Alcohol; Use, Abuse and Alcoholism

Definition of Alcoholism

Alcoholism, also known as alcohol dependence, is a disease with five primary symptoms:

  • Craving: A strong need or compulsion to drink.
  • Loss of control: The inability to limit one’s drinking on any given occasion.
  • Physical dependence: Withdrawal symptoms, such as nausea, sweating, shakiness, and anxiety occur when alcohol use is stopped after a period of heavy drinking.
  • Tolerance: The need to drink greater amounts of alcohol over time in order to get high.
  • Social Failure: They suffer many of the symptoms listed in ‘Definition of Problem Drinking’ below.

Definition of Problem Drinking

Problem drinking, also known as alcohol abuse, is a pattern of drinking in which one or more of the following situations occur within a 12-month period:

  • Failure to fulfill major work, school or home responsibilities;
  • Drinking in situations that are physically dangerous, such as while driving a car or operating machinery;
  • Having recurring alcohol-related legal problems, such as being arrested for driving under the influence of alcohol or for physically hurting someone while drunk; and
  • Continued drinking despite having ongoing relationship problems that are caused or worsened by the drinking.

Generally its not what, or how much, or where, or who with, that is the definition – its the effect on the drinker and their lives that defines the problem.

Drinking Definitions

What is a standard drink? This is defined differently in various countries – but generally; A standard drink contains half an ounce (or 10 grams) of alcohol, which can be found in

  • a 12-ounce (285ml) can of beer,
  • a 5-ounce (170ml) glass of wine or
  • a 1.5 ounce (30ml) glass of 80 proof distilled spirits.

What is moderate drinking?

The various government researchers define as moderate drinking as

  • not more than two drinks per day for men and
  • not more than one drink per day for women.

Moderate drinking for older people is one drink per day (or less), because of age-related changes in metabolism.

Young adults aged 18–25 years

According to the statistics, young adults are at highest risk of alcohol-related injury. Young adults are especially urged not to drink beyond the guidelines for men and women. In addition they should not:

  • drink for several hours before participating in potentially risky activities such as swimming, diving or boating
  • mix alcohol with mood-altering drugs.

What is heavy drinking?

People who drink five or more drinks on at least five occasions during a month are considered heavy drinkers in government surveys, but it is important to remember that alcohol problems can and do occur at much lower levels of consumption.

What is binge drinking?

People who drink five or more drinks on at least one occasion during a month are considered binge drinkers.When heavy drinkers consume five or more drinks on a single occasion, they are “bingeing,” but not everyone who binges is a chronic heavy drinker. People who binge, however, put themselves at serious risk for an alcohol problem.

Who should not drink?

  • Children and adolescents;
  • Individuals of any age who cannot restrict their drinking to moderate levels;
  • Women who are or may become pregnant;
  • Individuals who plan to drive, operate machinery or take part in other activities that require attention, skill or coordination;
  • Individuals taking prescription or over the- counter medications that can interact with alcohol.
Sources: National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (2000); Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (2001); U.S. Department of Health and Human Services; U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Options for individuals and families:

If you have a concern about your own drinking or that of a family member or friend, consider taking a confidential, on-line alcohol screening at for a personal assessment of risk for developing alcoholism.

If you are recovering from alcoholism, consider joining local advocacy efforts to improve the way your community and the nation address alcohol problems. Visit for more information.

Article from; ‘Understanding The Problem Drinking Continuum’

3 thoughts on “Alcohol; Use, Abuse and Alcoholism

  1. Pingback: Alcoholism Blog » Blog Archive » Shining New Light on Addiction

  2. Oh my god!! I can’t believe that you have published a list of the ounces of alcohol per drink! If anyone can accurately tell me the quantity of alcohol they have had in one night out – then more power to you. Nevermind the whole body weight and physical chemistry components. Responsible drinking is a learned behavior. I am tipsy, I am happy, i am sloppy, I remember nothing. We all know when we go beyond the threshold of responsible drinking. Its a choice we make when we decide to drink alcohol. Experience with alcohol can be positive; like “I don’t ever want to be that out of control again”, or “I am feeling drunk now, it’s time to go home”. These experiences don’t always stop it from happening again, but they do stay in our memory and with time, we can make better decisions.

    At this time, I don’t meet any of the criteria to be an alcoholic but I do drink almost every day. I hardly ever drink to excess (except for a fun night out) and I know when I have had enough. Sometimes I choose to stop, sometimes I have a bad hang-over. But I made this decision (and a poor one at that) at the time. But what I think is the most important statement in your guideline is what was listed last and without much emphasis:

    “Generally its not what, or how much, or where, or who with, that is the definition – its the effect on the drinker and their lives that defines the problem.”

    To me this defines when a person should reevaluate their intake of alcohol. The rest is just bullsh*t!

    Drink responsibly!


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