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July 11, 1977

Early Signs of Alcoholism

Author Affiliations

If you wish to suggest a topic or write an answer for this feature, write to William H. Crosby, MD, Scripps Clinic and Research Foundation, La Jolla, CA 92037.; From Malvern Institute, Malvern, Pa.

JAMA. 1977;238(2):161-162. doi:10.1001/jama.1977.03280020065030

"WHAT IS an alcoholic? I'll tell you: anyone who drinks more than I do."

It is almost as difficult to define alcoholism as it is to treat it. Joking aside, it is most difficult to identify the early alcoholic, the person whose drinking is destructive of health, emotion, competence, and his human relationships. If alcoholism is identified early, much destruction can be prevented. Alcoholism is insidious. An alcohol user gradually becomes an alcohol misuser who gradually becomes an alcoholic. The speed of progression varies. There are teenage alcoholics, and there are alcoholics who do not land on the rocks until they are 80 years old. In most cases, however, the alcoholic is in difficulty ten years before he seeks or is forced to seek help because of severe illness.

This illness does not develop abruptly. Even early alcohol abuse is destructive. During the prodromal years, the signs and symptoms of

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