What is alcohol abuse?

Alcohol abuse comes in many forms. Alcohol abuse cannot be defined by the number of drinks a person consumes, the types of drinks a person consumes, or even how often he or she drinks, because those factors will vary from person to person. This can make recognizing and/or admitting the problem exists difficult. The best way to determine if a person abuses alcohol is by observing the ways drinking impacts his or her life.

Although the degree of dependency can vary, if alcohol consistently impacts your life in a negative way, you likely have an alcohol abuse problem.

If alcohol abuse continues, the excessive drinker may develop a physical dependency. This means they will require alcohol to function. Without it, they may feel physically ill or experience uncontrollable shaking and/or anxiety. This form of physical dependence on alcohol is known by several names. Below are the three most commonly used terms:


What exactly is alcohol?

Alcohol is a drug that strongly affects the central nervous system. Alcohol penetrates the membrane around the nerve cell, and disrupts or shuts down the nerve cell function.

The specific type of alcohol in beverages is called ethanol. Alcoholic beverages are all made from a base of fruits or grains, which is then combined with yeast. During a process called fermentation, enzymes from the yeast cause a chemical reaction with the sugars in the fruits or grains. That chemical reaction results in water, carbon dioxide, and ethanol.


Alcoholism can have serious ramifications on your health, your relationships, and your financial stability. Sadly, struggles in these areas are often the original cause of the abuse. People struggling in any or all of these areas may look to alcohol or other drugs as a way to self-medicate or as an escape. In this way, substance abuse can create a downward spiral of cause and effect that leads to more and more usage.

The blurred line between cause and effect only adds to the difficulty of identifying when alcohol use crosses the line into abuse. Often the abuser won’t notice the problem developing. In those cases, they need family and close friends to identify the problem for them. Often this causes friction because the abuser may not be ready to accept they have a problem.

Alcohol abuse is a serious issue and should be addressed immediately. Below you will find some of the problems that can arise from overindulging on alcohol.

Whether directly related to alcohol use, like deaths from heart and liver disease, or tangentially related, like fatal auto accidents caused by drunk drivers, these deaths clearly show the dangerous effects of using alcohol.

How does alcohol affect the brain?

Alcohol molecules travel through the bloodstream and into the central nervous system. Once there, they disrupt the function of the neurons that make up the central nervous system.

Alcohol also increased the release of dopamine, which causes feelings of pleasure and euphoria.

The disruption in neural function combined with the elevated dopamine levels cause many of the effects commonly associated with feeling “drunk.” That feeling can affect your behavior and may cause you to make decisions you might not make in a sober state of mind. It can also cause damaging long-term effects

Below are some of the neurological effects associated with using alcohol.


How does alcohol affect the body?

Alcohol abuse can weaken your immune system and increase your risk of diabetes, cancer, and other severe ailments. Below are a few additional ways alcohol can damage your body.

Financial Problems from Alcohol Abuse

From higher insurance premiums, to medical expenditures, to the cost of the alcohol itself, people struggling with alcohol abuse may incur a huge financial burden.

According to a study published in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine in November 2011, “The estimated economic cost of excessive drinking was $223.5 billion in 2006.”

The study also found that excessive drinkers and their households spent approximately $2.5 billion dollars on alcohol related health care costs in 2006. Excessive drinkers and their households shoulder the responsibility for $88.1 billion in lost productivity, plus an additional $2.3 billion in various other costs. When you combine the health care costs, the lost productivity, and the various other costs associated with heavy drinking, you see just how expensive alcohol abuse can be.


Excessive drinking cost the government $94.2 billion, which we paid for with taxes.

The remaining costs, $36.4 billion, fell on members of society who are not excessive drinkers.

The, “I’m only hurting myself,” argument doesn’t hold up anymore. In a society that celebrates drinking, we all pay the price.

Social Problems from Alcohol Abuse

Continued alcohol abuse can also have a negative impact on your relationships.

As alcoholics spend more time in the bottle, they usually spend less time with friends and family. People with whom alcohol abusers were formerly close often say the alcoholic has become a different person due to their excessive drinking.

As health problems arise and financial struggles increase, the pressure and frustration may cause some alcoholics to lash out–unleashing irrational, mean, or even violent behavior. Unfortunately, they often aim those actions at the people closest to them, which strains and sometimes destroys the relationships.

According to a paper published by the World Health Organization, alcohol abuse is linked to increased risk of many destructive behaviors, including those listed below.


It also correlates to the children of alcohol abusers having higher rates of truancy and dropping-out and lower scholastic performance. 

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