment. Intense outpatient treatment (known as day treatment or partial hospital care), and outpatient therapy are options as well.

You may feel that you or someone you care about has problem with alcohol. There are a many places to go for help.

  • Your family doctor may be a good place to start if you are worried about yourself. He or she will help find the best treatment for you. Your ability to be honest will help in your treatment.
  • A wide range of community resources are listed online. These include Alcoholics Anonymous, Al-Anon and Alateen. There are many others as well.
  • Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) describes itself as a "worldwide fellowship of men and women who help each other to stay sober". It is a good support program for former alcohol users. Visit
  • There are also Al-Anon Family Groups, including Alateen. They provide support for family and friends of people with substance abuse problems. Visit
  • For general information, the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) can help. Go to


This document is for your information only. It is not meant to give medical advice. It should not be used to replace a visit with a provider. Magellan Healthcare does not endorse other resources that may be mentioned here.

Reference: National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism.