Alcohol Abuse (ABCT Fact Sheet)

Drinking beverages containing alcohol has been prevalent in many societies throughout history. Today, as in the past, most people engage in some drinking, and most do so without serious consequences. Some people’s drinking, however, is not only excessive, but is associated with serious consequences for themselves and for others. The drinking of a small percentage of individuals is therefore responsible for a large percentage of alcohol abuse.

Alcohol (ethanol) is a psychoactive drug—its principal effect on the brain is as a central nervous system depressant. Although people can drink large quantities of alcohol in short periods of time, alcohol is metabolized and eliminated (used and released) from the body at a slow and fixed rate: about one drink per hour. The unmetabolized alcohol circulates in the bloodstream and is known as the blood alcohol level. Not all types of alcoholic beverages contain the same amount of alcohol. For example, 12 ounces of regular beer contains about the same amount of alcohol as 4 ounces of table wine, which contains about the same amount as 1 ounce of 86-proof liquor.

The effects of alcohol depend on the amount consumed, the period of time over which the alcohol is consumed, the past experience of the user, and the circumstances in which the drinking occurs (affected by such variables as the drinker’s mood or the presence of others). Used in moderation, many people enjoy the effects of alcohol. However, as the blood alcohol level increases, the effects become increasingly negative and normal functioning is impaired. Possible effects include slurred speech or blackouts (time-limited periods of amnesia).

Repeated heavy drinking over extended time periods can have long-term negative effects. The chronic effects of heavy drinking can range from mild medical problems such as stomach inflammation to serious ones such as cirrhosis or brain damage. When heavy drinking is combined with cigarette smoking the risk of serious disease increases. Psychosocial consequences of heavy drinking can range from mild consequences such as missed work to serious ones such as divorce or
job loss.

A publication from the Association for Behavioral and Cognitive Therapies


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