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What Do We Mean By Alcoholism?

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Updated February 14, 2014

Question: What Do We Mean By Alcoholism?
Answer: Alcoholism, also known as "alcohol dependence," is a disease that includes alcohol craving and continued drinking despite repeated alcohol-related problems, such as losing a job or getting into trouble with the law. It includes four symptoms:

    Craving -- A strong need, or compulsion, to drink.

    Impaired control -- The inability to limit one's drinking on any given occasion.

    Physical dependence -- Withdrawal symptoms, such as nausea, sweating, shakiness, and anxiety, when alcohol use is stopped after a period of heavy drinking.

    Tolerance -- The need for increasing amounts of alcohol in order to feel its effects.

For clinical and research purposes, formal diagnostic criteria for alcoholism also have been developed. Such criteria are included in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fourth Edition, published by the American Psychiatric Association, as well as in the International Classification Diseases, published by the World Health Organization. (See also Alcohol Alert No. 30: Diagnostic Criteria for Alcohol Abuse and Dependence.)

Back to: Alcoholism FAQ

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