What Is ETOH Abuse?

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ETOH (ethyl alcohol or ethanol) abuse is a condition in which a person continues to drink excessively despite the harmful effects it has on their social, mental, physical and emotional health. ETOH abuse is also referred to as alcohol abuse. It is considered a milder form of alcohol use disorder (AUD).

Both ETOH abuse and alcohol dependence refers to negative drinking patterns but they are different and may require different treatment plans. Someone who abuses ETOH may not be dependent on it. Dependence is defined as the physical reliance on alcohol. When a person who abuses alcohol stops drinking, they may not experience withdrawal symptoms such as irritability, a strong urge to drink, sweating, nausea, or insomnia.

This article discusses the history of the term ETOH abuse, its symptoms, diagnosis, adverse health effects, and treatment options.

If you or a loved one are struggling with substance use or addiction, contact the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) National Helpline at 1-800-662-4357 for information on support and treatment facilities in your area.

For more mental health resources, see our National Helpline Database.

History of the Term ETOH Abuse

In 2013, the 5th edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5) was published. The new edition combined the terms alcohol dependence and alcohol abuse into a single disorder called alcohol use disorder (AUD) which was broken down into three subtypes:

  1. Mild
  2. Moderate
  3. Severe

The purpose of the change was to remove the differentiation between the terms as it implied abuse was less severe than dependence. However, alcohol abuse can be very disruptive and life-threatening.

Although the term ETOH abuse has been integrated into alcohol use disorder, it is helpful to understand the original definition of ETOH abuse.

ETOH Abuse Symptoms

The symptoms of ETOH abuse have an immediate effect compared to the symptoms of severe AUD which tend to be prolonged. However, the symptoms of each can overlap.

Some physical symptoms of ETOH abuse include:

  • Blacking out after excessive drinking
  • Having trouble concentrating
  • Having difficulty controlling body movements
  • Slurred speech
  • Having memory gaps and not remembering what happened
  • Having problems making decisions
  • Experiencing hangovers after drinking
  • Experiencing slowed reflexes

In cases where the blood alcohol level is very high, it can cause breathing issues, coma, alcohol poisoning, or death.

Examples of ETOH Abuse

Examples of ETOH abuse include:

  • Consuming ETOH while pregnant
  • Choosing to drink even though it is causing problems with school, relationships, work and health
  • Drinking to cope with adversity, stress, or to numb difficult emotions
  • Driving while drunk
  • Participating in high-risk activities while drinking
  • Drinking under the legal age limit
  • Consistently drinking more and longer than intended
  • Binge drinking

Diagnosing ETOH Abuse

Alcohol abuse refers to excessive drinking. There are different criteria for males and females. For males, heavy drinking is defined as drinking more than four drinks per day or more than 14 per week. Binge drinking is defined as having five or more drinks in two hours.

For females, heavy drinking is defined as drinking more than three drinks per day or more than seven drinks per week. Binge drinking is defined as having four or more drinks in two hours.

Alcohol abuse and alcohol dependence are diagnosed as AUD. AUD is classified as mild, moderate and severe. According to The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA), approximately 14 million adults in the United States struggle with AUD. 

An individual must experience two of the 11 primary symptoms of AUD during the past 12 months to be clinically diagnosed with an AUD.

The disorder is then classified into the following categories:

  • Mild AUD: two to three symptoms
  • Moderate AUD: four to five symptoms
  • Severe AUD: six or more symptoms

A summary of the criteria is as follows:

  1. Not being able to cut back on drinking
  2. Feeling overwhelmed by the need to have another drink
  3. Spending a significant amount of time recovering from the effects of drinking
  4. Not being able to meet work or school commitments because of drinking
  5. Drinking more than before to get the same effects due to built-up tolerance
  6. Drinking while performing risky activities
  7. Unsuccessfully trying to quit
  8. Losing interest in hobbies and activities
  9. Drinking despite health, social or personal problems
  10. Experiencing withdrawal symptoms when attempting to stop such as trouble sleeping, sweating, nausea and shakiness.
  11. Experiencing several instances of drinking more or longer than intended.

Long-Term Adverse Health Effects of ETOH Abuse

ETOH abuse can lead to AUD which can cause and increase the risk of severe health conditions. Some long-term health effects of alcohol abuse include:

  • Brain damage: Excessive drinking over time can permanently affect the physical structure of the brain. This can lead to unpredictable mood swings, learning problems, impaired motor skills, and decreased decision-making abilities.
  • Heart Disease: Heavy drinking regularly can permanently damage the heart and cardiovascular system. This can lead to a weakening of the heart muscles, irregular heartbeat, stroke, heart attack, and increased blood pressure.
  • Cancer: Frequently consuming alcohol excessively can increase the risk of certain cancers, specifically in the body parts which alcohol comes into contact with. These include cancers of the liver, throat, mouth, and pancreas.


Treating alcohol abuse may be different than for those who are alcohol dependent as this depends on the severity of their disorder. Alcohol dependence is a chronic physical and mental condition where the person is unable to stop drinking without experiencing withdrawal symptoms.

The frequency of alcohol abuse can vary from one person to another. Someone can have an acute instance of alcohol abuse followed by a period of time when they aren't abusing alcohol. 

Effective treatment options for alcohol abuse include a combination of the following:

  • Behavioral therapy: Working with a trained professional can be incredibly helpful in identifying triggers for drinking, understanding your relationship with alcohol, learning how to recognize situations, behaviours and issues that lead to alcohol abuse and developing alternative ways to cope with stress. 
  • Medications: Certain medications can be effective in treating alcohol abuse in combination with behavioral therapy and support. Naltrexone is a medication that can help manage alcohol cravings. Acamprosate can be prescribed to alleviate withdrawal symptoms. Disulfiram interferes with alcohol metabolism and causes you to experience symptoms such as vomiting, nausea, and headaches when you drink.
  • Support Groups: Peer support groups are available online and in the community. The programs aim to help people reduce or stop drinking by connecting with others who have similar experiences and learning from each other. There are also family-based support groups. 

The Dangers of Quitting Drinking Abruptly

It is important to note that if you have been drinking excessively for a long duration of time, it can be dangerous to stop drinking immediately. Please consult with a healthcare provider before doing so.

A Word From Verywell

Although healing from alcohol abuse can be a daunting process, many who seek treatment are able to recover. Getting help early can minimize the chances of relapse to drinking. There are many effective treatment options available to you including behavioral therapies that help you develop skills to manage triggers and medications to help you deter alcohol cravings.

Never feel scared or ashamed for asking loved ones for support and/or getting professional help.

10 Sources
Verywell Mind uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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By Katharine Chan, MSc, BSc, PMP
Katharine is the author of three books (How To Deal With Asian Parents, A Brutally Honest Dating Guide and A Straight Up Guide to a Happy and Healthy Marriage) and the creator of 60 Feelings To Feel: A Journal To Identify Your Emotions. She has over 15 years of experience working in British Columbia's healthcare system.