What Is ETOH Abuse?

ETOH is a medical or scientific abbreviation for ethanol, the substance found in alcoholic beverages. Thus, ETOH abuse refers to abuse of drinking alcohol. The term "alcohol abuse" is used in everyday language to describe misuse of or dependence on alcohol. However, it is important to understand the difference in the meaning of alcohol dependence and alcohol abuse, both of which are substance use disorders related to what is popularly considered as alcoholism.

Is This an Emergency?

If you are experiencing serious medical symptoms, seek emergency treatment immediately.

Abuse vs. Dependence

The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fourth Edition-revised (DSM-IV-R), which is a guidebook used in the mental health field for classification of psychiatric disorders, helps illuminate the difference between alcohol abuse and dependence. According to the DSM-IV-R, alcohol abuse is misuse of alcohol that results in clinically significant impairment or distress and is manifested in at least one of the following ways during a 12-month period: an individual is unable to fulfill his work, school, or home obligations because of alcohol use; alcohol is used in physically dangerous situations, such as while driving; an individual experiences multiple legal problems as a result of his alcohol use; and an individual continues to consume alcohol despite negative effects on his social or interpersonal dealings. Alcohol dependence differs from abuse in that the individual now exhibits signs and symptoms of physical and/or psychological dependence on alcohol, such as increasing tolerance or withdrawal symptoms.

Signs and Symptoms

If an individual exhibits any of the manifestations of alcohol abuse, this may be a sign that they have a problem with alcohol that is growing out of control. Additionally, an individual who abuses alcohol may not be able to control the amount that he drinks, may experience blackouts during drinking spells, or may become irritable or depressed when alcohol is not available. Other behaviors of concern include surreptitious drinking; binge drinking; hiding alcohol in unusual places around the home, at work or in the car; and frequent unexplained injuries.


The psychological and social consequences of alcohol abuse are numerous and include problems at home, work or school; disruptions in interpersonal relationships; and increased risk of being involved in a motor vehicle collision or committing/being the victim of a violent crime. The potential health consequences are yet more numerous and include liver problems, nervous system abnormalities, nutritional deficiencies, poor sexual functioning, problems with digestion, increased risk of certain types of cancer, and birth defects in children who were exposed to alcohol in utero (fetal alcohol syndrome).


Successful treatment of alcohol abuse requires a multidisciplinary approach with services to meet an individual's psychological, social, medical and behavioral needs. Psychological services should be geared toward addressing the patient's motivation for drinking; any denial about her drinking problem should be faced directly. Social services for alcohol abusers include Alcoholics Anonymous or other self-help programs, religious services, and occupational programs to help reduce work stress in order to cut down on drinking. Medical approaches to treating alcohol abuse are aimed at identifying and treating any consequences of excessive drinking, stabilizing patients who are acutely intoxicated, and discouraging the use of alcohol with medications that dampen its effects or make its use unpleasant.