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The definition of alcoholism

The definition of alcoholism according to Wikipedia is as follows:

"Alcoholism is a term with multiple and sometimes conflicting definitions. In common and historic usage, alcoholism refers to any condition that results in the continued consumption of alcoholic beverages despite the health problems and negative social consequences it causes. Medical definitions describe alcoholism as a disease which results in a persistent use of alcohol despite negative consequences. Alcoholism may also refer to a preoccupation with or compulsion toward the consumption of alcohol and/or an impaired ability to recognize the negative effects of excessive alcohol consumption. Although not all of these definitions specify current and on-going use of alcohol as a qualifier, some do, as well as remarking on the long-term effects of consistent, heavy alcohol use, including dependence and symptoms of withdrawal.


While the ingestion of alcohol is, by definition, necessary to develop alcoholism, the use of alcohol does not predict the development of alcoholism. The quantity, frequency and regularity of alcohol consumption required to develop alcoholism varies greatly from person to person. In addition, although the biological mechanisms underpinning alcoholism are uncertain, some risk factors, including social environment, emotional health and genetic predisposition, have been identified."

If you are looking for an "official" definition of alcoholism, you will get different answers, depending on who you are speaking to.  The medical community has varying definitions, different treatment programshave different definitions and the general public has their ownopinions on what alcoholism is (or isn't.)

The Journal of the American Medical Association defines alcoholism as "a primary, chronic disease characterized by impaired control overdrinking, preoccupation with the drug alcohol, use of alcohol despite adverse consequences, and distortions in thinking."

The DSM-IV (the standard for diagnosis in psychiatry and psychology)defines alcohol abuse as repeated use despite recurrent adverse consequences. ; further defining alcohol dependence as alcohol abuse combined with tolerance, withdrawal, and an uncontrollable drive to drink.

According to the APA Dictionary of Psychology, alcoholism is the popular term for alcohol dependence. Notethat there is debate whether dependence in this use is physical(characterized by withdrawal), psychological (based on reinforcement), or both.


Use, misuse, heavy use, abuse, addiction, and alcohol dependence are all common labels used to describe drinking habits, but the actual meaning of these words can vary greatly depending upon the context in which they are used. Even within the medical field, the definition can vary between areas of specialization. The introduction of politics and religion further muddles the issue.



Use refers to simple use of a substance. Anybody who drinks any alcoholic beverage is using alcohol.

Misuse, problem use, and heavy use do not have standard definitions, but suggest consumption of alcohol beyond the point where it causes physical, social, or moral harm to the drinker. I'm sure that you can see that social or moral harm can not be measured and is subjective to the perception of the individual witnessing the abuse. What is frowned upon in one social setting, (like at a fancy year end function with the directors), might be totally acceptable behavior at say, a motorbike rally. This is part of the reason why it is so difficult to create a definition of Alcoholism.

Within politics, the word "abuse" is often used to refer to the illegal use of any substance. One bottle of hard liquor, drank at your home, just before going peacefully to be, would not constitute abuse LEGALLY. However, two glasses of wine, drank before driving, would put your blood alcohol levels over the legal limit for driving, and would then be referred to as "abuse". As such, we can't really look at the government to give us a definition of alcoholism.

Looking at the field of medicine, abuse could refer to the use of prescription medications in excess of the prescribed dosage, use of a prescription drug without a prescription, or use of any medicine that results in long-term health problems.

Within religion, abuse can refer to any use of a poorly regarded substance. This includes nicotine and caffeine. This term should be avoided because it can cause confusion with audiences that do not necessarily share a single definition. In other words, what will be accepted by the church as the definition of alcoholism, would not be regarded as such by other religions.

The term most likely to be accurate when describing alcoholism, is alcohol dependence. An alcoholic is a person who is physically and psychologically dependent on alcohol. When he can not have alcohol, he will have both physical and psychological withdrawal symptoms. An alcoholic is often unable to control his urge to drink, or will be unable to stop once he has started.




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