• Addiction & recovery

What is Alcoholism? | FAQ about Alcohol Addiction

Nzinga Harrison

June 12, 2020


What is alcoholism?

Alcoholism, which is often referred to as alcohol use disorder (AUD), is a chronic, relapsing brain disorder in which a person has a physical and emotional dependence on alcohol and experiences a pattern of excessive or uncontrollable alcohol use.

This means that it’s hard for a person to stop thinking about alcohol and change how much they consume, even if it has a harmful impact on their life. Even if they try to stop drinking, they may experience difficult or life-threatening withdrawal symptoms.

AUD can lead to serious health complications, such as:

  • depression

  • high blood pressure

  • liver damage

  • heart failure

  • certain types of cancers.

What are the symptoms of alcohol use disorder?

It’s not always easy to determine if someone has an alcohol use disorder. Some people may seem perfectly healthy and functional in their daily lives but they keep their alcohol use a secret from loved ones. Common symptoms can include:

  • Frequently drinking a lot of alcohol or for longer than intended

  • Wanting to reduce or control drinking but not being able to stop

  • Spending a lot of time drinking or feeling ill from alcohol’s after-effects

  • Having strong cravings or uncontrollable urges to drink

  • Experiencing problems at home with family, work, or other commitments as a result of drinking or being sick from drinking

  • Missing important events or enjoyable activities to drink instead

  • Drinking despite feeling depressed or anxious, having another health problem, or after having had a memory blackout

  • Drinking more to experience the same effect because the usual number of drinks is less effective than before

Is binge drinking the same thing as alcohol addiction?

Although these terms are sometimes used interchangeably, binge drinking refers to drinking a large amount of alcohol at one time. For men, it’s drinking five or more drinks within two hours. For women, it is four or more drinks within two hours. Drinking excessively from time to time does not mean someone has an AUD but it does put them at a higher risk for developing it over time.

Can alcohol addiction be cured?

There is no magic cure for AUD but it is treatable and manageable. With a treatment plan that meets a person’s specific needs, the brain and body can recover from the effects of alcohol while a person learns coping skills to control cravings and sustain long-term recovery.

Some common components of an AUD treatment plan include:

  • Medication-Assisted Treatment (MAT): Prescription drugs like Naltrexone and Vivitrol can help physically reduce the desire to drink.

  • Counseling and therapy: Individual or group therapy sessions, or a combination of both, help manage emotions and learn coping skills to overcome challenges.

  • Peer support groups: Groups bring together people with AUD in a shared, private forum to learn from each other’s experiences and act as a support system through the recovery journey.

  • Treatment for other medical conditions: Health care services can treat and manage any of the short and long-term health effects associated with AUD.

  • Treatment for mental or behavioral health needs: Psychiatric medications, used in combination with therapy, can help treat co-occurring disorders, such as depression, anxiety, or post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) that occur at the same time as AUD.

Are you worried you or a loved one may need help to manage alcohol use? Find out more by taking this quiz about alcohol use.

If you need help with your substance use disorder, we are here to help you build your confidence and momentum towards the future you want. We provide treatment services for adults with alcohol, opioid, and other substance use disorders. We are currently located in Louisiana, Massachusetts, North Carolina, New Jersey, Ohio, Texas, and Washington.

Eleanor Health

Recovery for life.

Our mission at Eleanor Health is to help people affected by addiction live amazing lives. We deliver whole-person, comprehensive care and are passionate about transforming the quality, delivery, and accessibility of addiction & mental health treatment. Our actions are rooted in respect for each member's values, culture, and life experiences, and our commitment to their wellbeing is unwavering and without judgement.

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