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Alcohol Dependence

Medically reviewed by Last updated on Dec 4, 2023.

What is alcohol dependence?

Alcohol dependence is the need to drink alcohol often to function in your daily life.

What behaviors are common with alcohol dependence?

Alcohol dependence means you had at least 3 of the following during the past 12 months:

  • You keep drinking alcohol even if you know it increases your risk for health problems. Health problems include liver problems, stomach ulcers, high blood pressure, and stroke.
  • You develop a tolerance for alcohol. Tolerance means the amount of alcohol you usually drink no longer causes the effects you desire. You need to drink even more alcohol to get the same effect.
  • You have physical or mental withdrawal symptoms after not drinking for a short period. The same amount of alcohol is needed to relieve or prevent withdrawal symptoms. You may also have to drink to stop tremors (shakes) or to cure a hangover.
  • You crave alcohol. You have a desire to drink more often and to drink larger amounts of alcohol.
  • You have problems managing alcohol use. You are not able to control your drinking habits. You keep going back to drinking even after you quit.
  • You spend less time doing more important things. You spend much of your time drinking alcohol or being with people who also drink. You have trouble with social or daily activities at school, work, or home. You often choose events or activities that will include drinking.

How is alcohol dependence diagnosed?

Your healthcare provider will examine you. He or she will ask about your use of alcohol. These questions may include how much, how often, and what kind of alcohol you drink. He or she may ask you questions to test your memory and judgment. He or she may also send blood or urine samples to a lab. The samples are tested for alcohol and for signs of liver, kidney, or heart damage caused by alcohol. You may need to have these tests more than one time.

How is alcohol dependence treated?

Do not try to stop drinking on your own. Your healthcare provider may admit you to the hospital to make sure you withdraw safely. Then you may need any of the following:

  • Medicines to decrease your craving for alcohol
  • Support groups such as Alcoholics Anonymous
  • Psychiatrist or psychologist for therapy
  • Admission to an inpatient facility for treatment for severe dependence

Treatment options

The following list of medications are in some way related to or used in the treatment of this condition.

Where can I get support and more information?

  • Alcoholics Anonymous
    Web Address:
  • Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration
    PO Box 2345
    Rockville , MD 20847-2345
    Web Address:

Call your local emergency number (911 in the US) if:

  • You have a seizure.

When should I call my doctor?

  • Your heart is beating faster than normal.
  • You have hallucinations.
  • You cannot remember what happens while you are drinking.
  • You are anxious and have nausea.
  • Your hands are shaky and you are sweating heavily.
  • You have questions or concerns about your condition or care.

Care Agreement

You have the right to help plan your care. Learn about your health condition and how it may be treated. Discuss treatment options with your healthcare providers to decide what care you want to receive. You always have the right to refuse treatment. The above information is an educational aid only. It is not intended as medical advice for individual conditions or treatments. Talk to your doctor, nurse or pharmacist before following any medical regimen to see if it is safe and effective for you.

© Copyright Merative 2023 Information is for End User's use only and may not be sold, redistributed or otherwise used for commercial purposes.

Further information

Always consult your healthcare provider to ensure the information displayed on this page applies to your personal circumstances.