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Alcoholism (Alcohol use disorder)
Classification and external resources
Gin Lane: anti-alcohol visual propaganda by William Hogarth, 1751

Alcoholism is addiction to alcohol. People who have alcoholism are called alcoholics.

Alcoholism is a disease.[1][2][3] It often gets worse over time, and can kill a person. However, alcoholism can be treated.[3]

Alcohol is the most commonly used drug in the world.[4] Around the world, there are at least 208 million people with alcoholism.[5][6]

Alcoholism is a condition with a social stigma. Because of this, alcoholics often feel ashamed of their drinking. They may try to hide their drinking, avoid getting help, or refuse to believe that they are alcoholics, because they are too ashamed.


Alcoholism is a prison

Being an alcoholic does not mean that a person just drinks a lot of alcohol. It means that they cannot control how much alcohol they drink. No matter how badly they want to, once they take one drink, they cannot stop drinking.[7]

To be diagnosed with alcoholism, a person has to have three of these symptoms in the past year:[7]

  1. They feel like they have to drink alcohol.
  2. They cannot control when they start. drinking; when they stop drinking; or how much they drink.
  3. They get alcohol withdrawal symptoms when they stop drinking.
  4. They have to drink more and more alcohol to feel drunk (this is called tolerance).
  5. They spend less time doing things they used to enjoy, because they are spending so much time drinking. They spend a lot of time getting alcohol, drinking alcohol, or feeling sick from drinking too much.
  6. They keep drinking even though they know it is causing serious problems in their life.
  7. Drinking or being sick from drinking interfered with work, family responsibilities, school, or social engagements.
  8. They continues to drink despite changes to mood, such as depression or anxiety or drinking too much much began to affect other aspects of their mental or physical health. Alternately, the person suffered more than one memory blackout.[8]
  9. They drank even though doing so increased the chances of getting hurt, such as drinking before driving.

There is no medical test, like a blood test, that can say whether a person is an alcoholic. There are some questionnaires (lists of questions) that can help tell whether a person may be an alcoholic. These questionnaires include the CAGE questionnaire (for adults) and the CRAFFT Screening Test (for teenagers).

Alcoholism causes many problems

Problems in the body

File:What Alcohol Does to Your Body.webm Alcoholism can cause many health problems. For example, it can cause:[9][10]

If a person drinks too much at one time, they can get alcohol poisoning. This can cause breathing problems, coma, and even death.

In 2012, alcohol use caused 3.3 million deaths around the world. This means that in 2012, about 3 out of every 50 deaths in the world were caused by alcohol use.[12]

Problems in life

Alcoholism can also cause many problems in alcoholics' lives. These include:[13]

Alcohol withdrawal

If an alcoholic stops drinking suddenly, they can get alcohol withdrawal.

The most serious form of alcohol withdrawal is delirium tremens (often called "DTs"). Delirium tremens is a medical emergency. Many people who get the DTs die from them.[16][17]

This does not mean that alcoholics should not stop drinking. It means that alcoholics should talk to a doctor or go to a hospital before they stop drinking. Doctors can give medications to make sure that a person is safe while they stop drinking.[17]


Map showing average amounts of alcohol drunk per year. People in yellow countries drink the most alcohol. People in green countries drink medium amounts of alcohol. People in blue countries drink very little alcohol.[18]
Map showing how many years of healthy life every 100,000 people lost because of alcoholism in 2004
* Yellows: Under 50 to 410 * Oranges: 410 to 770 * Reds: 770 to 1250 * Dark red: Over 1250

In 2010, the World Health Organization (WHO) estimated that there were 208 million people with alcoholism around the world. (This is 4.1% of the world's population over age 15.)[5][6] In 2001, the WHO estimated that there were about 140 million alcoholics around the world.[19][20] This means that in the nine years between 2001 and 2010, about 68 million people became alcoholics.

Around the world

People in developed countries drink the most alcohol.[18]p.4

Alcoholism is more common in some areas than others. Here is a list of all the areas in the world. It is in order from the areas where alcoholism is most common to the areas where it is least common:[18]p.21

  1. The European area
  2. The Americas
  3. The Western Pacific area (including China, Japan, Korea, Vietnam, Australia, New Zealand, and many islands in the Pacific Ocean)
  4. The Southeast Asian area
  5. Africa
  6. The Eastern Mediterranean area (including the Middle East and northeast Africa)

There are many reasons why alcoholism is more common in some areas than others. Some of these reasons include religion, culture, laws, and people's attitudes about drinking. For example, on average, people in Northern Africa, the Middle East, and islands in the Indian Ocean drink less than people anywhere else in the world.[18]p.4 These are areas where many people are Muslims. Many Muslims in these areas do not drink any alcohol, because the Koran says not to.[18]p.4 In some of these countries, drinking alcohol is illegal.

However, in other areas, like Western Europe, alcohol is a part of daily life.[21] It is legal and easy to get. People very commonly drink alcohol with meals. Very few people drink no alcohol.[21] People's attitudes about alcohol are very different than attitudes in mostly Muslim countries. This is an example of how differences in religion, culture, laws, and attitudes about drinking can affect the amount of alcohol use and alcoholism in different areas.

Men and women

Alcoholism is more common in men than in women. However, in the past few decades, the number of female alcoholics has increased.[22]

Female alcoholics are most common in the Americas and Europe. In the United States and Western Europe, five to ten percent of women will become alcoholics at some point in their lives.[23]

In the Southeast Asian and Western Pacific areas, less than 1% of women are alcoholics. In Africa and the Eastern Mediterranean area, almost no women are alcoholics.[18]p.21

Young people

In many countries, young people are using more and more alcohol. In a 2008 WHO survey, underage drinking had increased in 71% of countries. Drinking by young adults (ages 18-25) had increased in 80% of countries.[18]p.10

Treatment options

Alcoholism can be treated. There are many forms of treatment for alcoholism.


Before stopping alcohol suddenly, a person should see a doctor to come up with a safe plan

Detoxification (detox) is often the first step in treating alcoholism.[24] "Detoxification" means "getting toxins out of the body." Alcohol detoxification means that the alcoholic stops drinking, so that alcohol (a toxin) can get out of their body. The alcoholic also needs to give their body time to recover from not having alcohol any more.

It is not safe for an alcoholic to suddenly stop drinking on their own.[17] The safest way to stop drinking is to go to a hospital that specializes in alcohol detoxification. These hospitals are often called "detoxes" or "rehabs[25]." These places can make sure that an alcoholic has a safe detox. They can also give medications to make the alcoholic more comfortable, and to prevent symptoms of alcohol withdrawal. The most common medications that doctors give during alcohol detox are benzodiazepines.[26]p.35

Once a person stops drinking alcohol, they are called sober. Most people need other treatments to help them stay sober.[27] [26]

Detox can be an intense process, and some people experience very strong emotions during it. This is complicated by the fact that, in the past, they may have used drugs or alcohol to help them handle strong emotions. In detox, the therapist helps them manage their emotions.[28]


Psychotherapy and group therapy can help alcoholics stay sober. For example, they can help alcoholics learn how to:[26]

  • Deal with stress without using alcohol
  • Figure out what makes them want to drink, and learn how to deal with those things without drinking
  • Plan what they will do if they are around people who are drinking
  • Come up with reasons for why they want to stay sober, and use those things as motivation to stay sober (this is called Motivational Interviewing)
  • Change their thoughts about drinking and how they react to those thoughts (this is called Cognitive-behavioral therapy)


Some medications can help alcoholics stay sober. These medications include:[26]pp.130-144

  • Antabuse: This medication makes a person very sick if they drink any alcohol. It can make an alcoholic not want to drink any more, because they do not want to get sick.
  • Naltrexone: This medication causes changes in the brain. These changes make alcoholics not want to drink alcohol as much as they normally do. Also, if an alcoholic does drink alcohol, the naltrexone will block the alcohol from making them feel good, and they are more likely to stop drinking.
  • Acamprosate: Acamprosate, which goes by the brand name Campral, is the newest of the drugs to be approved for treating alcohol dependence. Like naltrexone, acamprosate works by altering brain’s response to alcohol so that person less likely to experience cravings. Acamprosate may also alleviate some of the long-term physical effects of withdrawing from alcohol, like edginess, sleep disturbances and depression. [29]
  • Benzodiazepines: Benzodiazepines are anti-anxiety medications commonly used as sedatives. They can be prescribed and used during alcohol detox to relieve symptoms of withdrawal. They reduce hallucinations, seizures, and delirium tremens. This is because the medication affects the same part of the brain as alcohol, allowing the body to continue its purge, while still feeling some of the effects it has grown to need. Common benzodiazepines include Xanax, Librium, Valium, and Ativan.


Many alcoholics do not have enough vitamins in their body. This can cause serious problems. For example, if an alcoholic does not have enough thiamine, they can get brain damage. Often, alcoholics are treated with thiamine to prevent brain damage. They may also be given other vitamins if needed.[26]p.144

Groups for alcoholics

Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) is the biggest support and mutual aid group for alcoholics in the world.[30] This means that in AA groups, alcoholics come together to support each other and help each other recover. AA uses a twelve-step program. This program is meant to help alcoholics fix the problems their alcoholism has caused.[31]

There are also other groups for alcoholics, like:[32]

  • SMART Recovery
  • Secular Organizations for Sobriety (SOS)
  • Women for Sobriety
  • LifeRing Secular Recovery
  • Celebrate Recovery (based on Christianity and the Bible)

Related pages


  1. "ICD-10 Classification of Mental and Behavioral Disorders". World Health Organization. 
  2. Morse RM; Flavin DK 1992. "The Definition of Alcoholism". Journal of the American Medical Association (The American Medical Association) 268 (8): 1012-1014. doi:10.1001/jama.1992.03490080086030 . 
  3. 3.0 3.1 Mersy DJ 2003. "Recognition of Alcohol and Substance Abuse". American Family Physician (American Association of Family Physicians) 67 (7): 1529-1532. PMID 12722853 . Retrieved February 20, 2016. 
  4. Winstock, Adam (June 7, 2015). "The Global Drug Survey 2014 Findings: Reflections on the results of the world’s biggest ever drug survey by Dr. Adam Winstock". Global Drug Survey. 
  5. 5.0 5.1 World Health Organisation (2010). "Alcohol". 
  6. 6.0 6.1 "Global Population Estimates by Age, 1950–2050". 
  7. 7.0 7.1 "The ICD-10 Classification of Mental and Behavioral Disorders: Clinical Descriptions and Diagnostic Guidelines". World Health Organization. 
  8. "How to Stop Drinking Alcohol - Learn to Quit Alcohol & Get Help" (in en-US). 
  9. "Beyond Hangovers: Understanding Alcohol’s Impact On Your Health". United States National Institutes of Health, Department of Health and Human Services. 
  10. Caan, Woody; Belleroche, Jackie de, eds. (April 11, 2002). Drink, Drugs and Dependence: From Science to Clinical Practice (1st ed.). Routledge. pp. 19–20. ISBN 978-0-415-27891-1 . 
  11. "Alcohol's Effects on the GI Tract | Laguna Treatment". 
  12. "Alcohol". World Health Organization. 2016. 
  13. World Health Organization (2004) “Part I: Consequences of Alcohol Use: Social Problems Associated with Alcohol Use.” In Global Status Report on Alcohol 2004 . World Health Organization, 59-64. Report.
  14. "What does alcoholism do to family?" (in en). 
  15. "Couples and Addiction to Alcohol". 
  16. Burns, MD, FACEP, FACP, Michael James (April 14, 2015). "Delirium Tremens (DTs)". Medscape. 
  17. 17.0 17.1 17.2 National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (2010) Alcohol Use Disorders: Diagnosis and Clinical Management of Alcohol-Related Physical Complications - NICE Clinical Guidelines, No. 100 . Royal College of Physicians. Report.
  18. 18.0 18.1 18.2 18.3 18.4 18.5 18.6 World Health Organization (2011) Global Status Report on Alcohol and Health . WHO Press. Report.
  19. Dr Gro Harlem Brundtland (19 February 2001). "WHO European Ministerial Conference on Young People and Alcohol". World Health Organisation. 
  20. Riley, Leanne (31 January 2003). "WHO to meet beverage company representatives to discuss health-related alcohol issues". World Health Organisation. 
  21. 21.0 21.1 Bloomfield, Kim; Stockwell, Tim; Gmel, Gerhard; Rehn, Nina (December 2003). "International Comparisons of Alcohol Consumption". United States National Institute of Health. 
  22. Walter H, Gutierrez K, Ramskogler K, Hertling I, Dvorak A, Lesch OM (November 2003). "Gender-specific differences in alcoholism: implications for treatment". Archives of Women's Mental Health 6 (4): 253–8. doi:10.1007/s00737-003-0014-8 . PMID 14628177 . 
  23. Keller, Mark (February 8, 2016). "alcoholism". Encyclopædia Britannica. 
  24. "Treatment Strategies for Alcohol Abuse". Spiritual River. 21 May 2015. 
  25. "Long Term Drug Rehab Facilities and How to Find One" (in en-US). 
  26. 26.0 26.1 26.2 26.3 26.4 Raistrick, Duncan; Heather, Nick; Godfrey, Christine Review of the Effectiveness of Treatment for Alcohol Problems . National Health System of the United Kingdom. Report.
  27. "What to do if You Have Blown Your Sobriety Efforts". Spiritual River. 29 June 2015. 
  28. June 23, American Addiction Centers Editorial StaffLast updated on; 2020 (2014-01-10). "3-Day, 5-Day, and 7-Day Detox Programs and What They Offer" (in en). 
  29. Mason, Barbara J.; Heyser, Charles J. (2010-3). "Acamprosate: A prototypic neuromodulator in the treatment of alcohol dependence". CNS & neurological disorders drug targets 9 (1): 23–32. ISSN 1871-5273 . PMC 2853976 . PMID 20201812 . 
  30. Pagano ME, Friend KB et al. 2004. "Helping Other Alcoholics in Alcoholics Anonymous and Drinking Outcomes: Findings from Project MATCH". Journal of Studies on Alcohol and Drugs 65 (6): 766-773. Retrieved February 21, 2016. 
  31. Wilson, Bill (June 2001). Alcoholics Anonymous (4th ed.). Alcoholics Anonymous World Services. ISBN 1-893007-16-2 . OCLC 32014950 . Retrieved February 21, 2016. 
  32. Horvath, Tom (July 20, 2012). "If Not AA, Then What? SMART Recovery and the AA Alternatives". Inc.. 

Other websites

Help for alcoholism

Groups for alcoholics and their families