Alcoholism is a disease in which a person drinks alcohol even though drinking hurts his or her life. Alcoholics often find that they have problems with people close to them, with school or work, and with other parts of their lives.

Alcoholism can happen after a month or years of drinking. It is a disease that gets worse the more the person keeps drinking. Without treatment, it can destroy both emotional and physical health and can lead to death.

Alcoholism is often called a family disease because it hurts the lives of family members and others who are close to the alcoholic. For the alcoholic to get well, family members often must take part in treatment.

People with alcoholism:

What are the symptoms of alcoholism?

Symptoms are different for each person. Just a few, or nearly all, of the following symptoms may be present:

Early stages
Middle to late stages
Late stages

What causes alcoholism?

There is no single cause for alcoholism. A person's emotions, physical health, and upbringing can all play a part. Alcoholism runs in families, which suggests it may have a genetic cause.

An individual may also drink to get over difficult feelings or emotions caused by a treatable illness. Others may drink to lessen feelings of guilt, loneliness, or confusion.

How can I know if I am an alcoholic?

A person trained in treating alcoholism can tell if you or someone you care about is an alcoholic. This person may ask a series of questions. This information is also used to select the best treatment, if needed.

How is alcoholism treated?

Treatment for alcoholism can be different for each person. If the person has a serious physical illness due to the alcohol, he or she must get medical care right away.

Treatment often begins with "detox," or detoxification, which is the body's withdrawal from alcohol. After the body is clean of alcohol, the alcoholic enters a counseling program. The goal of counseling is to help the alcoholic face emotional issues that lead to drinking and to learn ways to stop drinking. Medications may be given to curb a physical craving for alcohol.

Treatment programs can last from a few weeks to years. Places for treatment include hospitals, live-in treatment centers, clinics, and counseling offices.

Where can I get help?

For referral to drug and alcohol treatment programs in your area, call:

National Alcohol and Drug Help Line
1 (800) 821.HELP (4357)

Alcoholics Anonymous
AA World Services, Inc.

Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Association



This information is provided by the Cleveland Clinic and is not intended to replace the medical advice of your doctor or health care provider. Please consult your health care provider for advice about a specific medical condition. For additional health information, please contact the Center for Consumer Health Information at the Cleveland Clinic (216) 444-3771 or toll-free (800) 223-2273 extension 43771. If you prefer, you may visit or This document was last reviewed on: 7/29/2014