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ALCOHOLISM

The consequences of alcohol misuse are serious—in many cases, life threatening. Heavy drinking can increase the risk for certain cancers, especially those of the liver, esophagus, throat, and larynx (voice box). Heavy drinking can also cause liver cirrhosis, immune system problems, brain damage, and harm to the fetus during pregnancy. In addition, drinking increases the risk of death from automobile crashes as well as recreational and on-the-job injuries. Furthermore, both homicides and suicides are more likely to be committed by persons who have been drinking. In purely economic terms, alcohol-related problems cost society approximately $185 billion per year. In human terms, the costs cannot be calculated.

People who are not alcoholic sometimes do not understand why an alcoholic can’t just “use a little willpower” to stop drinking. However, alcoholism has little to do with willpower. Alcoholics are in the grip of a powerful “craving,” or uncontrollable need, for alcohol that overrides their ability to stop drinking. This need can be as strong as the need for food or water.

Although some people are able to recover from alcoholism without help, the majority of alcoholics need assistance. With treatment and support, many individuals are able to stop drinking and rebuild their lives. Many people wonder why some individuals can use alcohol without problems but others cannot. One important reason has to do with genetics. Scientists have found that having an alcoholic family member makes it more likely that if you choose to drink you too may develop alcoholism. Genes, however, are not the whole story. In fact, scientists now believe that certain factors in a person’s environment influence whether a person with a genetic risk for alcoholism ever develops the disease.

A person’s risk for developing alcoholism can increase based on the person’s environment, including where and how he or she lives; family, friends, and culture; peer pressure; and even how easy it is to get alcohol.

What are the Signs of a Problem?

How can you tell whether you may have a drinking problem? Answering the following four questions can help you find out:

• Have you ever felt you should cut down on your drinking?

• Have people annoyed you by criticizing your drinking?

• Have you ever felt bad or guilty about your drinking?

• Have you ever had a drink first thing in the morning (as an “eye opener”) to steady your nerves or get rid of a hangover?

One “yes” answer suggests a possible alcohol problem. If you answered “yes” to more than one question, it is highly likely that a problem exists.

In either case, it is important that you see your doctor or other health care provider right away to discuss your answers to these questions. He or she can help you determine whether you have a drinking problem and, if so, recommend the best course of action.

Even if you answered “no” to all of the above questions, if you encounter drinking-related problems with your job, relationships, health, or the law, you should seek professional help. The effects of alcohol abuse can be extremely serious—even fatal—both to you and to others.

Source: The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) is part of the National Institutes of Health (NIH), a component of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

For more detailed information visit:
National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA)
Scientific Communications Branch
6000 Executive Boulevard, Willco Building, Suite 409
Bethesda, MD 20892–7003

Phone: (301) 443–3860; Fax: (301) 480–1726
Email: niaaaweb-r@exchange.nih.gov
Internet address: http://www.niaaa.nih.gov

NIAAA makes available free informational materials on all aspects of alcoholism.

The information provided using this web site is only intended to be general summary information to the public. It is not intended to take the place of either the written law or regulations. Please refer to appropriate agencies or organizations for more complete information.

The FKOC, a non-profit 501(c) (3) organization, supports its programs through local, state and federal grants, foundations, and corporate and private donations.


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