Alcohol dependence and alcohol abuse or harmful use cause substantial morbidity and mortality. Alcohol-use disorders are associated with depressive episodes, severe anxiety, insomnia, suicide, and abuse of other drugs. Continued heavy alcohol use also shortens the onset of heart disease, stroke, cancers, and liver cirrhosis, by affecting the cardiovascular, gastrointestinal, and immune systems. Heavy drinking can also cause mild anterograde amnesias, temporary cognitive deficits, sleep problems, and peripheral neuropathy; cause gastrointestinal problems; decrease bone density and production of blood cells; and cause fetal alcohol syndrome. Alcohol-use disorders complicate assessment and treatment of other medical and psychiatric problems. Standard criteria for alcohol dependence-the more severe disorder-can be used to reliably identify people for whom drinking causes major physiological consequences and persistent impairment of quality of life and ability to function. Clinicians should routinely screen for alcohol disorders, using clinical interviews, questionnaires, blood tests, or a combination of these methods. Causes include environmental factors and specific genes that affect the risk of alcohol-use disorders, including genes for enzymes that metabolise alcohol, such as alcohol dehydrogenase and aldehyde dehydrogenase; those associated with disinhibition; and those that confer a low sensitivity to alcohol. Treatment can include motivational interviewing to help people to evaluate their situations, brief interventions to facilitate more healthy behaviours, detoxification to address withdrawal symptoms, cognitive-behavioural therapies to avoid relapses, and judicious use of drugs to diminish cravings or discourage relapses.