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What is Alcohol Dependence? - What are the Warning Signs? - Facts on Alcoholism - Treatment - Relapse Prevention - Further Information


What is Alcohol Dependence?

Alcohol dependence is a chronic disease that is often progressive and fatal. Although alcoholism tends to run in families, it is influenced by both genetic and environmental factors. An individual who is dependent upon alcohol typically uses it to avoid personal and social factors in his or her life. The four symptoms of alcohol dependence include:

  • craving for alcohol
  • inability to reduce or stop alcohol consumption
  • experience withdrawal symptoms when stopping alcohol consumption
  • increased tolerance of alcohol (takes more to get the same effect)

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What are the Warning Signs of Alcohol Dependence?

You may have a problem with alcohol if you answer yes to any of the following:
  • Drinking in the morning
  • Drinking alone
  • Drinking to feel socially comfortable
  • Drinking to the point of intoxication
  • Drinking that results in blackouts or memory loss
  • Drinking that results in injuries, accidents, or aggressive behavior
  • Drinking to deal with pressure or emotional problems

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  • Getting drunk regularly
  • Using alcohol heavily in risky situations
  • Your professional or school work has suffered
  • You plan your day around drinking
  • You feel guilty about your drinking

If you are concerned that you may have a drinking problem, discuss this with your physician or a mental health professional.

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The Facts on Alcoholism

  • Alcohol is the most commonly used and widely abused psychoactive drug in the United States.

  • Alcohol contributes to 100,000 deaths annually, making it the third leading cause of preventable mortality in the United States.

  • Over 13.8 million Americans have problems with drinking, including the 8.1 million people who are alcoholics.

  • Alcohol has been found to reduce one's life expectancy up to 10 years.

  • Even if you are not an alcoholic, abusing alcohol can still have negative affects.

  • Children of alcoholics are four times more likely to become alcoholics than children of non-alcoholics.

  • Rates of alcohol problems are highest among adults ages 18-29.

  • More men than women are alcohol dependent.

Heavy & chronic drinking...

  • can harm virtually every organ in the body

  • is the single most important cause of illness and death from liver disease

  • depresses the immune system

  • is associated with cardiovascular diseases such as stroke and hypertension

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Treatment for alcohol dependence varies for each individual. Once you have acknowledged that you may have an alcohol problem, seek out what help is available to you locally. The National Drug and Treatment Routing Service (1-800-662-HELP) is a Federal Government Agency that provides contact information for AA chapters in your local area. Those who have become alcohol dependent generally require help from others to stop drinking, which could include detoxification, medical treatment, counseling and/or self-help group support. Some other suggestions are contacting your local hospital, AA group, or drug rehabilitation center regarding possible treatment services.

Treatments for alcohol abuse are usually intensive.  Inpatient treatment used to be common, but is now usually limited to detoxification.  Outpatient treatments, include meetings each week involving physicians, substance abuse counselors, others who are alcohol dependent and family members.  Don't fear the intensity and time commitment of these treatments - this is a serious problem that requires a serious treatment.

  • The National Clearinghouse for Alcohol & Drug 1-800-622-2255
  • Alcoholics Anonymous 212-870-3400
  • Al-Anon 1-800-356-9996
  • The Center for Substance Abuse Treatment 1-800-662-4357
  • The National Council on Alcoholism & Drug Dependence 1-800-622-2255

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Relapse Prevention

Once you've stopped drinking, staying sober and abstinent from alcohol takes work.  To help prevent relapse:

  • Maintain regular social support through AA or other support systems.

  • Be prepared: know the situations that increase your risk of drinking and either avoid that situation or have a plan to handle it.

  • Don't test yourself.  Don't try to see how much temptation you can handle.  It is always preferable to avoid a high risk situation than to try to handle it and fail

  • If you slip, take it seriously but don't beat up on yourself. Seek support and help immediately.  Assess the situation that caused the slip and consider how to handle that situation in the future.   Restart being abstinent from alcohol.

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Informational Links


  • Alcohol and Its Effect. www.alcohol.org.nz/effects/home.html
  • National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence, Inc. www.ncadd.org.
  • National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. Alcohol Alert, No. 12, Assessing Alcoholism, 1991.
  • NIAAA. Alcohol Alert, No. 34, Preventing Alcohol Abuse and Related Problems, 1996.
  • NIAAA. Alcohol Alert, No. 43, Brief Intervention for Alcohol Problems, 1999.

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Page last modified Sept. 29, 2005