Alcohol Dependence

Alcohol dependence, not be confused with alcohol abuse, is a psychiatric diagnosis in which a person continues to use alcohol despite negative consequences to relationships, work or quality of health and life. Alcohol dependence includes both a physical and mental addiction to alcohol. This addiction can dominate all areas of life in a detrimental way, yet the affected person is unable to control or easily quit using alcohol.

Symptoms of Alcohol Dependence

  • Increased alcohol tolerance (needing more and more to become drunk)
  • Withdrawal when alcohol use is stopped
  • Continual drinking, despite harm to health, relationships, jobs, et cetera
  • Drinking alone (not just social situations)
  • Violent behaviors when drunk
  • Denial and irritation when confronted about drinking problem
  • Making excuses
  • Ending participation in regular activities
  • Neglecting appearance and health; even not eating
  • Attempt to hide drinking
  • Alcohol related health issues (such as cirrhosis)

Causes of Alcohol Dependence

The causes of alcohol dependence aren’t fully understood. It’s uncertain what enables some to control their drinking and why others have a much harder time doing so. However, there are certain risk factors that cause individuals to have a higher chance of developing a dependence to alcohol. Men who generally consume 15 or more drinks per week, and women who consume 12 or more drinks per week, increase their risk of becoming dependent on alcohol.

In other cases, alcohol dependence seems to run in families; so if your mother or father suffers from alcohol dependence, there is a chance that you may develop an abusive relationship with alcohol in your future as well. Other factors such as depression, anxiety, bi-polar disorder and other mental disorders also increase risk of developing alcohol dependence. In addition, individuals who are socially active, have friends who approve of drinking and have more money are more likely to develop a dependence. Living a high stress lifestyle, going through traumatic experiences, or succumbing to pressure can also contribute to the development of alcohol dependence.

Treatment for Alcohol Dependence

Alcohol dependence is a problem that not only affects the alcoholic, but family members, friends and loved ones. It’s vital for the benefit of your health, personal life, and loved ones to seek treatment immediately. Depending on the severity of alcohol dependence, treatment options vary. It may or may not be necessary to seek medical help in the form of rehabilitation and/or detoxification. If you think you need this or are unsure, contact your regular health care provider to discuss various options. If you’re having a difficult time quitting alcohol, it’s important to seek the support of friends and family and help from a psychologist, psychiatrist or support group. Dealing with alcohol dependence is a very personal and often private process, but the support of people you trust can help the process.

What Should You Do?

One thing that can be of great help is to find an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting in your area. To find a local meeting location, visit www.aa.org. Here you can choose to participate or just observe, and get a feel for what the program is like. Remember, Alcoholics Anonymous is a free program, is easily accessible, and full of people who understand what you are going through and want to help you. Other options are to talk to your regular health care provider for advice on the next step, or contact a local psychologist to help you along the way. You deserve to live a healthy, happy life and seeking professional treatment can bring you one step closer to making a wonderful change.

View Resources

Wikipedia – Wikipedia page for alcohol dependence, a psychiatric diagnosis.

Medline Plus – Much information about alcohol dependence, including symptoms and treatment.

Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality – Information about pharmacotherapy for alcohol dependence.

International Center for Alcohol Policies – Information about the treatment of alcohol dependence.

Addictions and Recovery.org – A resource for those who seek recovery from alcohol and drug addiction.


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