Ethyl alcohol, or ethanol, is an intoxicating ingredient found in beer, wine, and liquor. Alcohol is produced by the fermentation of yeast, sugars, and starches. It is a central nervous system depressant that is rapidly absorbed from the stomach and small intestine into the bloodstream. A standard drink equals 0.6 ounces of pure ethanol, or 12 ounces of beer; 8 ounces of malt liquor; 5 ounces of wine; or 1.5 ounces (a “shot”) of 80-proof distilled spirits or liquor (e.g., gin, rum, vodka, or whiskey).
Alcohol affects every organ in the drinker’s body and can damage a developing fetus. Intoxication can impair brain function and motor skills; heavy use can increase risk of certain cancers, stroke, and liver disease. Alcoholism or alcohol dependence is a diagnosable disease characterized by a strong craving for alcohol, and/or continued use despite harm or personal injury. Alcohol abuse, which can lead to alcoholism, is a pattern of drinking that results in harm to one’s health, interpersonal relationships, or ability to work.
What are symptoms of an alcohol use disorder?
A few mild symptoms — which you might not see as trouble signs — can signal the start of a drinking problem. It helps to know the signs so you can make a change early. If heavy drinking continues, then over time, the number and severity of symptoms can grow and add up to an “alcohol use disorder.” Doctors diagnose an alcohol use disorder, generally known as alcohol abuse or alcoholism, when a patient’s drinking causes distress or harm. See if you recognize any of these symptoms in yourself. And don’t worry — even if you have symptoms, you can take steps to reduce your risks.
In the past year, have you:
- had times when you ended up drinking more, or longer, than you intended?
- more than once wanted to cut down or stop drinking, or tried to, but couldn’t?
- more than once gotten into situations while or after drinking that increased your chances of getting hurt (such as driving, swimming, using machinery, walking in a dangerous area, or having unsafe sex)?
- had to drink much more than you once did to get the effect you want? Or found that your usual number of drinks had much less effect than before?
- continued to drink even though it was making you feel depressed or anxious or adding to another health problem? Or after having had a memory blackout?
- spent a lot of time drinking? Or being sick or getting over other aftereffects?
- continued to drink even though it was causing trouble with your family or friends?
- found that drinking—or being sick from drinking—often interfered with taking care of your home or family? Or caused job troubles? Or school problems?
- given up or cut back on activities that were important or interesting to you, or gave you pleasure, in order to drink?
- more than once gotten arrested, been held at a police station, or had other legal problems because of your drinking?
- found that when the effects of alcohol were wearing off, you had withdrawal symptoms, such as trouble sleeping, shakiness, restlessness, nausea, sweating, a racing heart, or a seizure? Or sensed things that were not there?
The questions listed above are based on symptoms for alcohol use disorders in the American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (DSM) of Mental Disorders, Fourth Edition. The DSM is the most commonly used system in the United States for diagnosing mental health disorders.
If the answer to one or more of these questions was yes, than you may want to consider having a professional comprehensive evaluation done to determine if treatment for alcoholism may be in order. A proper assessment can also help determine a treatment strategy if needed. If treatment is selected it can be individualized to address clients differing needs and problems.