What is Alcoholism?

NIAAA definitions of alcoholism

What Is Alcoholism?

According to the National Institute of Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA), alcoholism includes the
following four symptoms:
1. Craving -- A strong need, or urge, to drink.
2. Loss of control -- Not being able to stop drinking once drinking has begun.
3. Physical dependence -- Withdrawal symptoms, such as nausea, sweating, shakiness, and
anxiety, after stopping drinking.
4. Tolerance -- The need to drink greater amounts of alcohol to get "high."

Why is it so hard for alcoholics to stop drinking?
It is hard for alcoholics to stop drinking because alcoholism is a disease. It is chronic, it often follows a
very predictable course, and it has symptoms. Alcoholics can't just will themselves to stop drinking.
Many alcoholics have a craving for alcohol that is often comparable to their need for water and food.

Why do only some people become dependent on alcohol?
Part of the reason is related to genetics. Individuals who choose to drink and have a family history of
alcoholism have been found to be more likely to abuse alcohol. This does not necessarily mean that if
you have a genetic disposition to alcoholism that you will become an alcoholic. Another risk factor for
alcoholism is environment or lifestyle. No matter what one's genetic makeup, the risk of developing a
problem can increase depending on one's family and friends, where one lives, the influence of peer
pressure, stress levels, availability of alcohol, etc.

Can alcoholism be treated?
Yes, it can be treated, although it can be a long and hard process for many. Most alcoholics need help
to recover from their disease. Treatment programs often use both counseling and medication to help
patients. Individuals have varying levels of success. Some alcoholics, with time and treatment, are able
to abstain completely. No matter what one's level of success, it is important to keep in mind the fact that
abstinence can help reverse or improve alcohol-related health effects.