Alcoholism is a serious problem in the United States. Consequences of alcohol use and abuse affect not only the drinker but also families, communities, and the workplace. Not all drinkers become alcoholics. Social drinkers tend to act responsibly when consuming alcohol. Problem drinkers, however, engage in alcohol abuse, which is characterized by recurrent alcohol use with negative consequences or drinking patterns that result in personal, legal, professional, or academic problems as defined by the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders.
Alcoholism, or alcohol dependence, is characterized by long-term use of alcohol which, if withheld, results in withdrawal symptoms. It may be possible to identify a problem drinker by observing types of drinking behavior. Signs of alcohol problems may include:
- craving for alcohol
- drinking alone
- Being secretive about drinking
- lying about alcohol use
- hiding alcohol or empty bottles
- unpredictable behavior when drinking
- anxiety in situations where alcohol is not available
- increasing amount of alcohol consumption
- passing out from alcohol consumption
- memory blackouts
- being late for meetings or important appointments
- "forgetting" social obligations or family responsibilities
- using alcohol in times of stress
- engaging in risky behavior when drinking (for example, driving)
- drinking in the morning and at other unusual times
- calling in "sick" frequently
- often looking and feeling bad
- denying that alcohol is a problem
- physical dependence on alcohol
- exhibiting withdrawal symptoms if alcohol is withheld
The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) has developed the CAGE questionnaire to help the alcoholic or family to determine if alcohol use is problematic.
- Have you ever felt you should Cut down on your drinking?
- Have people Annoyed you by criticizing your drinking?
- Have you ever felt bad or Guilty about your drinking?
- Have you ever had a drink the first thing in the morning to steady your nerves or get rid of a hangover (Eye opener)?
One positive response is indicative of a possible problem with alcohol. More than one positive response means it is highly likely that a problem exists. Since those with alcohol problems often experience denial, any drinking-related problems should be suspect even if the drinker responds "no" to the CAGE questionnaire.
Not all alcoholics exhibit the same drinking pattern. Some drink every day; others engage in heavy drinking on the weekends. Stressful life experiences may be the impetus for very heavy episodic drinking. Some alcoholics drink only late in the day and never in the mornings. Others engage in long periods of sobriety alternating with binge drinking episodes that can last weeks or months.
Researchers have recently categorized alcoholism into two types:
- can affect both males and females
- late onset
- associated with mild alcohol use/abuse
- seen most often in males
- early onset of alcohol use
- problematic behavior associated with alcohol abuse