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Alcohol Addiction

Alcohol use occurs along a spectrum that can range from casual drinking to abuse and addiction. Alcohol abuse involves drinking in harmful ways, while an alcohol addiction—also known as an alcohol use disorder (AUD)—is a much more severe form of problematic drinking.1,2

This article will help you learn more about:

  • What is alcohol abuse and alcoholism?
  • Is alcohol addictive?
  • Why is alcohol addictive for some people and not others?
  • How to tell if someone is abusing or addicted to alcohol.
  • What is considered an alcoholic?
  • How much do alcoholics drink?
  • How to find out if your insurance covers alcohol rehab.

What is Alcohol Addiction?

Is alcohol addictive? It can be. A drinking problem can involve any combination of beer, wine, and liquor and may not necessarily stem from just one of these types of drinks. Binge drinking is a pattern of alcohol misuse, where a large amount of alcohol is consumed in a short period of time.4,5,6 This generally means having 5 or more drinks for men or 4 or more drinks for women within a couple of hours.3,4,6 Binge drinking and heavy drinking are both patterns of drinking that can increase a person’s risk of AUD.4,6

Alcoholism, or alcohol use disorder (AUD), refers to a chronic but treatable disease where it is difficult to control your use of alcohol, even after drinking has had a negative impact on 1 or more areas of your life.1,2 Alcohol dependence can be psychological—you rely on alcohol to manage stressors. It can also be physical, meaning your body becomes accustomed to the presence of alcohol after long periods of heavy use (i.e., tolerance) and relies on alcohol to avoid going through withdrawal.1,4,7

Drinking alcohol over time can cause changes in how the brain works.3,8 These changes contribute to the diagnostic characteristics of an AUD, which includes trouble controlling how much you drink, alcohol use affecting your social functioning, drinking when it is harmful to your physical or mental health, and the development of tolerance and physical dependence.2,7-9

What Causes Alcoholism?

There isn’t one specific factor that causes alcoholism but rather it is the result of a complex interaction of a variety of factors. Genetics, the environment, and an individual’s life experiences can all play a role in a person developing an AUD.3,8,9 Drinking larger amounts, more often, and more rapidly can raise the risk of alcoholism.9 Excessive alcohol consumption over long periods of time causes changes in the brain that can make it difficult to stop drinking, which can lead to alcoholism.8


Checking Your Insurance Benefits

If you are looking for alcohol addiction treatment, it can feel overwhelming As you consider your options, knowing exactly what your insurance plan covers can give you peace of mind while you or your loved one is in rehab. You can do the work of getting and staying sober without worrying about unexpected costs or financial struggles. For more information on what your insurance plan covers, call AAC at , click here, or fill out the form below.


What are the Signs and Symptoms of Alcohol Addiction?

If you are concerned that you or someone you care about is struggling with alcohol abuse or alcoholism, you may want to be aware of some behaviors and physical signs. These include:3,4,7

  • Difficulty paying attention or remembering what happened while intoxicated.
  • Drinking more than usual, or drinking throughout the day, such as in the morning.
  • Experiencing anxiety or irritability when alcohol is not available.
  • Having less energy.
  • Having trouble at school or work because of drinking.
  • Hiding alcohol among possessions or around the house.
  • Impaired judgment leading to making bad decisions.
  • Legal problems related to drinking.
  • Mood changes, such as becoming angry or irritable for no apparent reason.
  • Paying less attention to personal hygiene or appearance.
  • Rebellious behavior.
  • Slurring while speaking.
  • Smelling like alcohol.
  • Spending time with a new social group.
  • Stumbling.


What are the Health Risks of Alcohol Abuse?

The effects of alcohol abuse and alcoholism can have negative consequences on your physical and mental health.1,7,10  These consequences may include:1,7,10-12

  • Alcohol poisoning, which can be extremely dangerous and potentially fatal.
  • Cardiovascular system problems, including damage to the heart muscle, high cholesterol, irregular heartbeat, high blood pressure, heart disease, and stroke.
  • Digestive system problems, including raising the risk of developing issues like inflammation of the stomach (gastritis) and pancreas (pancreatitis), ulcers in the digestive tract, and liver diseases such as cirrhosis.
  • Nervous system damage, leading to muscle weakness, sensations of “pins and needles,” and loss of sensation.
  • Changes in the brain can cause memory loss, trouble thinking properly, coordination issues, and difficulty learning.
  • Increased risk of depression, bipolar disorder, and suicide.
  • Increased risk of cancer of the mouth, breast, throat, larynx, esophagus, liver, and bowel with long periods of alcohol use.
  • Reduced ability to fight off illnesses.
  • Risk of developing physical dependence and experiencing withdrawal with the cessation of drinking. (Withdrawal symptoms include tremors in your hands, sweating, hallucinations, depression, anxiety, and trouble sleeping.)

Am I an Alcoholic?

A person who finds it difficult to control their use of alcohol, even after experiencing significant personal or professional problems, is likely to be considered an alcoholic.7,10 The best way to find out if you have a problem with alcohol is to speak honestly with a medical or psychiatric professional who can accurately diagnose you.2,10 There is no specific number of drinks you need to consume daily to be considered an alcoholic, but if you regularly drink more than moderate amounts of alcohol, you may have an issue.

If you are worried that your drinking might be problematic, there are some questions you can ask yourself. You may want to speak to a professional about your drinking if you answer yes to one or more of these questions:1,13,14

  • Do you ever drink first thing in the morning?
  • Do you feel as though you should cut down on drinking?
  • Do you feel ashamed or guilty about your drinking?
  • Has drinking ever caused you to lose a job?
  • Have others criticized your drinking?
  • Have you blacked out from drinking?
  • Have you ever been unable to stop drinking?
  • Have you ever experienced withdrawal symptoms if you don’t drink alcohol?
  • Have you ever had legal problems because of alcohol?

Take Our “Am I Addicted to Alcohol?” Self-Assessment

Take our free, 5-minute “Am I Addicted to Alcohol” self-assessment below if you think you or someone you love might be struggling with drug addiction. The evaluation consists of 11 yes or no questions that are intended to be used as an informational tool to assess the severity and probability of a substance use disorder. The test is free, confidential, and no personal information is needed to receive the result.


How Do I Get Help for Alcohol Addiction?

There are various types of alcohol rehab treatment. The most common types include:1,8,9,15-17

  • Detox, where you may receive medications to keep you comfortable and ensure your safety as you withdraw from alcohol. This is important because alcohol withdrawal is potentially dangerous, especially for those who drink excessively on a daily basis.9
  • Inpatient or residential, where you will receive group and individual counseling while staying at a facility for the duration of treatment, and where staff provide a high level of monitoring and support.
  • Outpatient, where you receive group and individual counseling while staying at your own home. This allows you to work on your recovery while being exposed to real-world triggers under lower levels of monitoring and support than inpatient facilities.

There are also support groups that can help you as you work toward becoming sober and maintaining that sobriety. Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) is a mutual support group that offers people the opportunity to use peer bond, sponsor relationships, and self-expression to work toward sobriety. There are also non-12-step programs available that offer alternatives to AA.


Where Can I Learn More about Treating Alcohol Addiction?

For more information about alcohol abuse and addiction treatment, you may want to reach out to your doctor. Or you can contact one of our admissions navigators at for the information and support you are looking for as you look for alcoholism treatment.

There are various treatment programs and strategies available for alcohol addiction, so don’t give up if the first program you check out doesn’t meet your individual needs. To learn more about alcohol addiction treatment, click here.


More resources about Alcohol Addiction: