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Excessive habitual consumption of alcoholic beverages despite physical, mental, social, or economic harm (e.g., cirrhosis, drunk driving and accidents, family strife, frequently missing work). Persons who drink large amounts of alcohol over time become tolerant to its effects. Alcoholism is usually considered an addiction and a disease. The causes are unclear, but there may be a genetic predisposition. It is more common in men, but women are more likely to hide it. Treatment may be physiological (with drugs that cause vomiting and a feeling of panic when alcohol is consumed; not an effective long-term treatment), psychological (with therapy and rehabilitation), or social (with group therapies). Group therapies such as Alcoholics Anonymous are the most effective treatments. Suddenly stopping heavy drinking can lead to withdrawal symptoms, including delirium tremens.
This entry comes from Encyclopædia Britannica Concise. For the full entry on alcoholism, visit Britannica.com.