Problem drinking in women is much less common than it is in men, and the typical onset of problem drinking in females occurs later than in males. However, progression is more rapid, and females usually enter treatment earlier than males. Women more commonly combine alcohol with prescription drugs of abuse than do males. Women living with substance-abusing men are at high risk.
Although the concept of an intervention is pervasive in popular culture – even leading to the development of a reality television show – there are types of interventions that are more helpful than suddenly accusing a loved one of struggling with addiction. Family and friends may create an intervention – which requires a plan, including specific requirements and consequences – or a therapist, doctor, or other healthcare professional may conduct an intervention. Often, these are brief interventions, which occur after a person has been hospitalized due to side effects from drinking too much or after a person is diagnosed with a chronic illness due to problem drinking.
The 12-Step philosophy pioneered by Alcoholics Anonymous is used by about 74 percent of treatment centers. The basic premise of this model is that people can help one another achieve and maintain abstinence from substances of abuse, but that healing cannot come about unless people with addictions surrender to a higher power. The 12-Step movement can be a force for good for many people, but some struggle with what they interpret as a strong religious element of the program. Many addiction treatment programs offer alternatives to 12-Step methodology for those who prefer a more secular foundation for treatment.
We have found in clinical treatment that the 12-Step philosophy is a vital part of permanent sobriety. When a person maintains a 12-Step practice, including getting a sponsor and working with others, recovery is about more than relapse prevention – it is a pathway to an existence that is happy, joyous, and free. The 12-Step program a gateway into longterm recovery. By focusing attention on the 12-Steps, we set our patients up for long-term success. We engage patients in this paradigm because:

You have a wealth of choices when it comes to alcohol and drug addiction treatment. Depending on your situation, the severity and type of addiction and your resources, you may opt for a residential recovery program, an outpatient one, support groups, or a combination of them. It really comes down to the person and their needs. If you or your loved one need help but are still feeling a bit lost or overwhelmed by the choices in front of you, our helpline advisors work 24/7 via our toll-free number to connect you with the best treatment. Call when you’re ready to get clean and sober – 1-888-319-2606 Who Answers? .


The only requirement for membership is a desire to stop drinking. There are no dues or fees for A.A. membership; we are self-supporting through our own contributions. A.A. is not allied with any sect, denomination, politics, organization or institution; does not wish to engage in any controversy; neither endorses nor opposes any causes. Our primary purpose is to stay sober and help other alcoholics to achieve sobriety.

While admitting that the oft-cited success rate of 5 percent “isn’t great,” Dr. Drew Pinsky, a celebrity doctor and addiction medicine specialist argued that “the fact it, [Alcoholics Anonymous] does work when people do it,” saying the real success rate is as high as 12 percent. The American Society of Addiction Medicine speculated that approximately 10 percent of the people who become part of a 12-Step program enjoy long-term success in their recovery. In 2014, AA self-reported that 27 percent of the 6,000 members who participated in an internal study were sober for less than a year; 24 percent retained their sobriety for up to five years, and 13 percent lasted for as long as a decade. Fourteen percent of the study’s participants stayed sober between 10 and 20 years, and 22 percent reported remaining sober for more than two decades.

Misuse, problem use, abuse, and heavy use of alcohol refer to improper use of alcohol, which may cause physical, social, or moral harm to the drinker.[91] The Dietary Guidelines for Americans defines "moderate use" as no more than two alcoholic beverages a day for men and no more than one alcoholic beverage a day for women.[92] Some drinkers may drink more than 600 ml of alcohol per day during a heavy drinking period.[93] The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) defines binge drinking as the amount of alcohol leading to a blood alcohol content (BAC) of 0.08, which, for most adults, would be reached by consuming five drinks for men or four for women over a two-hour period. According to the NIAAA, men may be at risk for alcohol-related problems if their alcohol consumption exceeds 14 standard drinks per week or 4 drinks per day, and women may be at risk if they have more than 7 standard drinks per week or 3 drinks per day. It defines a standard drink as one 12-ounce bottle of beer, one 5-ounce glass of wine, or 1.5 ounces of distilled spirits.[94] Despite this risk, a 2014 report in the National Survey on Drug Use and Health found that only 10% of either "heavy drinkers" or "binge drinkers" defined according to the above criteria also met the criteria for alcohol dependence, while only 1.3% of non-binge drinkers met the criteria. An inference drawn from this study is that evidence-based policy strategies and clinical preventive services may effectively reduce binge drinking without requiring addiction treatment in most cases.[95]

"When I first told my family I was going into treatment, they were stunned," said Cathy, a recovering alcoholic. "I wanted to talk, needed to talk, but none of us had the right words yet. Now, five years later, I realize that it doesn't really matter how perfectly you say something. You have to risk saying the wrong thing and just start communicating.
Other options include inpatient and outpatient rehab centers, which offer professional addiction treatment and medical care. These programs can also offer a medically supervised detox, which is important in the early stages of alcohol withdrawal. People who have been drinking heavily for long periods of time and stop are at risk of symptoms such as insomnia, nausea, vomiting, tremors, fever, seizures, hallucinations, and severe confusion. Some of these symptoms can be dangerous or even fatal. A medical detox can reduce these symptoms and prevent complications.7

NOTE: This article is based on research that utilizes the sources cited here as well as the collective experience of the Lab Tests Online Editorial Review Board. This article is periodically reviewed by the Editorial Board and may be updated as a result of the review. Any new sources cited will be added to the list and distinguished from the original sources used. To access online sources, copy and paste the URL into your browser.


Alcoholics Anonymous World Services, Inc. has not approved, endorsed, or reviewed this website, nor is it affiliated with it, and the ability to link to A.A.W.S.' site does not imply otherwise. No copyrighted material shall be purposefully posted herein without the express permission of those individuals or institutions possessing ownership of said copyrights. Alcoholics Anonymous®, AA®, and The Big Book® are registered trademarks of Alcoholics Anonymous World Services Inc. The Grapevine®, and AA Grapevine® are registered trademarks of The AA Grapevine, Inc.
A condition characterised by a pathologic pattern of alcohol use causing a serious impairment in social or occupational functioning; also defined by the Joint Committee of the National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence & the American Society of Addiction Medicine as a “primary, chronic disease with genetic, psychosocial, and environmental factors influencing its development and manifestations. The disease is often progressive and fatal. It is characterised by … distortions in thinking, most notably denial.” A simpler, operational definition is persistent drinking that interferes with the person’s health, legal position, interpersonal relationships, or means of livelihood. Alcoholism is characterised by the regular intake of ≥75 g/day of alcohol.

The NIAAA defines risky drinking of "standard drinks," with one standard drink equal to about 12 ounces of typical American beer, 5 ounces of wine, or 1.5 ounces of hard liquor. These figures are based on "typical" (mass market) forms of beer and wine; particularly for beer, many specialty beers may contain up to twice the amount of alcohol as a mass market beer does. For wine, the alcohol content is more constant, but wine coolers often contain less alcohol and some types of wine, such as zinfandels and port, may contain twice the average amount of alcohol. For men, 4 or more drinks a day or 14 or more a week within the last year is considered risky, while for women it is 3 or more a day or 7 or more a week.
The Big Book was originally written as a guide for people who couldn’t attend AA fellowship meetings, but it soon became a model for the program in general. It has since been adopted as a model for a wide range of addiction peer-support and self-help programs designed to help drive behavioral change. In addition to the original Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) group, various offshoots now exist, such as Narcotics Anonymous (NA), Heroin Anonymous (HA), and Gamblers Anonymous (GA).
The World Health Organization estimates that as of 2010 there are 208 million people with alcoholism worldwide (4.1% of the population over 15 years of age).[9][10] Substance use disorders are a major public health problem facing many countries. "The most common substance of abuse/dependence in patients presenting for treatment is alcohol."[125] In the United Kingdom, the number of 'dependent drinkers' was calculated as over 2.8 million in 2001.[148] About 12% of American adults have had an alcohol dependence problem at some time in their life.[149] In the United States and Western Europe, 10 to 20 percent of men and 5 to 10 percent of women at some point in their lives will meet criteria for alcoholism.[150] Estonia had the highest death rate from alcohol in Europe in 2015 at 8.8 per 100,000 population.[151] In the United States, 30% of people admitted to hospital have a problem related to alcohol.[152]
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Support in sobriety and in attaining long-lasting recovery is found in 12-Step practice and regular participation in 12-Step programs and groups. These groups are designed for the addict, the alcoholic, and the family members of those with addiction. The philosophy is based on developing a relationship with a Higher Power and a helping fellowship that encourages an honest mindset and self-sacrifice. 12-Step fellowships facilitate a daily practice for sober and healthy living.
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Jump up ^ "Corrections Catalog". Archived from the original on 12 December 2009. Retrieved 12 December 2009. The titles include: Carrying the Message into Correctional Facilities, Where Do I Go From Here?, A.A. in Prison: Inmate to Inmate, A.A. in Correctional Facilities, It Sure Beats Sitting in a Cell, Memo to an Inmate Who May be an Alcoholic, A Message to Corrections Administrators

Though cautious regarding the medical nature of alcoholism, AA has let others voice opinions. The Big Book states that alcoholism "is an illness which only a spiritual experience will conquer." Ernest Kurtz says this is "The closest the book Alcoholics Anonymous comes to a definition of alcoholism."[60] In his introduction to The Big Book, non-member William Silkworth said those unable to moderate their drinking have an allergy. Addressing the allergy concept, AA said "The doctor’s theory that we have an allergy to alcohol interests us. As laymen, our opinion as to its soundness may, of course, mean little. But as ex-problem drinkers, we can say that his explanation makes good sense. It explains many things for which we cannot otherwise account."[61] AA later acknowledged that "alcoholism is not a true allergy, the experts now inform us."[62] Wilson explained in 1960 why AA had refrained from using the term "disease":
ASAM defines addiction as a “primary, chronic disease of [the] brain … [with] characteristic biological, psychological, social and spiritual manifestations.” It isn’t just a social or criminal justice problem—it’s a medical and public health problem. Medical diagnosis and treatment are appropriate responses to addiction; ASAM’s definition points out that “without treatment or engagement in recovery activities, addiction is progressive and can result in disability or premature death.” So it is a serious, potentially fatal illness, but it is treatable: recovery is possible, and happens for millions of individuals with this disease every year.

The DSM-IV diagnosis of alcohol dependence represents one approach to the definition of alcoholism. In part, this is to assist in the development of research protocols in which findings can be compared to one another. According to the DSM-IV, an alcohol dependence diagnosis is: "maladaptive alcohol use with clinically significant impairment as manifested by at least three of the following within any one-year period: tolerance; withdrawal; taken in greater amounts or over longer time course than intended; desire or unsuccessful attempts to cut down or control use; great deal of time spent obtaining, using, or recovering from use; social, occupational, or recreational activities given up or reduced; continued use despite knowledge of physical or psychological sequelae."[104] Despite the imprecision inherent in the term, there have been attempts to define how the word alcoholism should be interpreted when encountered. In 1992, it was defined by the National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence (NCADD) and ASAM as "a primary, chronic disease characterized by impaired control over drinking, preoccupation with the drug alcohol, use of alcohol despite adverse consequences, and distortions in thinking."[105] MeSH has had an entry for "alcoholism" since 1999, and references the 1992 definition.[106]

One review of AA warned of detrimental iatrogenic effects of twelve-step philosophy and concluded that AA uses many methods that are also used by cults.[93] A subsequent study concluded, however, that AA's program bore little resemblance to religious cults because the techniques used appeared beneficial.[94] Another study found that the AA program's focus on admission of having a problem increases deviant stigma and strips members of their previous cultural identity, replacing it with the deviant identity.[95] A survey of group members, however, found they had a bicultural identity and saw AA's program as a complement to their other national, ethnic, and religious cultures.[96]

In 1955, Wilson acknowledged AA's debt, saying "The Oxford Groupers had clearly shown us what to do. And just as importantly, we learned from them what not to do." Among the Oxford Group practices that AA retained were informal gatherings, a "changed-life" developed through "stages", and working with others for no material gain, AA's analogs for these are meetings, "the steps", and sponsorship. AA's tradition of anonymity was a reaction to the publicity-seeking practices of the Oxford Group, as well as AA's wish to not promote, Wilson said, "erratic public characters who through broken anonymity might get drunk and destroy confidence in us."[20]

Bayside Marin is a premiere center for healing that offers cutting-edge, compassionate care in a private, luxurious setting. Renowned the world over for helping individuals overcome addictions, Bayside Marin offers holistic, individualized treatment for substance abuse and co-occurring mental health conditions. For more information please call (866) 258-3454.


Though it can feel as if you are hiding a unique or embarrassing problem, the fact is that families across the country are experiencing the exact same thing you are. You are not alone with the disease, and you will not be alone as you seek the treatment necessary to begin to heal and start a new life in recovery. Alcohol.org is available to provide education and support all along the way.
AA says it is "not organized in the formal or political sense",[25] and Bill Wilson called it a "benign anarchy".[26] In Ireland, Shane Butler said that AA “looks like it couldn’t survive as there’s no leadership or top-level telling local cumanns what to do, but it has worked and proved itself extremely robust.” Butler explained that "AA’s 'inverted pyramid' style of governance has helped it to avoid many of the pitfalls that political and religious institutions have encountered since it was established here in 1946."[27]

I agree with many of the earlier comments highlighting the drawbacks of 12-Step for many folks seeking recovery.  Although the program claims to be "spiritual" and "not religious," it's roots are in the Oxford Group, an early evangelical Protestant organization, and the 12 Steps (12, because there were 12 apostles) are taken directly from Oxford Group, which maintained that people were "powerless over sin."  Bill W. simply replaced "sin" with "alcohol" and kept the rest unchanged.


Addiction is a complex brain disease that impacts people emotionally, physically, socially, financially, behaviorally, and personally. Families and loved ones are negatively affected as well. Addiction recovery is aided by professional treatment programs and by engaging in support groups that can offer encouragement, hope, and healthy peer interactions. These self-help groups aid in facilitating the formation of groups of people who have similar goals for sobriety and long-term abstinence from drugs and alcohol. The idea of a 12-Step program began with Alcoholics Anonymous, or AA, a program designed to support individuals struggling with addiction to alcohol in their recovery efforts.
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As an addiction professional who has worked in the field for 21 years I would be negligent in my duties if I did not inform my clients about the availability of AA as a potential avenue for recovery. I also let them know of other options such as SMART, rational recovery, etc. They invariable return to me saying "all I can find around town is AA". I encourage them to use what is available if they choose to do so. I educate them about the program of AA, the fellowship (which is not the program) and what AA's official stance is on medications (there is none other than it's between the alcoholic and their doctor). I educate and encourage them on all of these things so they are not at the mercy of any uninformed alcoholic in AA.

Jump up ^ Alcoholics Anonymous (2001-06-01). "Chapter 2: There Is a Solution". Alcoholics Anonymous (PDF) (4th ed.). Alcoholics Anonymous World Services. p. 21. ISBN 1893007162. OCLC 32014950. These observations would be academic and pointless if [he] never took the first drink, thereby setting the terrible cycle in motion. Therefore, the main problem...centers in his mind....The fact is that most alcoholics...have lost the power of choice in drink...unable, at certain times, to bring into [his] consciousness with sufficient force the memory of the suffering and humiliation of a month or even a week ago. [He] is without defense against the first drink.
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