The term "alcoholism" refers to a disease known as alcohol dependence syndrome, the most severe stage of a group of drinking problems which begins with binge drinking and alcohol abuse.
Alcohol problems occur at different levels of severity, from mild and annoying to life-threatening. Although alcohol dependence (alcoholism) is the most severe stage, less severe drinking problems can also be dangerous.
Officially, binge drinking means having five or more drinks in one session for men and four or more for women. Another definition for binge drinking is simply drinking to get drunk. It is the most common drinking problem for young people, under age 21.
Binge drinking turns into alcohol abuse when someone's drinking begins to cause problems and the drinking continues anyway. Alcohol abuse is when someone continues to drink in spite of continued social, interpersonal or legal difficulties. Alcohol abuse can result in missing time at school or work, neglecting child or household responsibilities or trouble with the law.
Alcohol abuse becomes alcohol dependence when drinkers begin to experience a craving for alcohol, a loss of control of their drinking, withdrawal symptoms when they are not drinking and an increased tolerance to alcohol so that they have to drink more to achieve the same effect. Alcohol dependence is a chronic and often progressive disease that includes a strong need to drink despite repeated problems.
Alcoholism tends to run in families and a vast amount of scientific research indicates that genetics play a role in developing alcohol problems. But research also shows that a person's environment and peer influences also impact the risk of becoming alcohol dependent.
Although a massive amount of scientific research indicates heredity plays some role in developing alcoholism, having a family history of alcoholism does not doom a person into becoming an alcoholic. The genetic tendencies can be overcome.