|Alcoholism is a dependency on alcohol characterized by craving (a strong need to drink), loss of control (being unable to stop drinking • despite a desire • to do so, physical dependence and withdrawal symptoms, and tolerance (increasing difficulty • of becoming drunk).|
In a 1992 article, the Joint Committee of the National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence and the American Society of Addiction Medicine published this definition for alcoholism:
Alcoholism is a primary chronic disease with genetic, psychosocial, and environmental factors • influencing its development and manifestations.
The disease is often progressive and fatal. It is characterized by impaired control • over drinking, preoccupation with • the drug alcohol, use of alcohol despite adverse consequences, and distortions in thinking, • mostly • denial. Each of these symptoms may be continuous or periodic.
Essentially, the causes for alcohol abuse and dependence cannot be easily explained, but the long-standing, unscientific prejudice that alcoholism is the result of moral or ethical weakness • on the part of the • sufferer has been largely altered, as a recent poll showed that 90% of Americans currently believe that alcoholism is, in fact, a disease.
Today, alcohol abuse and alcoholism are a major • public health problem in North America, costing that region's inhabitants US$170 billion annually.
Alcoholism is a life-threatening problem that often ends in death, particularly through • liver, pancreatic, or kidney disease, internal bleeding, • brain deterioration, • alcohol poisoning and suicide.
Alcohol consumption by a pregnant mother can also lead to fetal alcohol syndrome in the unborn child, an uncurable and damaging • illness.
Additionally, alcoholism is a major contributing factor for head injuries, • motor vehicle accidents (MVA), violence and assaults, • as well as • a leading cause of neurological and other medical problems (e.g., cirrhosis, etc.).
Of the two thirds of the North American population who consume alcohol, 10% are alcoholics, and 6% consume more than half of all alcohol.
Stereotypes of alcoholics are often found in fiction and popular culture: for example the town drunk or the stereotype of Russians and the Irish as alcoholics.
In modern times, the recovery movement has led to more realistic portraits of alcoholics and their problems, such as in Charles Jackson's The Lost Weekend, Robert Clark Young's One of the Guys, or the films Days of Wine and Roses and My Name is Bill W.
Alcohol dependence can be harder to break and significantly more damaging • than dependence on most other addictive substances.
The physical symptoms when withdrawing from alcohol • are seen to be equal in severity • to those experienced during withdrawal from heroin.