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Alternative names
alcohol dependence; habitual alchohol use

A illness marked by uncontrolled consumption of alcoholic beverages that interferes with
physical or mental health, and social, family, or occupational responsibilities.

Causes, incidence, and risk factors
Alcoholism is a type of drug dependence. There is both physical and psychological
dependence with this addiction. Physical dependence reveals itself in withdrawal
symptoms when alcohol intake is interrupted, tolerance to the effects of alcohol, and
evidence of alcohol-associated illnesses. Alcohol affects the central nervous system as a
depressant resulting in a decrease of activity, , , and inhibitions. Even a low level of
alcohol within the body slows reactions. Concentration and judgment become impaired. In
excessive amounts, intoxication, or poisoning results.

Alcohol also affects other body systems. Irritation of the gastrointestinal tract can occur
with of the lining of the stomach causing . are not absorbed properly, which can lead to
nutritional deficiencies with the long-term use of alcohol. , called , may also develop. The
system may be affected by . Sexual dysfunction can also occur, causing erectile
dysfunction in men and in women. during can cause problems in the developing fetus
known as fetal alcohol syndrome.

The development of dependence upon alcohol may occur over 5 to 25 years, following a
relatively consistent pattern of progression. At first, a tolerance of alcohol develops. This
results in a person being able to consume a greater quantity of alcohol before its adverse
effects are noticed. Memory lapses relating to drinking episodes may follow tolerance.
Then a lack of control over drinking occurs, and the affected person can no longer
discontinue drinking whenever desired. The most severe drinking behavior includes
prolonged binges of drinking with associated mental or physical complications. Some

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