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What defines alcoholism, and what does it mean? What are the symptoms and what problems does it cause?

What is alcoholism? What is meant by it? In this article, we’re going to take a closer look at alcoholism, what the tell-tale symptoms of it are, and what potential problems it can cause in life. If you suspect that either yourself or someone that you love may be suffering from an addiction to alcohol, this is the article for you.

What defines alcoholism, and what is the meaning?

Alcoholism is defined as an alcohol dependency, which is when the body has a physical inability to stop drinking and the presence of alcohol cravings are constant. Individuals who suffer from alcohol addiction may go to very extreme measures to get their alcohol fix, including stealing, lying, hiding alcohol, drinking any household products that contain alcohol, among many other unhealthy behaviours to obtain alcohol due to a fear of withdrawal.

In the absence of alcohol, certain individuals can experience what is known as alcohol withdrawals which can be characterised by agitation, hand tremors, hot flushes, an increased heart rate and blood pressure, nausea & vomiting, and in extreme cases, seizures.

In some instances, withdrawal from alcohol can be fatal which is why individuals who have severe alcoholism and wish to come off it must seek professional help as medical rehab and detoxification may be required.

It is important to note that there are many levels of alcoholism and each individual will have different levels of dependency. Just because a person doesn’t resort to theft or other abnormal behaviours to obtain their fix, it doesn’t mean that they don’t have a drinking problem (e.g., they are financially well-off and have no difficulty getting their hands on alcohol).


What are the symptoms of alcoholism?

What are the symptoms of alcoholism? There are many signs to look out for, but if any of the following apply to you or a loved one then it’s a good sign that you/they are suffering from alcohol addiction. Here’s what to look out for:

  • An inability to control alcohol intake after having started (drinking to excess).
  • Having obsessive thoughts about alcohol and its consumption.
  • Behaving in a different way when drunk, in a way that is quite different and uncharacteristic to their sober personality (tending toward violence, etc.).
  • Repeating unwanted drinking patterns regularly.
  • Surrounding themselves socially with other heavy drinkers (typically to feel as though their behaviour is normal and thus justified).
  • Getting drunk before arriving at parties and social events (either to save money to be able to drink more or to overcome social anxiety).
  • Having an increasing sense of denial that their drinking is becoming a probably because they are experiencing success in their professional and/or personal lives.
  • Setting drinking limits and rarely being able to adhere to them.
  • Drink driving.
  • An inherent need to finish an alcoholic beverage or even someone else’s unfinished drink.
  • Drinking on a daily basis.
  • Binge drinking.
  • Choosing alcohol as a reward system.
  • Having chronic blackout events such as memory loss due to an excess of drinking.
  • Feeling regular guilt and shame about their behaviour when drunk.
  • Taking breaks from drinking every now and again and then increasing the amount that they drink when they return after a while.
  • Other people have been expressing concerns about their negative drunken behaviour.
  • Other people have expressed concerns about the amount that they are drinking.
  • Engaging in risky sexual behaviour when they are intoxicated (e.g., unprotected sex with strangers).
  • Being unable to picture living a life without alcohol.

What problems are caused by alcoholism?

What kind of problems are caused by alcoholism? There are many ways in which excessive drinking and an addiction to alcohol can impact a person and this may vary from one individual to another. However, the health risks should be a serious concern:

Alcoholism causes an increased risk of:

  • High blood pressure
  • Heart disease
  • Stroke
  • Liver disease
  • Digestive issues
  • Breast cancer
  • Mouth cancer
  • Throat cancer
  • Oesophagus cancer
  • Voicebox cancer
  • Liver cancer
  • Colon cancer
  • Rectal cancer
  • Weakening immune system
  • Increased chances of being physically sick

Other problems include:

  • Learning difficulty
  • Memory problems (including dementia)
  • Mental health issues such as depression and anxiety
  • Social problems such as family-related issues, problems at work, and unemployment


Who should avoid drinking alcohol entirely?

There are certain people who should avoid drinking alcohol entirely as it can be seriously detrimental to their health (more so than others, including the risks mentioned above from alcohol misuse).

  • Anyone under the age of 18, for obvious reasons.
  • People who are pregnant (or suspect that are pregnant).
  • Anyone who is driving or planning to drive.
  • Those who take part in potentially dangerous activities that require coordination and alertness.
  • Anyone taking prescription medications that should not be taken with alcohol.
  • Those suffering from certain medical conditions that make drinking alcohol even more dangerous.
  • Anyone who has been recovering from alcoholism and is/has been previously unable to control their consumption levels.



Again, the potential long-term health risks of alcoholism are something that you should pay serious attention to. While you may feel healthy now, if you are unable to kick the habit, at some point down the line you are likely going to suffer for it.

Another important issue to consider is the effect that alcoholism can have on your life and your personal relationships. Drinking excessively can put a lot of strain on your personal and professional relationships. Not only can this lead to problems with you and those that you love, but it may even lead to job loss and an inability to find more work / maintain future employment.

Alcoholism is a slippery slope and something that should be treated with careful consideration. If you or someone that you love is struggling with alcohol addiction, we highly recommend that you speak with your healthcare provider and consider seeking rehab and even medical detox as a means of breaking the habit and taking control of your life once more.

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