Understanding Alcohol Dependence

For many people in the UK drinking alcohol has become socially acceptable. However, it’s important to be aware of the harm alcohol can cause both physically and psychologically.





Alcohol misuse is a global problem and is the third leading cause of disability in Europe.

The NHS estimates that in the UK around 9% of men and 4% of women show signs of alcohol dependence.

Each year alcohol related problems cost the UK economy around £21 billion.

  • £3.5 billion of this is estimated to be NHS costs.

Regularly drinking alcohol over the recommended limit increases the risk of sixty diseases.

  • These include cancers of the breast, stomach, liver, mouth and throat, as well as heart disease, high blood pressure, liver disease and mental health problems.

What is Alcohol Dependence?

A pattern of routinely drinking excessive amounts of alcohol over a long period of time, and giving priority to drinking over other activities.

You may relate to the following examples:

  • Getting into a pattern of having a few pints after work to relax during the week.
  • Couples may feel the need to share a bottle of wine with dinner more often than not.
  • Feeling the need to be drunk at party before socialising to reduce feelings of anxiety.

 Familiar faces who have struggled with alcohol:


Warning signs of alcohol dependence include:

  1. Preoccupation with where the next drink is coming from: planning social, family and work events around alcohol.
  2. Having a need to drink and finding it hard to stop.
  3. Suffering from withdrawal symptoms which stop after drinking alcohol: sweating, shaking and nausea.


What are the causes of alcohol dependence?

There are usually several different factors.

These may include stressful life events such a losing a job or a bereavement. A family’s attitudes to alcohol and social environment can also play a part, as can as genes.


How to get help:

A good place to start is visiting a GP. Doctors can make referrals to a local community alcohol service or discuss the use of medication.

It is important to remember that if a person is alcohol dependent it is dangerous to stop drinking immediately, it is vital to seek support and gradually stop drinking.


Sources of support:

There are national/ local support groups and counselling options for those wishing to reduce their alcohol intake as well as online recourses.

Alcohol Research UK       http://alcoholresearchuk.org/

Alcohol Concern               https://www.alcoholconcern.org.uk/

NHS website                      http://www.nhs.uk/conditions/alcohol-misuse/Pages/Introduction.aspx



There is also a range of apps and online calculators which can help people monitor the number units they consume.

For example:                     http://wessexahsn.org.uk/WebApp/


Read about the ADAM trial here