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Alcohol Dependence

When does drinking cross the line?

If you think you have an alcohol problem, it might be time to have your drinking evaluated.

However, alcohol dependence is a major sign of a problem that you’ve crossed the line from excessive drinker to problem drinker. Alcohol dependence is mainly a physical phenomenon (as defined in the medical community). It may start with an increased need to drink more alcohol, more often. As it progresses, you’ll notice that you get the shakes if you don’t have a drink…so you simply have to keep drinking to avoid withdrawal symptoms.

If this sounds familiar…we can help!

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Does your or a loved one’s relationship with alcohol worry you?
Call 1-888-882-1456 for assessment and help.
We understand alcohol dependence!
We are here for you 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.
Just pick up the phone.

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In this article, we cover more about the nature, causes, and signs of alcohol dependence. Then, we suggest effective methods to end alcohol abuse. There is hope that you can live alcohol-free! At the end, we welcome you to send us your questions via the comments section. We do our best to answer all legitimate inquiries personally and promptly.

What is Alcohol Dependence?

Alcohol dependence occurs when the body adapts to the presence of metabolized alcohol – ethanol – and experiences difficulty functioning without it. The principle feature of dependence is a manifestation of withdrawal symptoms when alcohol doses are significantly reduced or stopped abruptly. In fact, experiencing alcohol withdrawal symptoms and being unable to stop drinking are the hallmark signs of alcohol dependence.

It is important to note that a person who is dependent on alcohol may not drink to drunkenness but must drink in order to function normally. And regardless of the severity of your dependence, medical treatment can address the physical need for alcohol, as well as the underlying issues that compel you to drink.

Does Alcohol Dependence = Alcoholism?

Not really!

But, what’s the difference between dependence and addiction?

Anyone who drinks regularly is expected to develop a degree of alcohol dependency. In fact, it is a normal and expected outcome of your body’s natural tendency to adapt to its environment. So, if you drink alcohol regularly, your body adapts to the presence of the substance and views it as normal.

Your brain and boy can become tolerant of alcohol, too. As you continue drinking, you’ll need to drink more alcohol, more often in order to get the same effect you felt at the beginning of your drinking career.

On the other hand, when alcohol addiction sets in… it takes over the central role in your life and makes you give up important activities and relationships because of drinking. Alcoholism is usually diagnosed when alcohol is more important than your job, your family, or your health. People addicted to alcohol have a hard time stopping, even though they are aware of the negative consequences.

Signs of Alcohol Dependence

Physical signs of dependence include:

1. Tolerance = One of the early signs of dependence is when you need to drink more alcohol to get drunk, which is also known as tolerance. Tolerance is a physiological response we have to alcohol: the more you consume, the more your body needs to have the same effect.

2. Withdrawal = The manifestation of a set of symptoms when alcohol intake is drastically reduced or stopped altogether is called withdrawal. These harsh and often times life-threatening symptoms require medical treatment to avoid any risks.

Psychological signs of dependence:

1. Inability to stop drinking = You cannot stop drinking despite the desire to quit, even though you have attempted to stop for several times in the past.

2. Loss of control over drinking = You drink larger amounts of alcohol or drink for a longer time than initially intended, despite wanting to reduce your drinking.

3. Neglect of activities = Your drinking habits leave you less time to spend with family and friends. You may also neglect yourself, your home responsibilities, or school/work duties. Drinking eats up most of your time and energy.

How to End Alcohol Dependence?

When you are thinking about getting help, you can start by talking to your primary care physician. Your doctor can be a good source for treatment referrals and prescription medications. Your doctor may also:

  • Evaluate whether your drinking pattern is risky.
  • Help craft an individualized treatment plan that fits your specific needs and goals.
  • Run tests to evaluate your overall health.
  • Assess if medications may be appropriate for your course of alcohol dependence treatment.
  • Set you up with a local detox clinic or rehab center.

You can also call 1-888-882-1456 to find a safe, confidential and toll-free Alcohol Helpline where you can access the information you need to help yourself or a loved one with alcohol dependence. This helpline is accessible 24/7 and will help you find an alcohol recovery program suited to your individual needs.

Medications for Alcohol Dependence Treatment

Several medications can be prescribed during acute withdrawal, or can be applied in the months after initial alcohol detox. Medicines that you may take as a part of a comprehensive alcohol dependence treatment program may include:

  • Anticonvulsants to relieve seizures.
  • Anti-emetics to control vomiting.
  • Anti-hypertensives to prevent blood pressure from rising.
  • Sympatholytics to help you feel calm and control shakiness.
  • Sedatives to help you relax.

These medicines are prescribed by a doctor. For more serious cases, some of these meds may be administered in a clinical setting where doctors and nurses can provide the required level of close supervision.

Alcohol Dependence Treatment

Treatment of alcohol addiction requires professional medical help. Doctors can assess the severity of alcohol abuse, and recommend a detox program to help you cope with alcohol withdrawal symptoms. Then, if needed, you may be referred to an inpatient or outpatient treatment program.

After the initial detox period, when your condition stabilizes, the alcohol recovery program will switch to include other types of therapies, such as

  • behavioral therapy and psychotherapy
  • counseling session
  • education on the nature and cause of dependence
  • stress management

Psychiatrists and therapists can then help you determine the reasons why you use alcohol and help you find positive ways to cope with those issues. They will also encourage you to set up goals and work to improve your behavior in order to reduce chances of relapse in the future.

Got Any Questions?

For more on alcohol dependence, please explore this section of our website.

If you have anything that you’d like to ask, please feel free to post your questions in the section at the end of the page. We value your feedback and try to provide a personal and prompt response to all legitimate inquiries.

Reference Sources: NIAAA: Alcohol Use Disorder
NCBI: Mechanisms of alcohol tolerance
MedlinePlus: Alcohol withdrawal
NIAAA: Treatment for Alcohol Problems: Finding and Getting Help
NIAAA: Treatment of Alcohol Dependence With Medications

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