Alcohol abuse

Information about:

What is alcohol abuse?

Alcohol abuse is a psychological and physiological dependence on alcohol, resulting in chronic disease and disruption of interpersonal, family and work relationships.

It affects both sexes, but occurs more often in men than women. Alcohol abuse can affect all adults, and the incidence in children is increasing.

Frequent signs and symptoms

Early stages

  • Increased tolerance to the effects of alcohol
  • Low tolerance for anxiety
  • Need for alcohol at the beginning of the day, or at times of stress
  • Insomnia; nightmares
  • Habitual Monday-morning hangovers, and frequent absences from work
  • Preoccupation with obtaining alcohol and hiding drinking from family and friends
  • Guilt or irritability when others suggest drinking is excessive

Late stages

  • Frequent blackouts; memory loss; depression
  • Delirium tremens (tremors, hallucinations, confusion, sweating, rapid heartbeat)
  • These occur most often with alcohol withdrawal
  • Liver disease (jaundice, internal bleeding, bloating)
  • Neurological impairment (numbness and tingling in hands and feet, declining sexual interest and potency, confusion, coma)
  • Congestive heart failure (shortness of breath, swelling of feet)


Not fully understood, but include:

  • Personality factors, especially dependency, anger, mania, depression or introversion
  • Family influences, especially alcoholic or divorced parents
  • Social and cultural pressure to drink
  • Abnormal metabolism of alcohol (perhaps)

Risk increases with

  • Genetic factors. Some ethnic groups have high alcohol abuse rates either for social or biological reasons
  • Use of recreational drugs
  • Crisis situations, including unemployment, frequent moves, or loss of friends or family
  • Inadequate, insecure and immature personality types
  • Environmental factors such as ready availability, affordability and social acceptance of alcohol in the culture group, work group or social group

Preventive measure

  • Keep to safe limits of alcohol intake as recommended by medical authorities
  • Drink slowly, never gulp alcoholic drinks. Do not drink on an empty stomach
  • Do not drink to relieve stress, anxiety, tension or depression
  • Counselling for people at risk of alcohol abuse, such as a family history of alcoholism
  • Provide children with a loving, stable family environment. Use alcohol in moderation, if at all, to provide a healthy role model
  • Encourage a spouse, friend or co-worker to admit when an alcohol problems exists, and seek professional care

Expected outcome

  • Without treatment, alcohol abuse can lead to progressive brain and liver disease, job loss, divorce, possible criminal behaviour, premature death
  • With abstinence (absence of alcohol or drugs), sobriety is a way of life. The change in lifestyle is difficult and relapses occur. If you are determined to give up alcohol, you can

Possible complications

  • Chronic and progressive liver disease
  • Gastric erosion (raw area in stomach lining with bleeding; stomach inflammation)
  • Neuritis, tremors, seizures and brain impairment
  • Inflammation of the pancreas
  • Inflammation of the heart
  • Mental and physical damage to the foetus if a women drinks during pregnancy
  • Family members of alcoholics may develop psychological symptoms requiring treatment and support groups such as Al-Anon

Treatment/post procedure care, general measures

  • For successful treatment, the alcoholic must recognise the existence of the problem and be willing to grapple with it
  • No single form of treatment works for all alcoholics. Psychological, social, and physical treatments may be combined
  • Some patients may require detoxification (medical help in getting over the physical withdrawal symptoms when drinking is stopped)
  • Sometimes requires inpatient care at a special treatment centre
  • Keep appointments with doctors and counsellors
  • Join a local Alcoholics Anonymous group or other support group and attend meetings regularly
  • Reassess your lifestyle, friends, work, and family to identify and alter factors that encourage drinking


  • There are usually no restrictions
  • Discuss physical activities with you doctor


  • Eat a normal, well-balanced diet.

Notify your doctor or talk to a counsellor if

  • You or a family member has symptoms of alcohol abuse

If you need assistance for alcohol abuse click here to tell us 'What's up?' or to give us a call

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