Understanding Alcohol Dependence

By Srishti Agarwal, Clinical Psychologist

Alcohol is an addictive substance. It gives a temporary feeling of euphoria. Occasional drinking is common with some people or certain communities. However, continued excessive alcohol consumption can lead to the development of alcohol dependence. A person is called to be dependent on alcohol when there is a compulsion to drink. The person may show an inability to limit his/her drinking in any event. People with alcohol dependence can be diagnosed under the category of alcohol use disorder. Alcohol use disorder refers to a pattern of alcohol use that involves problems controlling your alcohol consumption, repetitively consuming alcohol, and continuing alcohol intake even when it causes problems. This disorder also involves having to drink more to get the same effect or having withdrawal symptoms when a person suddenly stops drinking. Increased alcohol use is accompanied by increased social, psychological, and physiological health problems.



A definite diagnosis of alcohol dependence must be made only if a person has three or more of the following signs and patterns during the past 12 months:

Physiological Problems: A person with alcohol dependence continuing to drink alcohol even though he/she knows it increases the risk for health problems. like- liver problems, kidney diseases, indigestion, loss of appetite, stomach ulcers, high blood pressure, stroke, decreased sexual response, etc.

Psychological Problems: A person with alcohol dependence keeps consuming alcohol even if he/she faces psychological issues like- unstable mood, decreased memory, and concentration, poor judgment, etc.

Tolerance Develops.: Alcohol-dependent people develop a tolerance for alcohol meaning the amount of alcohol a person usually drinks. No longer gives him/her the same effect so drinking even more alcohol to get the same effect.

Physical or Psychological Withdrawal Symptoms. When alcohol use has been heavy and prolonged and is then stopped suddenly or markedly reduced the person experiences symptoms. Like excessive sweating, vomiting, heart pounding, seizures, disturbed sleep, hallucinations, restlessness, irritability, unstable mood, and anxiety. It can occur from several hours to a few days.

Strong Craving: An alcohol-dependent person shows a strong desire to drink more often and to drink larger amounts of alcohol.

sad alcoholic man

Uncontrolled Consumption: In alcohol dependence, a person becomes unable to control his/her drinking habits. And keep going back to drinking even after he/she quits.

Increased Time on Alcohol Consumption: Dependence on alcohol makes people vulnerable to fulfill their responsibilities at work or home. Due to spending increased time on alcohol use.

Neglect of Pleasures and Interests: Due to spending an increased amount of time on alcohol use, a person compromises focusing on his/her hobbies and interests.

Risk-Taking Behavior.: A person continuing alcohol use even in situations where it can be dangerous to life and can create legal issues like- driving, violence and traffic offenses, etc.

Relapse: Relapse refers to the re-start of drinking alcohol after a prolonged period of abstinence. Chronic use of alcohol and the presence of withdrawal symptoms may contribute to relapse.

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