Alcohol use disorders are mental illnesses and behavioral disorders due to addiction to or dependence on alcohol.
An alcoholic is someone whose repeated drinking affects his or her work or social life. Alcohol may be consumed everyday, often starting in the morning, or there may be recurrent episodes of excessive alcohol consumption (binge drinking).
50% of alcoholics have some liver damage. Alcohol can also damage the heart, the stomach, the pancreas, the brain and the fetus in a pregnant woman. Brain damage may be from recurrent head injuries from falls; from the direct effect of alcohol on the brain causing gradual deterioration in mental ability (atrophy of the cortex of the brain); or due to a particular vitamin deficiency (thiamine) caused by lack of food apart from alcoholic drinks. Thiamine deficiency can cause an acute disturbance in brain and nerve function (Wernicke's encephalopathy), which untreated can cause an incurable permanent severe memory disorder (Korsakoff's syndrome).
Many alcoholics get severe withdrawal symptoms if they stop drinking alcohol suddenly. They can become acutely ill, have seizures (fits) and hallucinations (delirium tremens). A common hallucination in withdrawal is thinking animals are crawling all over your body.
Alcohol use disorders were estimated in 2002 as causing 3.3% of all years spent living with a disability worldwide. For men the figure was 5.8%.
Deaths attributed to alcohol abuse disorders here accounted for 0.16% of all deaths worldwide in 2002, an average of 15 deaths per million people per year.