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Alcohol Dependence (Alcoholism) and Health Risks: Introduction

By: S. Rennie, LPN

Alcoholism, by definition, can have a variety of meanings depending on the context in which it is being used. The Journal of the American Medical Association defines alcoholism as "a primary, chronic disease characterized by impaired control over drinking, preoccupation with the drug alcohol, use of alcohol despite adverse consequences and distortions in thinking."1 It's also defined as "habitual intoxication; prolonged and excessive intake of alcohol drinks leading to a breakdown in health and an addiction to alcohol such that abrupt deviation leads to severe withdrawal symptoms".2 Its a disease that causes many health-related issues, both short term and long term.

The National Institutes of Health published information in its July, 2007 release stating that more than 30% of U.S. adults met diagnostic criteria for an alcohol use disorder.3 It also stated that the average length of time between the disorders onset and seeking treatment is ten years – or the "Lost Decade".3

Short-term effects are the most commonly known and are usually the desired effect by those with an alcohol disorder (or alcoholism). The disinhibiting effect of alcohol is one of the main reasons it is used in so many social situations.4 Some other effects are slurred speech, dizziness, impaired judgment and coordination, nausea/vomiting and very likely a hangover several hours later. A hangover consists of headache, thirst, nausea and dizziness as well as fatigue. 4

The long-term effects of consuming large quantities of alcohol, especially when combined with poor nutrition, can lead to permanent damage to vital organs such as the brain and liver.4 In addition, mothers who drink alcohol during pregnancy may give birth to infants with fetal alcohol syndrome thus producing children that are statistically at a greater risk of becoming alcoholic's themselves.4 Other long term effects are cirrhosis, pancreatitis, certain types of cancer, heart disease, obesity, alcohol withdrawal syndrome and gastrointestinal disorders among others that we will address individually.


  1. R.M. Morse, D.K. Flavin. The definition of alcoholism. The Joint Committee of the National Council on alcoholism and Drug Dependence and the American Society of Addiction to Study the Definition and Criteria for the Diagnosis of Alcoholism. The Journal of the American Medical Association. Vol. 268, August 26, 1992.
  2. alcoholism.
  3. Alcohol Survey Reveals 'Lost Decade' Between Ages of Dirorder Onset and Treatment. Authors Call for National Campaign to Change Public and Professional Attitudes. NIH News. National Institutes of Health. July 2, 2007.
  4. Alcohol. Partnership for a Drug-Free Americaâ„¢. Source: National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism.

This page was last modified on : 10/28/2013

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