Alcoholism is a chronic, often progressive disease in which a person continues to crave alcohol and drink despite repeated alcohol-related problems, such as losing a job or getting into trouble with the law. Alcoholism affects 10 to 20 percent of men and 3 to 10 percent of women. Nearly 14 million people in the United States—1 in every 13 adults—abuse alcohol or are alcoholic. This disease contributes to over 50 percent of car and industrial fatalities, drownings, and child or domestic abuse.

Signs and Symptoms

Alcoholism is often accompanied by the following signs and symptoms. Symptoms vary with the amount of alcohol taken and how long it has been abused.

What Causes It?

Alcoholism is caused by chronic over-consumption of alcohol.

Who's Most At Risk?

People with the following conditions or characteristics are at a higher-than-average risk for developing alcoholism.

What to Expect at Your Provider's Office

If you or someone you care for is experiencing symptoms associated with alcoholism, you should see your health care provider. He or she can help make a diagnosis and guide you in determining which treatment or combination of therapies will work best.

Your provider will take a history and do a physical exam to look for specific organ damage or trauma and to evaluate if your muscles are tender or weak. Laboratory tests will reveal any indicators of alcoholism, such as high blood alcohol. Imaging techniques may be used to diagnose alcohol-related disorders or to screen for repeated bone fractures.

Treatment Options

The best prevention is to stop drinking alcohol completely. Medications are sometimes prescribed to curb alcohol cravings.

Treatment Plan
Treatment must address both medical issues and rehabilitation, such as motivational techniques for abstaining from drinking, psychotherapy, and Alcoholics Anonymous (or other support groups).

Drug Therapies
Your provider may prescribe the following medications. Complementary and Alternative Therapies A comprehensive treatment plan for alcoholism may include a range of complementary and alternative therapies.

A well-balanced, nutritionally adequate diet helps to stabilize alcohol-induced blood-sugar fluctuations and decrease cravings. Following these tips can help reduce symptoms. Potentially beneficial nutrient supplements include the following.

Prognosis/Possible Complications

Possible complications associated with alcoholism include mental confusion or delirium, severe amnesia, an unsteady gait, and loss of sperm cells, as well as ailments resulting from repeated, violent vomiting. Typically, there are periods of remission followed by periods of abuse. Life expectancy is decreased by about 15 years. About a fifth of alcoholics permanently abstain. During pregnancy, abstinence from alcohol is the only completely safe measure.

Following Up

After initial care, medical follow-up should continue for 6 to 12 months.


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