Alcohol Dependence: Signs & Symptoms

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  • 0:01 Is It Dependence?
  • 1:12 Questionable Behaviors
  • 3:03 Physical Symptoms
  • 4:40 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Lisa Roundy

Lisa has taught at all levels from kindergarten to college and has a master's degree in human relations.

Alcohol dependence can occur gradually making it more difficult to notice when the line is crossed between acceptable use and a drinking problem. This lesson will explore what alcohol abuse and alcohol dependence are, along with warning signs and physical symptoms.

Is It Dependence?

Let's consider the following scenarios:

Scenario one: You go out to a bar with friends a couple of times a month, have a few drinks, and enjoy the evening.

Scenario two: You go out to a bar several times a week and drink after work. Sometimes you go with friends and sometimes alone. Your friends are beginning to worry that you may be drinking too much, but you tell them they are overreacting.

Scenario three: Since some of your friends were concerned, you tried to cut back on your drinking. You found that you still need to drink regularly or you get really irritable. You don't go to the bar as often. Instead, you drink at home so your friends are less likely to notice.

How do these situations differ? It may not be easy to tell exactly when drinking habits cross the line from moderate social use to becoming a problem.

Since an alcohol problem can sneak up on you, this lesson will define the difference between alcohol abuse and dependence, and highlight the behaviors and physical symptoms that could signal a problem. Awareness is the first step to overcoming a problem.

Questionable Behaviors

Alcohol abuse occurs when a person's alcohol use is causing problems for themselves or others. A person abusing alcohol may still be able to set some limits on their drinking, but that doesn't mean that they don't have a problem.

If you find yourself questioning whether a friend may have a drinking problem, there are some behaviors that should be cause for alarm. The following question list provides insight about what behaviors you should look for when considering the possibility of alcohol abuse.

  • Is alcohol consumption underestimated or uncontrolled? If a person drinks regularly, more than they think or more than they intend to, a problem could exist.
  • Are drinking habits lied about or hidden from others? A person has no reason to keep their actions secret unless they feel guilty or are doing something that they shouldn't be.
  • Is alcohol being consumed in dangerous situations? This could mean drinking while driving or after taking medications that warn against it.
  • Are responsibilities at home, work, or school being neglected because of drinking? This could mean skipping out on work responsibilities, missing family commitments, or getting lower grades than normal.
  • Is consuming alcohol causing legal problems? Being cited for public intoxication or arrested for driving under the influence would be examples.
  • Are alcohol-related problems blamed on others? A person's failure to accept responsibility for their actions means they are unwilling to accept that a problem could exist.
  • Is alcohol necessary in order to relax or feel better? Reaching for a drink after every stressful situation is not a healthy way to cope.
  • Are friends or family members concerned? If someone is wondering if a problem exists, there's usually a reason.

Physical Symptoms

Alcohol dependence is a more severe form of problem drinking that includes all of the symptoms of alcohol abuse, but also involves a physical need for alcohol. A person with alcohol dependence is considered to suffer from alcoholism. Alcoholism is a medical condition signified by a physical compulsion to drink. You're an alcoholic if you need alcohol to function normally or experience physical symptoms if you do not drink.

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