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Alcohol Abuse

  1. Table of ContentsPrint
  2. What Is Alcohol Abuse?
  3. Signs and Symptoms
  4. What Are the Effects of Alcohol Abuse?
  5. Multi-Drug Interactions
  6. Alcoholism Treatment
  7. Statistics
  8. Teen Alcohol Abuse


What Is Alcohol Abuse?

Abusers are typically heavy drinkers who continue drinking regardless of the results.

Alcohol can be an addictive substance. Not everyone who consumes alcohol will become addicted. However, certain people may be more susceptible to addiction.1

It should be noted that alcohol addiction and abuse are not the same. It's important to understand the facts on alcohol abuse. Alcohol addiction refers to a psychological dependence on alcohol that involves continued, compulsive drinking that does not stop despite adverse consequences.2 Individuals who suffer from alcohol addiction also become physically dependent on the substance and experience severe, sometimes life-threatening, withdrawal symptoms upon quitting.2

Alcohol abusers are not necessarily addicted to alcohol. Abusers are typically heavy drinkers who continue drinking regardless of the results. Abusers of alcohol may not drink on a consistent basis. For example, an individual who abuses alcohol may only drink once a week. However, when that individual drinks, he puts himself into risky situations or drinks enough to cause problems, such as alcohol poisoning.3 Certain individuals who abuse alcohol may eventually become dependent on it.2

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Signs and Symptoms

Individuals who suffer from alcohol abuse do not always exhibit the same symptoms. The type of symptoms experienced by an individual will depend on a number of factors, such as the individual's background and medical history. While alcohol abuse symptoms do vary, there are signs and symptoms that can indicate a problem.

What Are the Signs of Alcoholism?2

Are genetics to blame for dangerous compulsive drinking?

  • Neglecting personal/family responsibilities.
  • Declining academic or professional performance.
  • Depression.
  • Conflicts with loved ones.
  • Preoccupation with drinking and cravings.
  • Inability to control drinking.
  • Failing in attempts to stop drinking.
  • Needing increasing amounts of alcohol to feel its effects.
  • Getting drunk when it could be hazardous, such as before driving.
  • Going through withdrawal when not drinking.

When has drinking progressed to alcoholism?
Learn more.

What Are the Effects of Alcohol Abuse?

Alcohol abuse has a wide range of consequences, from nausea and headaches from a hangover to severe liver problems from chronic drinking.

Short-Term Effects

In the short-term, drinking too much can be very dangerous, sometimes deadly. Effects can include:2-5

  • Nausea.
  • Vomiting.
  • Headaches.
  • Slurred speech.
  • Impaired judgment.
  • Anxiety.
  • Insomnia.
  • Trouble concentrating.
  • Memory loss.
  • Problems breathing.
  • Coma.
  • Death.

Long-Term Consequences

Risk of significant personal harm is increased with chronic alcohol consumption. Alcohol abusers are at an increased risk of:2-4,6

  • Mouth, esophageal, throat, liver, and breast cancer.
  • Raised risk of heart problems, such as cardiomyopathy.
  • Brain damage.
  • Weakened immune system.
  • Liver disease.
  • Pancreatitis.
  • Ulcers.
  • Thiamine deficiency.
  • Violence or self-harm.
  • Accidents, such as vehicle collisions.

Multi-Drug Interactions

The signs and symptoms of alcohol use, as well as the short- and long-term effects of alcohol abuse don't always occur in isolation. In fact, an alarming number of people purposely combine their alcohol with drugs.7This is frequently done with the intention of compounding the effects of both to achieve a greater state of intoxication. What these individuals aren't accounting for is the fact that not only the intoxication potentiated, but there can also be a synergistic, or additive influence on the numerous negative side effects of both.7 To be sure, the health consequences of mixing alcohol and drugs can be deadly.

Mixing with Prescription Drugs

Alcoholism Treatment

Individuals who wish to overcome an alcohol abuse problem have a number of options.

According to the National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH), more than 1.3 million people age 12 or older received substance use treatment in 2015 for alcohol use alone.8 Many of the individuals who are treated for alcoholism and alcohol abuse often seek outside help from treatment centers and therapy sessions.

Alcohol treatment centers are designed to help individuals who are addicted or who abuse alcohol in a number of ways. Typically, treatment centers require an individual to stay at the center for a specific amount of time. Many centers offer both long- and short-term treatment options.

During treatment, individuals go through detoxification. Detoxification is the set of interventions used to keep a person safe as they readjust to a lack of alcohol in the body.9 Medical detox is extremely important for someone dependent on alcohol, because withdrawal can cause delirium and potentially life-threatening seizures, along with other very serious symptoms.2

help stop drinking

For someone struggling with alcoholism to successfully complete a treatment program, he must leave the center with a full understanding of his problem. Treatment centers are designed to provide support in the form of individual therapy, as well as group therapy and educational classes on drug addiction. During therapy sessions, alcoholics can explore their reasons behind their excess alcohol consumption, as well as what they can do to overcome their abusive behavior. Counselors and therapists at treatment centers are trained to provide recovering individuals with the tools to resist cravings and maintain their sobriety.

Outpatient treatment is also an option for many alcoholics. Outpatient treatment centers are designed to provide recovering alcoholics with a place to explore their destructive behavior. Many outpatient treatment centers provide anonymous group meetings, as well as other programs to help recovering individuals overcome their issues. With outpatient treatment, individuals are not placed in a controlled environment and may be vulnerable to outside temptation during treatment. Typically, this type of treatment is ideal for those who have successfully completed an inpatient treatment program and want a step-down level of care or those whose addiction are subjectively not as severe.


There are more people in the United States who drink on a regular basis than there are people who do not drink at all, according to the NSDUH. In 2015, 51.7% of Americans age 12 or older reported drinking alcohol in the month before taking the survey, and only 19% of respondents reported never having consumed alcohol.8

Many people are unaware of the impact alcohol has on society. Almost 88,000 people died each year between 2006 and 2010 due to alcohol-related causes.10 

Other alcohol facts indicate a startling problem with alcohol abuse in the United States. According to figures from the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism:11

  • Alcohol abuse problems cost the U.S. $249 billion in 2010.
  • Alcohol is the third leading cause of preventable death in the U.S.
  • More than 15 million people needed treatment for an alcohol use disorder in 2015.
  • 70% of the U.S. population age 12 or older drank alcohol in 2015.
  • Almost 6% of all global deaths are due to drinking.

Teen Alcohol Abuse

Alcohol tops the list of drugs used by teenagers.

Adults are not the only ones who can suffer from alcohol abuse. Many teenagers are at risk of developing an alcohol abuse problem due to the accessibility of the substance and peer pressure. Alcohol tops the list of drugs used by teenagers, per the National Institute on Drug Abuse. In fact, around 10% of 8th graders, 20% of 10th graders, and 33% of 12th graders were current alcohol drinkers in 2017.13

Many teenagers who choose to drink can easily develop an abuse problem due to binge drinking. Binge drinking is defined as drinking at least 4 drinks (for women) or 5 drinks (for men) in 2 hours or less.11

Teenagers who have an alcohol abuse problem may exhibit signs and symptoms to indicate there is a problem. Teen alcohol abuse symptoms include:14drugabuse-shutterstock110412140-teen_holding_alcohol_bottle-alcohol_abuse

  • Low energy.
  • Having alcohol paraphernalia.
  • Concentration problems.
  • Problems with coordination.
  • Mood swings.
  • Changing social circles.
  • Declining academic performance.
  • Behavioral issues/rebelling.
  • Smelling of alcohol.

Teen alcohol abuse may not seem like a huge issue; however, alcohol is considered a drug and must be treated as one. Alcohol has the ability to alter moods. Most teenagers cannot handle the effects of alcohol and are not responsible enough to deal with it. While many parents and guardians assume other drugs, such as marijuana, are worse than alcohol, they must realize how easily accessible alcohol is, and how much damage it can do to a teen.

Teens who abuse alcohol are at an increased risk in a number of ways. As studies have shown, teens that drink are more sexually active and participate in unprotected sex more often than teens who do not consume alcohol.14 These teens are also at an increased risk of becoming a victim of rape or assault. They may also get injured or die in car crashes involving alcohol.11

According to the National Institutes of Health, teens who abuse alcohol at a young age are much more likely to develop a dependency on alcohol when they get older.14 Teen alcohol abuse can also result in poor grades and troubled behavior.14

Not only can alcohol abuse alter how a teen acts, it can also have adverse effects on the brain. Studies show that brain development continues past the teenage years. Alcohol abuse during the brain's formative years can negatively impact how the brain develops and can also lead to learning problems.14


  1. National Institute on Drug Abuse. (n.d.). Alcohol.
  2. American Psychiatric Association. (2013). Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders (5th ed.). Arlington, VA: American Psychiatric Publishing.
  3. National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. (n.d.). Overview of Alcohol Consumption.
  4. National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. (n.d.). Alcohol's Effects on the Body.
  5. Alberta Health Services. (n.d.). Alcohol and Health: Alcohol Hangover.
  6. National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. (n.d.). The Role of Thiamine Deficiency in Alcoholic Brain Disease.
  7. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2018). Alcohol Screening and Brief Intervention for People Who Consume Alcohol and Use Opioids.
  8. Center for Behavioral Health Statistics and Quality. (2016). 2015 National Survey on Drug Use and Health: Detailed Tables. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, Rockville, MD.
  9. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. Detoxification and Substance Abuse Treatment. Treatment Improvement Protocol (TIP) Series, No. 45. HHS Publication No. (SMA) 13­4131. Rockville, MD: Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, 2006.
  10. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2018). Fact Sheets - Alcohol Use and Your Health.
  11. National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. (2018). Alcohol Facts and Statistics. 
  12. National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2014). Principles of Adolescent Substance Use Disorder Treatment: A Research-Based Guide.
  13. National Institute on Drug Abuse. (n.d.). Alcohol.
  14. National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. (2006). Alcohol Alert: Underage Drinking.
Last updated on June 11, 2019
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