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What is it?

Alcoholism is a condition resulting from excessive drinking of beverages that contain alcohol. Alcoholism, also known as alcohol dependence, is a disease that includes the following four symptoms:

Physical dependence--withdrawal symptoms, such as nausea, sweating, shakiness, and anxiety after stopping drinking

Tolerance--the need to drink greater amounts of alcohol to get "high"

Craving--a strong need, or urge, to drink

Loss of control--Not being able to stop drinking once drinking has begun

Heavy drinking is widespread. According to the Office of National Statistics (2013), 34% of men and 28% of women drink above the recommended number of weekly units for sensible drinking, placing themselves at increased risk of future health or social problems, while one in 10 men in the UK and one in 20 UK women show signs of alcohol dependence - twice as many as are dependent on all forms of drugs, including prescription drugs.

The major health risks of alcoholism include liver disease, heart disease, certain forms of cancer, pancreatitis, and nervous system disorders. These conditions often develop gradually and may only become evident after long-term heavy drinking. Women also tend to develop health problems before men. The liver is particularly vulnerable to diseases related to heavy drinking, most commonly alcoholic hepatitis (inflammation) or cirrhosis (scarring of the liver).

Experts have defined a second problem, called alcohol abuse, as something different from alcoholism. The difference is that those who abuse alcohol do not have an extremely strong craving for alcohol, loss of control over drinking, or physical dependence. People who abuse alcohol can also develop the physical symptoms related to alcoholism, however. Alcohol abuse is defined as a pattern of drinking that results in particular situations, such as failure to fulfil work, school or home duties, or having recurring alcohol-related legal problems, such as arrests for driving under the influence of alcohol.

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