What is Alcoholism?

Medically Reviewed By Kayla Loibl | Last Edited:  JANUARY 27
2020 | 3 Sources

What is alcoholism? This is a question that is asked everyday by many people. Some of these people are in the medical field, some in the mental health field, and many are average people seeking the definition of an alcoholic because of their own needs.

The problem with answering this question is that there are many answers, depending on who you are talking to. But there are a few common issues that most experts agree on.

Commonalities on the Definition of an Alcoholic

Most experts agree that this is a disease, and as such it will have signs and symptoms. One of the most common symptoms that address the question of what is alcoholism is cravings. A craving can be expressed as a strong need or a compulsion to drink.

Another common issue that most experts agree on is that once a person who has a problem begins to drink they find it hard to stop with just a few drinks. In other words, once they start, it is difficult to stop.

Those with a problem will also find that they often experience the symptoms of withdrawal if they do not have a drink. These might include feelings of anxiety, shakiness in the hands, nausea, profuse sweating and a general sense of being "jittery".

Another common issue that comes up in the definition of an alcoholic is increased tolerance. This means that, with time, the drinker needs more drinks to get the same high.  For example, it is not unusual for a woman who weighs 100 pounds to feel drunk after only one drink.

One very big sign of alcoholism is when drinking interferes with everyday life. If the person's needs are constantly being postponed because they are spending time drinking or recovering from drinking rather than focusing on their own home or work life then this can be considered an issue.

A last common trait in defining what is alcoholism is whether the disorders have become the main focus of the individual's life or if it has taken over both physical and mental health. This means that when someone becomes obsessed with alcohol, they aren't really able to enjoy anything else.


Some Myths

When considering the question what is alcoholism, it is important to understand that it does not matter what kind of beverage is being consumed. Beer, whiskey, and other beverages are all capable of being the beverage of choice for those with a problem.

Another myth that is often tied to the definition of an alcoholic is that the person must have been drinking for a very long time. The amount of time that it takes one person to develop a problem can vary greatly to the amount of time another person must drink.

Lastly, it is not as important as family and friends might think that the person drink a lot. Petite persons may have a severe problem and yet they drink smaller amounts compared to larger people.

The issue with all of the above is the person's inability to turn away from drinking, even when they know it is causing problems with their lives.

So, the bottom line is that the definition of alcoholism does not have to have many words.

The key is knowing how much drinking causes problems in your life. If it seems uncontrolled and/or you are unwilling to stop then this might be an issue. The matter can be determined by getting help for alcoholism at a treatment center or with an addiction specialist.

What is alcoholism? It's when you keep on drinking even though it gets in the way of your daily life.

Family and Work Issues

In addition to the above, there can also be severe strains placed on both family issues and employment issues. Once a person begins to develop a problem, it is often commonplace for others in that person's close circle to begin having problems with him or her.

Family issues are common and often lead to divorce or separation. Work issues are also common once the person begins to miss work or to perform poorly while at work. In many cases, job loss is a common sign of a problem.

Answering the question what is alcoholism is not easy and it is often confusing. There may be occasions when a person simply drinks too much for a short period of time and then stops. Does this fit the definition of an alcoholic? It may, or it may not.

The first thing to remember is the person might be able to stop drinking for a brief period and then return right back where he or she started. Drinking too much, even only once in a while should be considered an issue because it shows that there is something going on with the person's drinking habits.

Answering this question is sometimes like playing a game of semantics. The bottom line about what is alcoholism is that if drinking interferes with your life and you can't seem to quit then this could indicate that there may be a problem brewing.

One of the best ways to answer the question of what is alcoholism is to seek professional help or to take a self-assessment test. Each person is different, and while many of the signs and symptoms are general in nature, they can also be misleading.

Professional guidance is the best way to get the most reliable answer.

More about what is alcoholism on our alcoholism disease page

Alcoholism home page

Lead Writer/Reviewer : Kayla Loibl

Licensed Medical Health Professional 

I am a Mental Health Counselor who is licensed in both New York (LMHC) and North Carolina (LPC). I have been working in the Mental Health field since 2015. I have worked in a residential setting, an outpatient program and an inpatient addictions program. I began working in Long Island, NY and then in Guelph, Ontario after moving to Canada. Read More