Alcoholism, also known as alcohol dependence, is a disease that includes the following four symptoms:
Craving: A strong need, or urge, to drink.
Loss of control: Not being able to stop drinking once drinking has begun.
Physical dependence: Withdrawal symptoms, such as nausea, sweating, shakiness, and anxiety occur after stopping drinking.
Tolerance: The need to drink greater amounts of alcohol to get "high."
An important warning sign is regular, heavy drinking.
Low-risk alcohol use is one standard drink per day for women and two standard drinks per day for men.
At-risk alcohol use, or problem drinking, is defined as more than seven drinks per week or more than three drinks per occasion for women; and more than 14 drinks per week or more than four drinks per occasion for men.
Heavy drinking is often defined as more than three to four drinks per day for women and more than five to six drinks per day for men.
The cause of alcoholism is not well established. There is growing evidence for genetic and biologic predispositions for this disease, but this research is controversial.
Relatively recent research has implicated a gene (D2 dopamine receptor gene) that, when inherited in a specific form, might increase a person's chance of developing alcoholism. Twice as many men are alcoholics.
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