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Alcohol Abuse and Dependence

What Happens

Alcohol abuse or dependence can develop very quickly or happen gradually over years.

In the beginning, your drinking might not seem to be any different from the way other people drink. You may drink only with friends or at parties. It may stay like this, or you may begin to drink more. Your drinking might become a way for you to feel normal or to cope with life's problems.

You might think that you can quit drinking at any time. Many people who have alcohol problems quit for days, weeks, or even months before they start drinking again. But unless you can consistently keep your drinking under control and not fall back into unhealthy patterns, you need help.

Almost half of all people with drinking problems also have mental health problems such as depression, bipolar disorder, or anxiety disorder. When you have a drinking problem and a mental health problem, it's called a dual diagnosis.

Drinking makes symptoms of mental health problems worse. It's very important to treat all mental health problems. You may drink less when mental health problems are treated.


Long-term heavy drinking harms your liver, nervous system, heart, and brain. It can cause health problems or make them worse. These problems include:

  • Cirrhosis or pancreatitis

  • High blood pressure

  • Osteoporosis

  • Certain types of cancer, including breast cancer

  • Stroke

  • Wernicke-Korsakoff syndrome

Alcohol abuse also can contribute to stomach problems, interactions between medicines and alcohol, and sexual problems. It can lead to violence, accidents, social isolation, and problems at work, school, or home. You also may have legal problems, such as traffic tickets or accidents, as a result of drinking.

Drinking alcohol can cause unique problems for teens, older adults, pregnant women, and people with other health conditions. If you are pregnant, you should not drink any alcohol, because it may harm your baby.

Author: StayWell Custom Communications
Last Annual Review Date: 2/22/2011

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