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alcoholism

Introduction

alcoholism, disease characterized by impaired control over the consumption of alcoholic beverages. Alcoholism is a serious problem worldwide; in the United States the wide availability of alcoholic beverages makes alcohol the most accessible drug, and alcoholism is the most prevalent of the nation's addictions (see drug addiction and drug abuse).

The understanding of alcoholism, and hence its definition, continues to change. Many terms, often with hazy differences in meaning, have been used to describe different stages and manifestations of the disease. In 1992 the National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence and the American Society of Addiction Medicine published a definition reflecting the current understanding of the disease: "Alcoholism is a primary, chronic disease with genetic, psychosocial, and environmental factors influencing its development and manifestations. The disease is often progressive and fatal. It is characterized by impaired control over drinking, preoccupation with the drug alcohol, use of alcohol despite adverse consequences, and distortions in thinking, most notably denial. Each of these symptoms may be continuous or periodic." This definition recognizes alcoholism as a disease, i.e., as an involuntary disability. It accepts a genetic vulnerability in some people and identifies the phenomenon of denial as both a psychological defense mechanism and a physiological outcome of alcohol's effect on the memory.

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The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.

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