Does this mean I’m an alcoholic?

There are good reasons why we prefer the term alcohol dependent and avoid using the term alcoholic. The word ‘alcoholic’ is often value-laden and can be highly stigmatising. Alcohol dependence is a far more accurate and inclusive description. Alcohol dependency can affect all walks of life, and refers to when a person has a physical and/or psychological compulsion to drink.


Alcohol abuse…

…refers to a continued pattern of excessive drinking despite negative consequences. This would include binge drinking.

Alcohol dependence…

…is when an individual has a physical and/or psychological compulsion to drink alcohol.


Alcohol dependence is not the same as alcohol abuse. Read on to discover the signs of dependency.



What are the warning signs of alcohol dependency?


Signs of alcohol dependence might include:

  • Increased tolerance to alcohol, you may find you need more alcohol to feel intoxicated.

  • Cravings to drink – these can vary in intensity and are commonly reported to lead to relapse.

  • Withdrawal symptoms like shaking and sweating, nausea and vomiting, stomach cramps, anxiety, irritability, sleeplessness, sensitivity to light and sound.

  • Severe withdrawal symptoms such as seizures and delirium tremens which include involuntary shaking together with hallucinations such as visual disturbance (seeing things that aren’t there, or spots in your peripheral vision); and/or tactile disturbance (crawling sensation or prickles on the skin).

  • Feelings of guilt associated with drinking.

  • Inability to stop drinking once you start.

Other behaviours that may hint you are relying on alcohol:

  • Drinking alone.

  • Finding it hard to remember your last alcohol free day.

  • Chronic relapses.

  • Thinking about your next drink or planning your day around getting alcohol/drinking.

  • Hiding alcohol or hiding how much you drink from others.

  • Drinking alcohol to hold off unpleasant withdrawal symptoms.

Most importantly, if you are drinking or think you are drinking at dependent levels speak to your GP or local alcohol treatment service before making the decision to stop. If you have stopped drinking and start to experience symptoms of withdrawal visit your local A&E. Alcohol withdrawal can be dangerous and should be overseen by a professional.


 To find out if you’re drinking at risky levels take the alcohol test. This AUDIT (Alcohol Use Disorders Identification Test) is a simple screening tool developed by the World Health Organisation (WHO) to screen for risky drinking. You can also visit Where can I get help? for more information on how to cut down or stop.


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