Frequently Asked Questions

Abuse Of Alcohol

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What is alcohol abuse?

Alcohol abuse is when you drink large amounts of alcohol often to change your mood or behavior.

What increases my risk for alcohol abuse?

You are more likely to abuse alcohol if you are a man, you smoke, or you use illegal drugs. The following may also increase your risk:

  • Family history of alcoholism: You may have a higher risk of abusing alcohol if you have a family member that has had alcoholism. Alcoholism is a harmful disease that makes you crave alcohol. You drink more than is safe, even if it makes you sick. Alcoholism causes you to crave alcohol so much that you cannot stop drinking.

  • Binge drinking: Binge drinking is when you have a large amount of alcohol in a short time. Your risk for alcohol abuse increases if you drink dangerous amounts of alcohol. Men should not have more than 2 drinks a day. Women should not have more than 1 drink a day. A drink is 12 ounces of beer, 4 ounces of wine, or 1½ ounces of liquor. For men, binge drinking is more than 4 drinks. For women, it is more than 3 drinks.

  • Abuse or mental health problems: Your risk increases if you have been abused or have mental health problems. Mental health problems include mood disorders, such as depression. You are more likely to abuse alcohol if you think it will help you feel better emotionally.

  • Young age when you started drinking: Your risk increases if you were between 16 and 24 when you started drinking. You are more likely to abuse alcohol if you start drinking when you were young. You will need to drink more alcohol over time to get the same effects.

What are the physical signs and symptoms of alcohol abuse?

  • Loss of balance or numbness that causes you to injure yourself and not realize it

  • Slurred or fast speech

  • Blackouts or seizures

  • Fast heartbeat

  • Stomach pain, diarrhea, nausea, or vomiting

  • Trouble sleeping

  • Yellowing of your skin and the whites of your eyes

  • Large, swollen abdomen

What behaviors are common with alcohol abuse?

  • Continued heavy drinking: You continue to drink heavily even when it causes problems with your relationships.

  • Quick mood changes: You act out violently and impulsively (done without thinking first).

  • Risky sexual behavior: You have sex that is not protected, or you have sex with many people.

  • Work or school trouble: You have many absences or do not finish your work.

How is alcohol abuse diagnosed?

Your healthcare provider will examine you. He will ask how much and how often you drink alcohol. He may ask questions to test your memory and judgment. He may also check your balance when you stand or walk. You may need other tests or rating scales to help healthcare providers learn more about your drinking habits. A rating scale tells your healthcare provider how much you drink in a day or week. You may be checked for any injuries, infection, or signs of alcohol withdrawal. Withdrawal is when you become ill because you stopped drinking suddenly. Ask your healthcare provider for more information about alcohol withdrawal. The following tests may also be done:

  • Psychiatric assessment: Caregivers will ask if you have a history of psychological trauma, such as physical, sexual, or mental abuse. They will ask if you were given the care that you needed. Caregivers will ask you if you have been a victim of a crime or natural disaster, or if you have a serious injury or disease. They will ask you if you have seen other people being harmed, such as in combat. You will be asked if you drink alcohol or use drugs at present or in the past. Caregivers will ask you if you want to hurt or kill yourself or others. How you answer these questions can help caregivers decide on treatment. To help during treatment, caregivers will ask you about such things as how you feel about it and your hobbies and goals. Caregivers will also ask you about the people in your life who support you.

  • Neurologic exam: This is also called neuro signs, neuro checks, or neuro status. A neurologic exam can show caregivers how well your brain works after an injury or illness. Caregivers will check how your pupils (black dots in the center of each eye) react to light. They may check your memory and how easily you wake up. Your hand grasp and balance may also be tested.

  • Blood and urine tests: Samples of your blood or urine are tested for alcohol. Tests can also show signs of liver, kidney, or heart damage caused by alcohol. You may need to have these tests more than once.

  • EKG: This test records the electrical activity of your heart. It will be used to check for heart damage or problems caused by alcohol.

  • Chest x-ray: This is a picture of your lungs and heart. Healthcare providers may use the x-ray to look for heart damage, injuries, or signs of infection, such as pneumonia.

  • CT scan: This test is also called a CAT scan. An x-ray machine uses a computer to take pictures of your brain. The pictures may show damage caused by alcohol abuse. You may be given a dye before the pictures are taken to help healthcare providers see the pictures better. Tell the healthcare provider if you have ever had an allergic reaction to contrast dye.

What medicines are used to treat alcohol abuse?

You may receive medicines to help reduce your craving for alcohol. You may also be given the following:

  • Sedative: This medicine is given to help you stay calm and relaxed.

  • Antinausea medicine: This medicine may be given to calm your stomach and prevent vomiting.

  • Glucose: This medicine may be given to increase the amount of sugar in your blood.

  • Vitamin supplement: Alcohol can make it hard for your body to absorb enough vitamin B1. You may be given vitamin B1 if you have low levels. It is also given to prevent alcohol related brain damage. You may also need other vitamin supplements.

What treatments or therapies are used to treat alcohol abuse?

  • Brief intervention therapy: A healthcare provider meets with you to discuss ways to control your risky behaviors, such as drinking and driving. This therapy also helps you set goals to decrease the amount of alcohol you drink.

  • Breathing support: You may need the following if you have had so much alcohol that you cannot breathe well on your own:

    • You may need extra oxygen if your blood oxygen level is lower than it should be. You may get oxygen through a mask placed over your nose and mouth or through small tubes placed in your nostrils. Ask your healthcare provider before you take off the mask or oxygen tubing.

    • A ventilator is a machine that gives you oxygen and breathes for you when you cannot breathe well on your own. An endotracheal (ET) tube is put into your mouth or nose and attached to the ventilator. You may need a trach if an ET tube cannot be placed. A trach is a tube put through an incision and into your windpipe.

What are the risks of alcohol abuse?

Medicines to treat alcohol abuse may cause vomiting, stress, anxiety, headaches, or dizziness. Alcohol abuse puts you at risk for disease and injury. Alcohol can damage your brain, heart, kidneys, lungs, and liver. The risk of stroke is greater if you have 5 or more drinks each day. You may act out violently when you abuse alcohol. You may harm yourself and others. Risky sexual behavior could lead to sexually transmitted infections. If you are pregnant and drink alcohol, you and your baby are at risk for serious health problems. Alcohol abuse may put you in a coma and may be life-threatening.

Where can I find support and more information?

  • Alcoholics Anonymous
    Web Address:

When should I contact my healthcare provider?

Contact your healthcare provider if:

  • You need help to stop drinking alcohol.

  • You have trouble with family members or loved ones, work, or school because you drink too much alcohol.

  • You get into fights because of alcohol.

  • You have questions or concerns about your condition or care.

When should I seek immediate care?

Seek care immediately or call 911 if:

  • You have sudden chest pain or trouble breathing.

  • You have a seizure or have shaking or trembling.

  • You feel sad or angry enough to harm yourself or others.

  • You have hallucinations (you see or hear things that are not real).

  • You cannot stop vomiting or you vomit blood.

  • You were in an accident because of alcohol.

Care Agreement

You have the right to help plan your care. Learn about your health condition and how it may be treated. Discuss treatment options with your caregivers to decide what care you want to receive. You always have the right to refuse treatment. The above information is an educational aid only. It is not intended as medical advice for individual conditions or treatments. Talk to your doctor, nurse or pharmacist before following any medical regimen to see if it is safe and effective for you.

© 2014 Truven Health Analytics Inc. Information is for End User's use only and may not be sold, redistributed or otherwise used for commercial purposes. All illustrations and images included in CareNotes® are the copyrighted property of A.D.A.M., Inc. or Truven Health Analytics.

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