What is Alcoholism

Most likely, you or someone you know drinks beer, wine, or liquor. Many Americans drink alcohol when socializing, whether it be at a party or a business dinner. Yet, how do you know when you have a problem? How do you know if you or someone you know is an alcoholic?

Alcoholism or "alcohol dependence syndrome" is a substance abuse disorder.

According to the DSM-IV (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders-4th Edition), alcohol dependence is defined as follows: Dependence is "a maladaptive pattern of substance use, leading to clinically significant impairment or distress as manifested by three or more of the following, occurring at any time in the same 12 month period:"

- Tolerance: increasing amounts of the substance are required to obtain the same effects

- Withdrawal: predictable symptoms occur when the substance is no longer consumed or the substance is required to avoid or treat specific symptoms

- Substance is taken over longer course or in greater amounts than intended

- Persistent desire and unsuccessful efforts to cut down or control use

- Large amounts of time spent obtaining, using, or recovering from the substance

- Social, occupational, recreational activities reduced or given up due to consumption

- Continued use despite knowledge of negative consequences of continued use

Alcoholism is primarily defined by the strong craving or compulsion to drink despite the consequences and inability to stop.

Alcohol Abuse vs. Alcohol Dependence

It is important to differentiate between alcohol dependence and alcohol abuse as the two generally do not require the same interventions. Alcohol abuse is also a major problem in this country. It differs from alcoholism in that it is not characterized by physical withdrawal, strong craving, or the inability to control use. Rather, it is defined by the occurrence of one or more of the following within any 12 month period:

- Inability to fulfill responsibilities or obligations at home, work, or school due to consumption
- Drinking in situations that are dangerous
- Recurrent legal problems related to alcohol use
- Continued use despite negative effects on relationships with family, friends, peers, or employers