AlcoholRehabHelp Logo
AlcoholRehabHelp Logo
Alcohol & Health
Helping Alcoholics
Where Does My Call Go?
Updated on September 19, 2023
10 min read

What is Alcohol Addiction?

Alcohol addiction can be a devastating problem that affects people from all walks of life. Its far-reaching effects have many physical, psychological, and social consequences. 

But what exactly is alcohol addiction? This blog post delves into the complex world of alcohol addiction to help identify it and understand its signs and symptoms better. It also discusses ways you can seek out support for your recovery journey.

What is Alcohol Use Disorder?

Alcohol use disorder (AUD), or alcohol addiction, occurs when you drink excessively and regularly. It also manifests when you’re unable to control your alcohol use. 

Over time, too much alcohol consumption often leads to AUD. Those with AUD face both psychological and physical dependence on alcohol. Moreover, abrupt cessation of alcohol consumption can result in severe withdrawal symptoms

While consuming small quantities of alcohol can have certain health advantages, exceeding moderate levels of alcohol consumption can negate these benefits. An example of such an advantage is the presence of antioxidants in red wine, which can diminish the risk of heart disease and lower bad cholesterol.

28.6 million adults aged 18 and older, which accounts for 11.3% of this age group, experienced AUD in 2020. This figure includes 16.3 million men (13.2% of men in this age group) and 12.4 million women (9.5% of women in this age group).

The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism 2021 Report

Moderate Alcohol Consumption vs. Alcohol Addiction

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services has established clear guidelines for moderate drinking:

  • Women should have no more than one drink per day
  • Men can safely consume up to two drinks daily

It’s important to note that consuming alcohol in these moderate amounts doesn’t increase the likelihood of developing an alcohol addiction.


Online Therapy Can Help

Over 3 million people use BetterHelp. Their services are:

  • Professional and effective
  • Affordable and convenient
  • Personalized and discreet
  • Easy to start
Find a Therapist

Answer a few questions to get started

online consultation

What are the Common Symptoms of Alcoholism?

Alcohol addiction, or alcohol use disorder (AUD), can be mild, moderate, or severe. It depends on the number of symptoms you suffer from.

Signs and symptoms of alcoholism can include any of the following:

  • Inability to limit the amount of alcohol you drink
  • Inability to cut down on how much you drink
  • Binge drinking (consuming five or more drinks for males and four or more drinks for females)
  • Spending more time drinking or recovering from drinking
  • Drinking alone
  • Experiencing regular cravings for alcohol
  • Becoming preoccupied with alcohol and looking for your next drink
  • Continuing to drink, even when it causes physical, emotional, or social problems
  • Developing an alcohol tolerance and requiring more to achieve the desired effects
  • Drinking in unsafe situations, such as drinking and driving
  • Allowing alcohol to affect personal and professional relationships
  • Losing interest in hobbies or activities you used to enjoy
  • Suffering from alcohol withdrawal symptoms when you are unable to drink (can include nausea, sweating, and “the shakes")

Some people with an alcohol use disorder (AUD) may not perceive any negative consequences. These functional alcoholics are skilled at concealing alcohol consumption and maintaining a normal daily routine. This pattern of alcohol use persists until it eventually leads to serious health complications.

Who Are Functioning Alcoholics?

The term "functioning alcoholic" refers to those addicted to alcohol but can still effectively manage their daily life and social interactions. Others refer to them as high-functioning alcoholics or functional alcoholics.

Recognizing someone as an alcoholic can be difficult when they seem to perform well and fulfill their obligations. However, with time, their alcohol dependence becomes evident to others. This pattern of drinking falls under one of the five subtypes of alcoholism.

Functional alcoholism involves common risk factors, such as:

  • Someone middle-aged (around 41 years old)
  • Someone who has healthy relationships
  • Someone who has a steady job
  • Someone who has a family history of alcoholism

Who Is At Risk of Alcohol Addiction?

Alcohol addiction can run in families. Research shows that different genes affect how your body and alcohol work together. 

For example, some people of Asian descent carry a specific gene affecting how their bodies metabolize alcohol. They experience a rapid heartbeat, alcohol flush reaction, and nausea when they drink, leading many to avoid alcohol.

In this case, the gene reduces their risk of alcohol addiction. Other genes increase the risk of alcohol addiction.

The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism reports that genes account for up to 50 percent of a person’s risk of alcohol addiction.

The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism

BetterHelp can Help

They’ll connect you to an addiction and mental health counselor

Find a Therapist

Answer a few questions to get started

Better Help Logo

What are the Risk Factors of Alcohol Addiction?

Different factors can contribute to your risk for alcohol addiction. These include the following:

Early Drinking

Those who initiate alcohol consumption at a younger age are susceptible to developing an addiction. This propensity particularly heightens in people who engage in recurring excessive drinking episodes.

For young people, even the occasional episode of drinking beyond recommended limits can lead them to dependence on alcohol. This outlook brings a greater likelihood of becoming addicted. However, there's also more difficulty managing drinking habits due to their age.

Mental Health Disorders

Those with mental health disorders like anxiety, bipolar disorder, and depression are more susceptible to developing addiction. This can be due to their difficulty managing their symptoms, leading them to seek solace in drugs or alcohol.

Limited access to proper healthcare services and treatments contributes to their reliance on self-medication. Additionally, people undergoing treatment for mental health conditions may encounter adverse side effects from their medications.

This prompts them to explore alternative options, often involving substance abuse or misuse.

High Stress Levels

High-stress roles can lead professionals to recreational use of alcohol to alleviate stress. Pressure from significant financial, social, or relationship matters can further trigger and amplify the frequency of a person's alcohol consumption.

Loss of inhibitions behind drinking activities can result in new patterns of vices. These preoccupations can be hard to break away from. Those encountering difficulties building healthier coping mechanisms may also be particularly vulnerable to AUD due to their heavier alcohol intake.

Social Pressure

Peer pressure from friends, colleagues, and partners can significantly influence the risk of problem drinking. Thus, it eventually leads to alcohol use disorders.

It's not uncommon for peers to exert pressure when voicing expectations related to alcohol consumption. Furthermore, people tend to long for acceptance among their circles despite feeling uneasy with the inner dissonance this causes.

As a result, struggling people often yield to these demands to avoid alienation from their social groups. Unfortunately, relenting puts them at heightened risk for AUD.


Thinking about Getting Help?

BetterHelp offers affordable mental health care via phone, video, or live-chat.

Find a Therapist

Answer a few questions to get started

Better Help Logo

Why Do People Drink Alcohol?

There are a few reasons why people drink alcohol. Whether they do so in moderation or excessively, drinking always comes with risks.

The most common reasons why people drink include:

  1. To cope with mental health issues, such as depression and anxiety
  2. To relieve stress caused by work, relationships, or daily responsibilities
  3. Social and peer pressure, such as in college
  4. Pressure from the media (because alcohol use is seen as "normal")
  5. Family history of alcohol use or alcoholism

What are The Health Complications of Alcohol Addiction?

Alcohol addiction greatly impacts your life. It also leads to serious health issues.

Excessive alcohol consumption can cause significant harm to your body. Interestingly, physical damage is often the initial indication of alcohol-related problems for those who appear to function normally despite their addiction.

Some health complications associated with alcohol addiction include:

Liver Disease

Liver disease is a significant health concern associated with alcohol addiction. Drinking excessive amounts of alcohol can result in the buildup of fat in the liver, known as hepatic steatosis or fatty liver disease.

Furthermore, alcohol-induced inflammation of the liver, or alcoholic hepatitis, can occur. The liver may be irreversibly damaged in severe cases, leading to cirrhosis.

The symptoms of liver complications include:

  • Jaundice (yellowish skin)
  • Abdominal pain
  • Discolored stool
  • Chronic fatigue
  • Nausea
  • Itchy skin
  • Weakness

Digestive Issues

Heavy drinking can also affect the digestive system, causing stomach lining inflammation. It may also contribute to ulcers in the stomach and esophagus.

Common symptoms of digestive issues include:

  • Acid reflux
  • Heartburn
  • Abdominal pain
  • Nausea
  • Weight loss
  • Loss of appetite

Loss of Vitamins and Nutrients

Your body needs a balance of carbohydrates, proteins, and fats to function properly. In many cases, people with an alcohol use disorder (AUD) can consume as much as half of their daily calories from alcohol. 

Even when they ingest sufficient calories, alcohol impairs the body’s ability to regulate blood sugar. It also makes it difficult to absorb these vitamins and minerals:

  • Vitamins A, B, C, D, E, and K
  • Calcium
  • Magnesium
  • Iron
  • Zinc

These deficiencies can lead to many health issues. For example, the inability to regulate blood sugar can cause diabetes or diabetic complications.

Heart Disease

Alcohol addiction increases your risk of developing the following conditions:

  • Atrial fibrillation
  • Heart attack
  • Congestive heart failure

Specifically, alcohol abuse contributes to a twofold increase in the risk of atrial fibrillation. Furthermore, it amplifies the risk of congestive heart failure 2.3 times and heart attack 1.4 times.


Alcohol consumption is classified as a carcinogen in humans. Therefore, it can potentially cause certain forms of cancer, including:

  • Head and neck cancer
  • Esophageal squamous cell carcinoma
  • Liver cancer
  • Breast cancer
  • Colorectal cancer

What are the Treatment Options for Alcohol Addiction?

There are many treatment options available for those struggling with alcoholism. The most common ones include:

Inpatient Treatment Programs

Inpatient treatment is often the most effective approach for those with severe cases of addiction. During an inpatient program, you detoxify and receive close medical supervision throughout your stay.

You also benefit from a wide range of therapies. These include:

  • One-on-one counseling
  • Group therapy
  • Family therapy
  • Experiential therapies like art therapy or music therapy
  • Cognitive behavioral therapy

Inpatient treatment is available on a short- or long-term basis. You stay at a professional facility throughout treatment and receive 24-hour care. This allows you to remove yourself from triggers and stressors to focus solely on your health.

Medication-Assisted Treatment (MAT)

Others refer to inpatient treatment programs as medical detoxification. During medical detoxification, healthcare providers reduce your physical and psychological dependence on alcohol.

This process may involve medications that help reduce withdrawal symptoms, such as nausea, tremors, anxiety, or seizures. Additionally, it teaches you to develop healthy coping skills and strategies for maintaining sobriety in the long term.

Outpatient Treatment Programs

Outpatient treatment involves attending regular appointments with your doctor or counselor for a fixed number of hours each week. These programs are flexible. You can continue your daily life and social interactions, including work and school.

During these appointments, you discuss and work on any underlying issues that may impact your drinking habit. You also learn how to create a support system to rely on during tough times.

Outpatient programs may include:

  • Individual counseling
  • Group therapy
  • 12-step programs like Alcoholics Anonymous
  • Community and religious support groups
  • Comprehensive relapse prevention plans

Support Groups

Support groups are also an essential part of recovery from alcohol addiction. These groups help those in treatment and those who have already completed a program.

The most common support group for alcohol addiction is Alcoholics Anonymous (AA). It includes 12-step Groups, which work to teach members how to stay sober through meetings and mentorship programs. AA includes:

  • Regular meetings with people going through similar struggles
  • Sponsor programs where members help one another stay sober
  • Step study sessions that focus on a thorough understanding of the 12 Steps to recovery
  • Social activities and celebrations for those in recovery

Support groups like AA also offer online meetings and access to resources for specific types of addiction.


Alcohol addiction can have devastating consequences on your health. It increases your risk of developing liver disease, digestive issues, vitamin and nutrient deficiencies, heart disease, and cancer.

Fortunately, many treatment options are available to those struggling with alcoholism. These include inpatient and outpatient treatment programs and support groups like Alcoholics Anonymous.

If you or a loved one are struggling with alcohol addiction, reach out for help right away. You can always break the cycle of addiction and start living a healthier life.

Updated on September 19, 2023
9 sources cited
Updated on September 19, 2023
All Alcoholrehabhelp content is medically reviewed or fact checked to ensure as much factual accuracy as possible.

We have strict sourcing guidelines and only link to reputable media sites, academic research institutions and, whenever possible, medically peer reviewed studies.
  1. Alcohol Abuse Increases Risk of Heart Conditions as Much as Other Risk Factors.American College of Cardiology, 2017.

  2. Alcohol Questions and Answers.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 2022.

  3. Alcohol and Cancer Risk Fact Sheet.National Cancer Institute, 2021. 

  4. Firth, G. "How Alcohol Affects You." University of California San Diego.

  5. Alcohol Facts and Statistics.National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, 2023.

  6. “Drinking Levels Defined.” National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism.

  7. Edenberg et al. "Genetics and alcoholism." Nature Reviews Gastroenterology & Hepatology, 2014.

  8. Red wine and resveratrol: Good for your heart?Mayo Clinic, 2023.

  9. Müller et al. "Subtypes of alcohol use disorder in the general population: A latent class analysis." Psychiatry Research, 2020.

AlcoholRehabHelp Logo
All content created by Alcohol Rehab Help is sourced from current scientific research and fact-checked by an addiction counseling expert. However, the information provided by Alcohol Rehab Help is not a substitute for professional treatment advice.
© 2023 by Treatment Pathway LLC. All rights reserved.
Back to top icon
linkedin facebook pinterest youtube rss twitter instagram facebook-blank rss-blank linkedin-blank pinterest youtube twitter instagram