Alcohol abuse

What is Alcohol abuse?

Alcohol abuse is a previous psychiatric diagnosis in which there is recurring harmful use of ethanol despite its negative consequences. In 2013 it was reclassified as alcohol use disorder (alcoholism) along with alcohol dependence. There are two types of alcohol abuse, those who have anti-social and pleasure-seeking tendencies, and those who are anxiety-ridden people who are able to go without drinking for long periods of time but are unable to control themselves once they start. Binge drinking is another form of alcohol abuse. According to surveys, the heaviest drinkers are the United Kingdom’s adolescents. In 2013, 139,000 deaths globally were directly due to alcohol abuse and an additional 384,000 to cirrhosis from excess alcohol consumption. 

Signs and symptoms

Signs and symptoms of alcohol abuse are related to alcohol’s effects on organ systems. However, while these findings are often present, they are not necessary to make a diagnosis of alcohol abuse. Signs of alcohol abuse show its drastic effects on the central nervous system, including inebriation and poor judgment; chronic anxiety, irritability, and insomnia. Alcohol’s effects on the liver include elevated liver function tests (classically AST is at least twice as high as ALT). Prolonged use leads to cirrhosis and liver failure. With cirrhosis, patients develop an inability to process hormones and toxins. The skin of a patient with alcoholic cirrhosis can feature cherry angiomas, palmar erythema and in acute liver failure jaundice and ascites. The derangements of the endocrine system lead to the enlargement of the male breasts. The inability to process toxins leads to liver disease, such as hepatic encephalopathy.


Mechanism is until recently, the underlying mechanisms mediating the link between pubertal maturation and increased alcohol use in adolescence was poorly understood. Now research has suggested that sex steroid hormone levels may play a role in this interaction. When controlling for age, it was demonstrated that elevated estradiol and testosterone levels in male teenagers undergoing pubertal development was linked to increased alcohol consumption. It has been suggested that sex hormones promote alcohol consumption behaviors in teens by stimulating areas in the male adolescent brain associated with reward processing. The same associations with hormone levels were not demonstrated in females undergoing pubertal development. It is hypothesized that sex steroid hormones, such as testosterone and estradiol, are stimulating areas in the male brain that function to promote sensation-seeking and status-seeking behaviors and result in increased alcohol usage. Therefore, the increased activity of the enzyme may be influencing male adolescent alcohol-usage behaviors during pubertal development. The underlying mechanisms for female alcohol consumption and abuse is still under examination, but is believed to be largely influenced by morphological, rather than hormonal, changes during puberty as well as the presence of deviant peer groups.


Prevention – reducing the harm has been called for via increased taxation of alcohol, stricter regulation of alcohol advertising and the provision of brief Interventions. Brief Interventions for alcohol abuse reduce the incidence of unsafe sex, sexual violence, unplanned pregnancy and, likely, transmission. Information and education on social norms and the harms associated with alcohol abuse delivered via the internet or face-to-face has not been found to result in any meaningful benefit in changing harmful drinking behaviors’ in young people.

An individual’s need for alcohol can depend on their family’s alcohol use history. For instance, if it is discovered that their family history with alcohol has a strong pattern, there might be a need for education to be set in place to reduce the likelihood of reoccurrence (Powers, 2007). However, studies have established that those with alcohol abuse tend to have family members who try to provide help. In many of these occasions the family members would try to help the individual to change or to help improve the individual’s lifestyle.


Treatment is youth treatment and intervention should focus on eliminating or reducing the effects of adverse childhood experiences, like childhood maltreatment, since these are common risk factors contributing to the early development of alcohol abuse. Approaches like contingency management and motivational interviewing have shown to be effective means of treating substance abuse in impulsive adolescents by focusing on positive rewards and redirecting them towards healthier goals.

Educating youth about what is considered heavy drinking along with helping them focus on their own drinking behaviors has been shown to effectively change their perceptions of drinking and could potentially help them to avoid alcohol abuse. Completely stopping the use of alcohol, or “abstinence,” is the ideal goal of treatment. A strong social network and family support maybe important in achieving this goal.

Some people who abuse alcohol may be able to reduce the amount they drink, also called “drinking in moderation.” If this method does not work, the person may need to try abstinence. Abstinence has been regularly achieved by many alcoholics in Alcoholics Anonymous.

Mindfulness-based intervention programs (that encourage people to be aware of their own experiences in the present moment and of emotions that arise from thoughts) can reduce the consumption of alcohol.


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