­

We've all seen the stereotypical "drunk" in movies and television shows: He's the one staggering down the street, clothing askew, slurring his words and tripping over his own feet. But in the real world, alcoholism is often much more difficult to spot. Alcoholics may hide their drinking problem from friends, family -- even from themselves.

In the United States alone, alcoholism affects millions of people and costs the country billions of dollars each year.

In this article, we'll learn the difference between heavy drinking and alcoholism, find out how alcohol affects the body, discover the genetic, social and physiological factors that lead individuals down the path to alcoholism and learn how alcoholics can get treatment for their addiction.

But first, what is alcoholism?