Alcoholism means a person is physically or mentally dependent on alcohol. It is a serious medical condition. People with alcoholism often struggle to live normal lives. They may try to hide their problem. Yet drinking too much alcohol can lead to poor life choices such as drinking and driving. Alcohol can cause serious health consequences. Symptoms of alcoholism may include not being able to stop drinking or having a hard time controlling how much you drink, needing more alcohol to feel good, spending a lot of time drinking and recovering from drinking, giving up other activities so you can drink, and withdrawal symptoms if you stop drinking or wait too long between drinks. Withdrawal symptoms may include feeling sick to your stomach, sweating, shakiness and anxiety. Alcoholism may interfere with your relationships and your ability to perform your job.
Alcoholism may be caused by a variety of factors. Genetic, psychological, social and environmental factors may all be part of the cause. Risk factors include steady drinking over time or binge drinking on a regular basis, starting to drink alcohol at a young age, a family history of alcoholism, and suffering from depression, bipolar disorder or anxiety. Alcoholism increases your risk for developing liver damage (cirrhosis), digestive problems, heart problems, sexual dysfunction, birth defects, bone loss, neurological complications and complications with diabetes. Alcoholism can weaken your immune system and increase your risk of certain cancers. Talk to your doctor if you or a family member may have an alcohol addiction. They may ask you a series of questions to determine if you are addicted to alcohol and to rule out other conditions. There are a variety of treatments to help you stop drinking including both inpatient and outpatient programs and private and group counseling. Your doctor can help you decide the best treatment plan for you.