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Alcohol Addiction

Alcohol addiction, commonly diagnosed as an alcohol use disorder (AUD), is a chronic but treatable medical condition where it is difficult for a person to control their use of alcohol, despite drinking having negative health, social, and work consequences.1 Fortunately, AUD is treatable, and people do recover. The resources below will help you better understand what alcohol addiction is, as well as the signs, symptoms, and treatment options for mild to severe AUD.

Alcohol Addiction Key Terms & Synonyms

Learn more about alcohol addiction by selecting a keyword.

Binge drinking

Binge drinking is defined by the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) as a pattern of drinking that brings a person's blood alcohol concentration (BAC) to 0.08% or higher. For women, this is typically 4 or more drinks in 2 hours. For men, this is typically 5 or more drinks in 2 hours.4

Frequently Asked Questions About Alcohol Addiction

What is considered an alcoholic?
The terms 'alcoholic' and 'alcoholism' can be stigmatizing as they have negative associations and place blame on the individual. The historical concept of alcoholism may largely overlap with that of alcohol addiction or what is more formally known as an alcohol use disorder (AUD). A person who finds it difficult to control their use of alcohol, even after experiencing significant personal or professional problems, may be struggling with alcohol addiction.1 It's best to speak honestly with a healthcare professional who can provide a thorough evaluation to diagnose you.
Why do I continue to drink?
There are several reasons why a person may feel the desire to drink alcohol despite significant personal or professional problems. Similar to other addictive substances, alcohol stimulates the release of the neurotransmitter dopamine, a brain chemical involved in movement, motivation, and reward-seeking. This may reinforce drinking as a result and make the experience of drinking more appealing. 2, 3
How do you get someone to stop drinking?
You can support a loved one struggling with alcohol in several ways. You can lend an ear to listen to their struggles or engage in activities together that don't involve alcohol. If allowed, you can attend a support group with your loved one, which can help them feel supported. It's important to remember that recovery is a life-long journey and setbacks are common. If this happens, remain patient, open, and understanding.
What is the difference between alcohol abuse and an alcohol use disorder?
Someone who abuses alcohol (drinking too much at once, binge drinking, drinking large quantities over a long period of time) is not necessarily suffering from an alcohol use disorder (AUD). To be diagnosed with an AUD, individuals must meet at least 2 of 11 criteria from the DSM-V in a 12-month period, including feeling incapable of cutting back on alcohol consumption and experiencing withdrawal symptoms if the individual cuts back or stops drinking. If you are struggling to control your alcohol use, even after experiencing significant personal or professional problems, you may be suffering from an AUD.
How addictive is alcohol?
Is alcohol addictive? It can be. 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.
Can alcohol addiction be self-diagnosed?
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.
What happens when I stop drinking when I am addicted?
If you are struggling with an AUD, there are risks that may occur if you stop drinking. If you have physical dependence, you may experience withdrawal with the cessation of drinking. (Withdrawal symptoms include tremors in your hands, sweating, hallucinations, depression, anxiety, and trouble sleeping.). Withdrawal can be uncomfortable, painful, and potentially dangerous, especially for those who drink excessively on a daily basis.9

Self-Assessment Quiz

Created by healthcare professionals, the following quiz could help you determine if you or someone you care about should seek help for addiction. Because your privacy is important to us, your answers are 100% confidential and will remain anonymous.

Please read the following questions carefully and answer as honestly as you can.

Self-Assessment: Am I Addicted?
Are you worried about yourself or a loved one?
Disclaimer: Only a medical or clinical professional may diagnose a substance use disorder. This assessment may serve as an indicator of a potential addiction but should not replace a diagnosis from a professional treatment provider.

Alcohol Addiction Treatment

An addiction to alcohol can be hard for someone to overcome on their own. Instead, there are several different treatment programs available to help people in various stages of recovery from alcohol abuse.

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Alcohol Detox

Medical detox is often the first step in the treatment process for AUD. Learn about the process here.
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Inpatient Rehab

Inpatient rehab centers offer intensive therapy for alcohol misuse. These live-in programs provide structured care from professionals to manage alcohol addiction.
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Outpatient Rehab

Outpatient programs allows a person to live at home while receiving treatment for alcohol misuse for a set number of hours each week.
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12-step programs like Alcoholic Anonymous can help people in recovery by providing accountability, guidance, and support.
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Aftercare refers to the treatment a person receives after transitioning between levels of care. The goals of aftercare are to support a person in recovery, prevent relapse, and help them with other life goals.
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Medications for AUD

Alcohol use disorder medications don't provide a “cure” but can help a person achieve and maintain sobriety when used in combination with other therapies.
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Treatment Destinations

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  1. National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. (2021, April). Understanding Alcohol Use Disorder.
  2. Wackernah, R. C., Minnick, M. J., & Clapp, P. (2014). Alcohol use disorder: pathophysiology, effects, and pharmacologic options for treatment., 5, 1–12. Alcohol use disorder: pathophysiology, effects, and pharmacologic opti | SAR Substance abuse and rehabilitation.
  3. National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2020). Drugs, Brain, and Behavior: The Science of Addiction.
  4. National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. (2021, December). Understanding Binge Drinking.
  5. Cleveland Clinic. (2022, April). Blood Alcohol Content (BAC).
  6. National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2021, June). Words Matter: Preferred Language for Talking About Addiction.
  7. Louis A. Trevisan, M.D., Nashaat Boutros, M.D., Ismene L. Petrakis, M.D., John H. Krystal, M.D. (1998). Alcohol Health and Research World. Complications of Alcohol Withdrawal.
  8. Center for Substance Abuse Treatment. Detoxification and Substance Abuse Treatment. Treatment Improvement Protocol (TIP) Series, No. 45. HHS Publication No. (SMA) 15-4131. Rockville, MD: Center for Substance Abuse Treatment, 2006.
  9. National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. (2021, May). Understanding the Dangers of Alcohol Overdose.
  10. National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. (2021, March). Hangovers.
  11. National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2018, January). Principles of Effective Treatment.
  12. National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. (n.d.). Drinking Levels Defined.
  13. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2022, April 12). Alcohol use and your health.