7 Things You Might Not Know About Alcoholism

  • Lonely man sitting at bar
    1. It’s got another name.
    In the fifth edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM–5), the American Psychiatric Association combines alcohol abuse and alcohol dependence into a single disorder called alcohol use disorder (AUD). Known more commonly as alcoholism, AUD is a chronic, relapsing brain disease characterized by compulsive alcohol use, loss of control over alcohol intake, and a negative emotional state when not using. Though AUD can range from mild to severe, recovery is possible no matter how severe the illness.
  • Close-up of nearly empty alcohol bottle with unseen man drinking in background
    2. It’s a disease.
    Some people consider alcohol abuse to be a choice — and the decision to stop using to be a matter of will power. But research shows that alcohol use disorder is not only an addiction; it’s a verifiable illness, just like cancer or heart disease are illnesses. The American Psychiatric Association defines it as “a brain disease that is manifested by compulsive substance use despite harmful consequences.” It is nearly impossible for people who suffer from an addiction like alcoholism to stop on their own and without help.
  • Senior woman feeling depressed and drinking at bar
    3. It’s common among the elderly.
    Many people are surprised to learn that alcoholism is not just a problem for the young or middle-aged. In fact, 10 to 15 percent of people don’t start to drink heavily until they are older in age, including seniors, with contributing factors including health issues, depression and loneliness. The number of alcoholics who are seniors is expected to rise as the senior population grows to 80 million by the year 2050.
  • Close-up of Caucasian man's hand holding cigarette with smoke swirling around
    4. Medications for other conditions may help.
    There are certain medications used for other conditions that may be helpful for people with alcohol dependence and problem drinking. These include the anti-smoking drug Varenicline (marketed under the name Chantix); Gabapentin, a medication used to treat pain conditions and epilepsy; and the anti-epileptic medication Topiramate, especially for those with a certain genetic makeup that appears to be linked to the drug’s effectiveness. Talk to your doctor about the potential use of these alcoholism treatments.
  • Unseen man behind close-up of alcoholic drink in hand
    5. Relapse is part of the process.
    Relapse is a common occurrence for people with alcoholism, and it can be discouraging for those with the illness, as well as their loved ones. But it can be helpful to view relapse as a temporary setback rather than a failure. These setbacks happen most often during times of stress or exposure to people or places associated with drinking. Professional help, including medication and/or behavioral therapies, are most effective in helping people avoid and overcome their triggers.
  • Man testing glucose before meal
    6. It can contribute to type 2 diabetes and cancer.
    Over time, excessive alcohol use can lead to the development of chronic diseases and other serious problems. For example, alcohol can make the body less sensitive to insulin and contribute to obesity, both of which can cause type 2 diabetes. Other long-term effects of alcoholism include high blood pressure, heart disease, stroke, liver disease, digestive problems, learning and memory problems, mental health issues, and several types of cancer.
  • Members of support group share laugh in meeting
    7. It’s not all bad news.
    Despite the struggles for people with alcoholism, the good news is most can benefit from some form of treatment, no matter how bad the problem may seem. Research shows about one-third of people who are treated for alcohol problems are symptom-free after just one year. And many others are able to significantly reduce their drinking and have fewer alcohol-related problems. So, talk to a health professional, create a good support system, and take that first step to get the help you or your loved one needs.
7 Things You Might Not Know About Alcoholism

About The Author

Susan Fishman, NCC, CRC is a veteran freelance writer with more than 25 years of experience in health education, and a knack for turning complex medical jargon into something the average reader can understand. Her work has been featured in The Washington Post and HuffPost, and on numerous other national health, wellness and parenting sites. She is also a National Certified Counselor and Clinical Rehabilitation Counselor, adding mental health and wellness to her area of expertise.
  1. Alcohol Facts and Statistics. National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. https://www.niaaa.nih.gov/publications/brochures-and-fact-sheets/alcohol-facts-and-statistics
  2. Treatment for Alcoholism: Finding and Getting Help. National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. https://www.niaaa.nih.gov/publications/brochures-and-fact-sheets/treatment-alcohol-problems-finding-and-getting-help
  3. Alcohol Abuse Amongst the Elderly: A Complete Guide. National Council for Aging Care. https://www.aging.com/alcohol-abuse-amongst-the-elderly-a-complete-guide/
  4. Alcohol Use and Your Health. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. https://www.cdc.gov/alcohol/fact-sheets/alcohol-use.htm
  5. Alcohol Use Disorder: A Comparison Between DSM-IV and DSM-5. National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. https://www.niaaa.nih.gov/publications/brochures-and-fact-sheets/alcohol-use-disorder-comparison-between-dsm
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Medical Reviewer: William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS
Last Review Date: 2020 Apr 6
THIS TOOL DOES NOT PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE. It is intended for informational purposes only. It is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Never ignore professional medical advice in seeking treatment because of something you have read on the site. If you think you may have a medical emergency, immediately call your doctor or dial 911.