What is it?
Alcohol dependency is a pattern which includes drinking excessive amounts of alcohol over a sustained period of time. Alcohol dependency is characterised by an inability to stop drinking once excessive consumption has started and continues over many weeks, months or years.
Alcohol dependency can be described as a pattern of drinking which can result in one or more of the following:
- Failure to fulfil major work, education or home responsibilities.
- Drinking in potentially dangerous situations, e.g. drink driving, operating machinery, looking after young children, etc.
- Recurring alcohol related problems, e.g. drunk and disorderly charges, losing a driving licence due to alcohol consumption, relationship problems etc.
- Continuing to drink despite having serious problems directly associated with or worsened by drinking alcohol.
Alcohol dependency is the most severe form of alcohol abuse and is characterised by the consumption of alcohol at a level that interferes with physical and mental health, and with work, family and social responsibilities. Regardless of the serious health, social and sometimes legal problems, a dependent alcoholic will continue to drink alcohol.
Alcohol dependency usually includes a physiological dependence on alcohol, causing the person to need to drink, both to avoid physical withdrawal symptoms and also to satisfy psychological craving and desire.
Drinking at this level causes a wide range of problems across physical, social and psychological areas of life. The more one drinks, tolerance increases and the associated problems can become more significant and increasingly affect the people close to the person. For example, a dependent alcoholic may start to turn up to work with a hangover and then, as tolerance and dependence increases, start to arrive at work intoxicated. This behaviour may involve drink driving, losing the company both clients and reputation, and can often result in endangering the life of the individual as well as other people.
Dangerous patterns of drinking can develop rapidly and are not always obvious. You may expect a dependent drinker to show obvious signs of their addiction, but this is not necessarily the case. Alcohol addiction is often intentionally hidden particularly from close family and friends. The physical act of drinking is not always the key to detecting a problem in a loved one; sometimes changes in their patterns of behaviour can be more recognisable.
Dependency can cause significant damage to vital organs, however, serious physical complications can also arise through the withdrawal syndrome. It is very important that dependent alcoholics are detoxed in a supervised medical environment to avoid serious withdrawal symptoms and to ensure a safe environment should the life-threatening complications that are commonly encountered.
Symptoms of alcohol dependency can include:
- Craving - a strong, uncontrollable compulsion to drink.
- Inability to cut down or stop drinking.
- Loss of self-control - drinking at unsuitable times and occasions, without consideration for the consequences of inappropriate behaviour. Normally placid people can become aggressive and argumentative.
- Tolerance - the individual needs to drink increasing amounts of alcohol in order to feel ‘normal’. This is why they always get worse and never better without professional help.
- Blackouts and memory problems.
- Sex life issues – loss of libido or complete inability to engage in normal sexual relationships
- Loss of interest in other activities that do not include drinking. Neglect of important commitments.
- Withdrawal symptoms - including nausea, vomiting, sweating, shaking, visual and auditory hallucinations, anxiety, depression and seizures. In very severe cases withdrawal symptoms can result in death.
- Suicidal thoughts or actions.
The alcoholic can also arrive at a point, usually when liver damage has occurred, when the amount of alcohol consumed starts to reduce; this is not a good sign and can be a precursor to serious medical problems and possibly death.
Whilst alcohol dependency is a serious condition there is help available. It is not unusual for a dependent alcoholic to experience denial, however, even the most reluctant of individuals can get well with the right help. It is true that an individual may not initially feel motivated to get well; this can be due to a variety of reasons, including fear and also believing that what they are doing is normal. They see other people drinking and think that they can do that too – but the other people can stop and they can’t, but they don’t see, or don’t want to see, that. There is, however, excellent and highly successful help available no matter how serious the problem is. It is not too late to seek help and regain control of your life.
Physical problems associated with alcohol dependency include:
- Brain damage
- Heart failure
- Hepatitis and cirrhosis of the liver
- High blood pressure
- Infertility and impotence
- Inflammation of the stomach and pancreas
- Muscle disease
- Neurological problems, such as epilepsy
Most of the serious health problems which are due to alcohol dependence can be avoided if treatment is sought – the earlier the better. As a result, legal, social and relationship issues can be avoided, and you can start your recovery by stepping in the direction where you want your life to go - alcohol free.