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A to Z: Alcohol Abuse

Alcohol abuse happens when someone drinks alcoholic beverages, becomes intoxicated, and behaves in a way that could lead to physical, social, legal, or medical problems.

More to Know

Alcohol (also known as ethanol) is a powerful depressant drug found in beer, wine, and liquor. Alcohol use is divided into three categories — use, abuse, and addiction:

  • Alcohol use means drinking in a social manner that doesn't cause the user any problems.
  • Alcohol abuse is a pattern of drinking that causes harm to someone's health, relationships, or ability to work.
  • Alcohol addiction (alcoholism or alcohol dependency) happens when someone becomes dependent on alcohol and needs to drink repeatedly.

Alcohol is the most widely abused substance in the United States. Common behaviors associated with alcohol abuse include failing in responsibilities at home, school, or work; drinking while driving or operating heavy machinery; having legal problems like being arrested for drinking and driving; and drinking despite alcohol use causing problems in relationships.

Long-term alcohol abuse can eventually lead to alcohol addiction. Over time, this can cause health problems like cirrhosis and cancer of the liver, memory loss, stomach ailments, serious vitamin deficiencies, and damage to the heart and nervous system.

Treatment for alcohol abuse includes counseling and therapy to change the pattern of abusive behavior.

Keep in Mind

Alcohol abuse can be dangerous and destructive, but it doesn't always lead to alcohol addiction. People who frequently abuse alcohol can only change their behavior if they want to. Some people are able to reduce their alcohol use on their own, but a positive outcome is more likely with treatment.

All A to Z dictionary entries are regularly reviewed by KidsHealth medical experts.

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