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What Is Alcohol Abuse?

Alcohol - Getting the Facts

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Updated April 08, 2012

Alcohol abuse differs from alcoholism in that it does not include an extremely strong craving for alcohol, loss of control, or physical dependence. In addition, alcohol abuse is less likely than alcoholism to include tolerance (the need for increasing amounts of alcohol to get "high").

Alcohol abuse is defined as a pattern of drinking that is accompanied by one or more of the following situations within a 12-month period:

  • Failure to fulfill major work, school, or home responsibilities;

  • Drinking in situations that are physically dangerous, such as while driving a car or operating machinery;

  • Recurring alcohol-related legal problems, such as being arrested for driving under the influence of alcohol or for physically hurting someone while drunk;

  • Continued drinking despite having ongoing relationship problems that are caused or worsened by the effects of alcohol.

While alcohol abuse is basically different from alcoholism, it is important to note that many effects of alcohol abuse are also experienced by alcoholics.

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