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Alcoholism is a disease in which a person becomes preoccupied with drinking and has difficulty cutting back, even when it is causing social, health or work-related problems. Alcoholism runs in families and can develop after drinking for a short time or over many years. Initially alcohol may be perceived by the drinker to be a stimulant, but it's actually a depressant that causes sedation.
Alcohol intoxication occurs when there is too much alcohol in the bloodstream causing mental and behavioral impairment, including unstable moods, impaired judgment, slurred speech, inattention, poor memory and poor coordination. Some people drink until they black out and cannot recall what they did. Very high blood alcohol levels eventually cause coma and even death.
People of any age can develop alcoholism. Alcohol use can affect the brain, heart, liver, pancreas and immune system. Alcoholism can cause diabetes and increase the risk for cancer and other diseases. Drinking during pregnancy may cause birth defects.
Steady drinking over time or binge drinking on a regular basis increases the risk for alcoholism. Binge drinking has been defined as five or more drinks within two hours for men and four or more drinks within two hours for women.
Alcohol withdrawal can occur when someone who has been drinking heavily stops altogether. In withdrawal, one may experience sweating, hand tremors, nausea and vomiting, hallucinations, anxiety, rapid heartbeat and even seizures.
Alcoholism and similar alcohol use disorders often affect family members. To recover, people suffering from alcoholism may need family members to participate in their recovery process. There are many possible causes of alcoholism. In addition to one's genetic predisposition, a person's emotions, upbringing, physical health and cultural factors can influence drinking habits.
There is no single cause for alcoholism. A person's emotions, physical health and upbringing including social and cultural factors can influence drinking habits.