Alcoholism is a disease in which a person drinks alcohol even though drinking hurts his or her life. Alcoholics often find that they have problems with people close to them, with school or work, and with other parts of their lives.
Alcoholism can happen after a month or years of drinking. It is a disease that gets worse the more the person keeps drinking. Without treatment, it can destroy both emotional and physical health and can lead to death.
Alcoholism is often called a family disease because it hurts the lives of family members and others who are close to the alcoholic. For the alcoholic to get well, family members often must take part in treatment.
People with alcoholism:
There is no single cause for alcoholism. A person's emotions, physical health, and upbringing can all play a part. Alcoholism runs in families, which suggests it may have a genetic cause.
An individual may also drink to get over difficult feelings or emotions caused by a treatable illness. Others may drink to lessen feelings of guilt, loneliness, or confusion.
Symptoms are different for each person. Just a few, or nearly all, of the following symptoms may be present:
Middle to late stages
A person trained in treating alcoholism can tell if you or someone you care about is an alcoholic. This person may ask a series of questions. This information is also used to select the best treatment, if needed.
Treatment for alcoholism can be different for each person. If the person has a serious physical illness due to alcohol, he or she must get medical care right away.
Treatment often begins with "detox," or detoxification, which is the body's withdrawal from alcohol. After the body is clean of alcohol, the alcoholic enters a counseling program. The goal of counseling is to help the alcoholic face emotional issues that lead to drinking and to learn ways to stop drinking. Medications may be given to curb a physical craving for alcohol.
Treatment programs can last from a few weeks to years. Places for treatment include hospitals, live-in treatment centers, clinics, and counseling offices.
For referral to drug and alcohol treatment programs in your area, call:
National Alcohol and Drug Help Line
1 (800) 821.HELP (4357)
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This information is provided by the Cleveland Clinic and is not intended to replace the medical advice of your doctor or healthcare provider. Please consult your healthcare provider for advice about a specific medical condition. This document was last reviewed on: 07/29/2014