For most adults, moderate alcohol use is probably not harmful. However, about 18 million adult Americans have an alcohol use disorder. This means that their drinking causes distress and harm. It includes alcoholism and alcohol abuse.
Alcoholism, or alcohol dependence, is a disease that causes
- Craving – a strong need to drink
- Loss of control – not being able to stop drinking once you’ve started
- Physical dependence – withdrawal symptoms
- Tolerance – the need to drink more alcohol to feel the same effect
With alcohol abuse, you are not physically dependent, but you still have a serious problem. The drinking may cause problems at home, work, or school. It may cause you to put yourself in dangerous situations, or lead to legal or social problems.
Another common problem is binge drinking. It is drinking about five or more drinks in two hours for men. For women, it is about four or more drinks in two hours.
Too much alcohol is dangerous. Heavy drinking can increase the risk of certain cancers. It can cause damage to the liver, brain, and other organs. Drinking during pregnancy can harm your baby. Alcohol also increases the risk of death from car crashes, injuries, homicide, and suicide.
If you want to stop drinking, there is help. Start by talking to your health care provider. Treatment may include medicines, counseling, and support groups.