Alcoholism, or alcohol dependence is a medical term with a deliberately more precise meaning than the problems that can occur, sometimes as one-offs, through an uncharacteristic binge.
In alcohol dependence a number of features come together in the behaviour of the person affected.
- Drinking begins to take priority over other activities. It becomes a compulsion.
- Tolerance develops, so it takes more alcohol to produce drunkenness.
- Withdrawal symptoms such as anxiety and tremor develop after a short period without a drink, and are reduced by taking more alcohol.
Often alcohol dependence remains undetected for years. Both the availability of alcohol and the way it is used (the social patterns) appear to be major factors in influencing the likelihood of a person becoming alcohol dependent.
There may also be a genetic component, because alcohol dependence clusters in some families. However, itís hard to be sure that this is not because of learned behaviour.