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Many people drink alcohol, but not everyone does so in moderation. Alcohol abuse occurs when a person's life is affected by drinking and the alcohol use is interfering with the ability to function normally. This abuse can lead to a dependence on alcohol and may cause a variety of medical problems. If someone is showing signs of abuse, ask your healthcare provider about ways to help.

What Is the Difference Between Alcohol Use and Abuse?

While 90 percent of people drink alcohol, most of these people use it in moderation. When healthcare providers recommend drinking alcohol in "moderation," they mean one drink a day for women and two drinks a day for men.
As with a number of other drugs, alcohol can be abused. This type of abuse occurs when alcohol interferes with a person's ability to function normally and his or her daily life becomes impaired. This can also turn into a dependence on alcohol (known as alcoholism). When a person is dependent on alcohol, he or she has a similar impairment to someone who is abusing alcohol and may also display the following signs:
  • A strong desire to use alcohol
  • An inability to stop drinking once it has begun
  • An increased tolerance for alcohol
  • Physical signs of withdrawal from alcohol if it has been too long since the last drink.
Up to 10 percent of men and up to 5 percent of women develop persistent and pervasive alcohol-related problems (alcoholism). The typical person who abuses alcohol has a family and a job. The homeless alcoholic is more the exception than the rule. People who abuse alcohol can be young or old. In fact, it is quite common for people to overlook alcohol use and abuse in older people.
Written by/reviewed by:
Last reviewed by: Arthur Schoenstadt, MD
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