Glossary of Medical Terms

Alcohol dependence

Alcohol dependence occurs when a person has a physical or emotional dependence on the use of alcohol that leads to significant impairment or distress.

A person is diagnosed as being alcohol-dependent if at least three of the following are true. The person:

  • Needs larger amounts of alcohol to feel its effects (tolerance).

  • Has withdrawal symptoms (such as shakiness, confusion, or agitation) when he or she does not drink alcohol, or continues to drink alcohol to avoid these symptoms.

  • Drinks alcohol in larger amounts or over a longer period of time than intended.

  • Constantly thinks about or tries to cut down on or control drinking but is not successful.

  • Spends a great deal of time trying to get alcohol, using it, or recovering from its effects.

  • Avoids important activities because of alcohol use.

  • Continues to drink even though it causes or makes worse another health condition (such as an ulcer), or causes legal or work problems.

Treatment for alcohol dependence includes education and support to stop drinking, medicines to reduce withdrawal symptoms and stop alcohol cravings, and professional counseling to work through relationship issues. 

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