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Do you or someone you know have a problem with alcohol? Is it affecting your finances, work or relationships? Seek help if you or someone close to you is experiencing this. There is good support and help available.

What is alcohol dependence?

Alcohol dependence, also known as alcoholism, is a disease characterized by a strong desire or compulsive need to consume alcohol despite negative physical, social and economic consequences. It involves a process of physical and psychological dependence in which the body becomes accustomed to alcohol consumption and one experiences withdrawal symptoms from alcohol when not drinking.

Alcohol dependence can affect a person’s ability to control or limit their drinking due to both physical dependence and strong psychological cravings. It is a treatable condition but may require more extensive treatment depending on the severity of the addiction.

According to the Department of Health, one in ten Australians have an alcohol addiction. This means that there are more than 2 million people suffering from addiction in Australia alone

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Facts about alcohol dependence

It is estimated that around 4% of the adult population have an alcohol dependence. It is a prominent public health problem that affects many individuals and society at large. Research indicates that a significant proportion of the adult population shows signs of alcohol dependence or risky alcohol consumption, with men at a higher rate than women. Alcohol consumption contributes to a range of health problems such as cirrhosis of the liver, cancer, cardiovascular disease and mental disorders, and is a common cause of accidents and violence.

To address this, there are several treatment options for alcohol addiction, from outpatient care and counseling to intensive programs and detoxification. There are also support organizations and self-help groups such as Alcoholics Anonymous (AA).

What causes alcohol dependence?

The causes of alcohol dependence are due to a complex interaction of genetic, psychological, social and environmental factors. Genetics plays a significant role, with an increased risk for individuals who have a family history of alcoholism, suggesting a heritability of the disease.

Psychological problems such as depression, anxiety and stress can lead individuals to use alcohol as a form of self-medication. Social and environmental factors, including social pressure and cultural norms, along with early exposure to alcohol, can also contribute to the development of dependence.

Stressful life situations and experiences of trauma, especially during childhood, increase vulnerability, while certain personality traits such as impulsivity and risk-taking behaviour can further amplify the risk.

It is the interaction of these different factors that increases the risk of developing alcohol dependence, which means that all these underlying causes often need to be addressed in the treatment process.


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How do you know if you are addicted to alcohol?

Determining whether you have alcohol dependence involves identifying a range of signs and symptoms that indicate an unhealthy relationship with alcohol. Alcohol dependence, or alcoholism, is characterized not only by an increased amount of alcohol consumption but also by a strong psychological and physical dependence.

7 signs of alcohol dependence

Here are some indications that a person may be addicted to alcohol:

  1. Strong desire or compulsion to drink alcohol: An intense craving for alcohol that feels hard to resist.
  2. Loss of control: Inability to limit the amount of alcohol consumed once drinking has started.
  3. Tolerance development: The need to consume larger amounts of alcohol to achieve the same effects that were previously achieved with smaller amounts.
  4. Withdrawal symptoms: experiencing physical symptoms such as tremors (shaking), sweating, nausea and anxiety as alcohol levels in the body drop. In severe cases, withdrawal can lead to delirium tremens (DTs), which can be life-threatening.
  5. Prioritizing alcohol over other activities: spending a lot of time obtaining, consuming or recovering from the effects of alcohol, even at the expense of work, family and social commitments.
  6. Continued use despite negative consequences: continuing to drink even when it leads to problems with health, work, relationships and legal issues.
  7. Sacrificing interests and activities: giving up or reducing participation in activities that were previously important or enjoyable in favor of drinking.

If you recognize these symptoms and it negatively affects your life, it may be an indication of alcohol dependence. It is important to seek professional help for an accurate diagnosis and to discuss possible treatment options. There are many resources and support available for those struggling with alcohol addiction, including therapy, medical treatment and support groups, which can offer help on the road to recovery.

Symptoms of alcohol addiction

Alcohol dependence is characterized by a range of behavioral and physical symptoms that indicate an unhealthy relationship with alcohol. This includes a strong and overwhelming desire for alcohol, difficulty stopping or controlling the amount of alcohol consumed, and a developed tolerance that requires larger amounts of alcohol to achieve the same effects.

People with alcohol dependence often experience withdrawal symptoms such as anxiety and tremors when not drinking, which can be so severe that it leads to delirium tremens in severe cases. Much time can be spent drinking alcohol or recovering from its effects, often at the expense of work, relationships and other activities.

Despite awareness of these negative consequences, drinking continues, resulting in social activities, hobbies and work-related commitments being neglected or abandoned altogether. These signs of alcohol dependence indicate a need for professional help for diagnosis and treatment, which can range from medical intervention to therapy and support groups, to facilitate recovery.


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Help for alcohol dependence

If you are wondering whether you have an alcohol addiction or are at risk of developing one, it is important to seek help. Otherwise, problems can develop and get worse over time.

Treatment for alcohol dependence

Treatment for alcohol dependence is an individualized process depending on the severity of the problem. If you are a high-risk user, supportive and motivational counseling can be helpful. For more severe alcoholism, treatment may begin with medically supervised detoxification to safely manage withdrawal symptoms. Subsequently, drug treatment can be used to reduce alcohol cravings and prevent relapse, with common drugs such as naltrexone, acamprosate and disulfiram.

Psychotherapy, particularly cognitive-behavioural therapy, is essential to help the person understand and change the behavioural patterns that lead to alcohol use, while developing coping strategies. Treatment is available through your health care provider, but also through specialized addiction clinics and treatment centers if needed.

Support groups such as Alcoholics Anonymous offer social and emotional support through the community of others in similar situations. Education on alcohol addiction and self-help strategies are also important, as well as long-term follow-up and aftercare to maintain sobriety. Complementary therapies such as mindfulness and yoga can further support recovery by reducing stress and improving well-being. A flexible treatment plan and a strong support network are essential for successful recovery from alcohol addiction.

What can you do as a family member of someone with an alcohol problem?

As a family member of someone with an alcohol problem, there are several ways to provide support while taking care of your own health:

  1. Educate yourself about alcohol addiction to better understand what your loved one is going through. This will help you empathize and create a supportive environment.
  2. Communicate in an open and non-judgmental way. Express your concern and love without blaming. It is important to let the person know that you are there to support, not criticize.
  3. Encourage professional help. Discuss treatment options, such as therapy or support groups, and offer to help find appropriate resources or accompany them to meetings.
  4. Set healthy boundaries to protect yourself and other family members from the negative consequences of your loved one’s drinking. It is important not to enable the behavior.
  5. Seek support for yourself. Dealing with a loved one’s alcohol problem is psychologically stressful. Take part in support groups for family members, such as Alcoholics Anonymous, and attend self-therapy to deal with your feelings and stress.
  6. Avoid enabling the addiction by not covering up or excusing the loved one’s behavior. Resisting solving problems caused by the loved one’s drinking can motivate them to seek help.
  7. Be patient and hopeful. Recovery is a process that takes time and may involve relapse. Continue to offer your support throughout the process.

Remember that the person must want to seek help and change themselves. You can offer support and resources, but the ultimate responsibility for getting sober lies with the person with the alcohol problem. Taking care of your own mental and emotional health is also crucial in this process.

In the case of alcohol addiction, other family members may also be affected. There is support for relatives and children of those with an addiction and the Social Services can help in these cases. Contact your municipality to see what support is available where you live.

From conversation to understanding and change

Talk therapy is often the first step in seeking help. By working with a psychologist or therapist, you can begin to understand your symptoms and triggers, which is essential for long-term change.

When professional help is unavoidable

If you are experiencing signs of abuse or addiction that are affecting your life or work, it is essential that you seek professional help. It is never too late to break free from abuse or addiction. Help is available and support is just a click away. So if you or someone you love is struggling with these issues, don’t hesitate to seek professional help.

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12 common questions and answers on alcohol addiction

What is alcohol dependence?

Alcohol dependence, also known as alcoholism, is a disease characterized by a strong desire or compulsive need to consume alcohol despite negative physical, social and economic consequences.

How common is alcohol dependence?

Around 4% of the population are estimated to have an alcohol dependence. The number varies a lot between countries.

Is addiction a disease?

Yes, addiction is considered a brain disease because it affects the brain’s reward system and decision-making.

Can alcohol addiction be cured?

Yes, addiction can be treated and cured, but it may require long-term care and support. It is possible to become free from dependence on alcohol.

What are the risks of alcohol dependence?

Alcohol consumption contributes to a range of health problems such as cirrhosis of the liver, cancer, cardiovascular disease and mental health problems, and is a common cause of accidents and violence. It can also have consequences in areas such as work, relationships and overall quality of life.

What are the symptoms of alcohol dependence?

Alcohol dependence is characterized by a range of symptoms that indicate an unhealthy relationship with alcohol. This includes a strong and overwhelming desire for alcohol, difficulty in stopping or controlling the amount of alcohol consumed, and a developed tolerance that requires larger amounts of alcohol to achieve the same effects.

What treatment options are available?

There are several different types of treatment such as detoxification, medication, residential treatment, Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT), motivational interviewing and support groups.

How long does it take to recover from an alcohol addiction?

It varies from person to person. Some may need a few months while others may need years of continuous care.

Is relapse common?

Yes, relapse is part of the recovery process for many people. The most important thing is not to give up. If you have relapsed, it is important to seek help as soon as possible to get back on track.

Is alcohol addiction more common among men or women?

Alcohol dependence is more common in men, but it also occurs in women.

How important is the support system around a person with an addiction?

A support system is often crucial for a successful recovery. This includes not only professional help such as therapists and doctors, but also family and friends who provide emotional and practical support. A good support system can help reduce the risk of relapse and help the person maintain a healthier lifestyle.

Where can I go if I or someone I know has an alcohol addiction?

If you or someone you know has a problem with alcohol, you can go to your health centre. You can also call Lifeline Australia on 13 11 14 (24 hour service) if you want help, ( eg to go to a treatment centre or as a relative). There are many ways to become free from alcohol addiction!

Steps in addiction treatment to improve quality of life

Treatment for alcohol dependence is multi-faceted and individualized, with the aim of helping people to stop drinking, manage withdrawal symptoms and avoid relapse. Here are the main components of a treatment plan for alcohol dependence:

  1. Medically supervised detoxification: This is often the first step for those with more severe problems, where the body is cleared of alcohol under safe conditions with medical supervision. It helps to manage the withdrawal symptoms that can be severe or even life-threatening.
  2. Drug treatment: To reduce cravings for alcohol, manage withdrawal symptoms and prevent relapse, doctors may prescribe medication. Examples of such drugs include naltrexone, which reduces cravings; acamprosate, which stabilizes brain chemistry; and disulfiram, which causes unpleasant effects when alcohol is consumed.
  3. Psychotherapy: Therapies such as cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) are effective in treating alcohol addiction. They help individuals identify and change behaviours and thought patterns that contribute to their drinking, as well as develop coping strategies to deal with triggers and stress.
  4. Support groups and fellowship: Participating in groups such as Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) can offer invaluable social and emotional support through fellowship with others who share similar experiences and challenges.
  5. Education and self-help strategies: Learning about the nature of alcohol addiction and how to manage it in the long term is crucial. Self-help materials and tools can offer additional support.
  6. Aftercare and follow-up: Long-term follow-up with health professionals and ongoing participation in support groups or therapy help maintain sobriety and prevent relapse.
  7. Lifestyle and complementary therapies: For some, techniques such as mindfulness, yoga and acupuncture can offer additional support in the recovery process by reducing stress and improving overall wellbeing. Finding a meaningful life in sobriety is also important.

The treatment plan should be flexible and adaptable to the individual’s changing needs throughout the recovery process. A strong support network of family, friends and caregivers plays an important role in achieving and maintaining sobriety. Recognizing the need for help and actively seeking treatment are crucial steps towards recovery.

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Written by melissa

Melissa is a Certified Kinesiologist who focusses on a client-centred, holistic and integrative approach to health and wellness. She has extensive experience in managing stress, anxiety, fears, phobias and trauma in her clients. Melissa uses visual and auditory feedback to directly access and solve the cause of psychological stressors in the body so that optimal well-being and balance is achieved.