Last edited 10/2020 and last reviewed 10/2020
Alcohol dependence is characterised by craving, tolerance, a preoccupation with alcohol and continued drinking in spite of harmful consequences (e.g, liver disease or depression caused by drinking).
- continued hazardous and harmful drinking can result in alcohol dependence.
- alcohol dependence is also associated with increased criminal activity and domestic violence, and an increased rate of significant mental and physical disorders
ICD-10 defines dependency as:
“a cluster of behavioural, cognitive, and physiological phenomena that develop after repeated substance use and that typically include a strong desire to take the drug, difficulties in controlling its use, persisting in its use despite harmful consequences, a higher priority given to drug use than to other activities and obligations, increased tolerance, and sometimes a physical withdrawal state.”.
In earlier disease-classification systems this has been referred to as ‘alcoholism’.
Alcohol use disorder (AUD) was estimated to affect approximately 18% of the general population lifetime and 5% annually (3)
- DSM-5 definition of alcohol use disorder (AUD) combined DSM-IV alcohol abuse and dependence symptoms (4)
- estimated that almost 20% of adult patients in the emergency rooms suffer from AUD and that the incidence of alcohol withdrawal syndrome (AWS) in patients admitted to surgical Intensive Care Unit (ICU) varies from 8 to 40%, and seems to be associated with infectious complications and a higher mortality rate
- up to 50% of AUD patients experience withdrawal symptoms, a minority of whom requires medical treatment
Griffith Edwards and Gross(1976) defined some simple markers of alcoholism. These are:
- dependent drinkers have a narrow repertoire of alcohol consumption: alcohol is used to avoid withdrawal symptoms
- drinking overtakes the individual's activities to the exclusion of everything else, leading to theft, begging and borrowing
- withdrawal symptoms include trembling, fear, insomnia, nightmares, sweating and hallucinations.
- tolerance develops so that the dependent drinker consumes quantities which might make non-drinkers unconscious
- dependent drinkers know that they cannot control their alcohol use
- there is a high tendency to relapse after abstinence
Alcohol withdrawal symptoms occur within 12 hours of the last drink.
- (1) NICE (February 2011). Alcohol-use disorders - Diagnosis, assessment and management of harmful drinking and alcohol dependence
- (2) NICE (June 2010). Alcohol use disorders
- (3)Mirijello A et al. Identification and Management of Alcohol Withdrawal Syndrome Drugs. 2015 Mar; 75(4): 353–365.
- (4)American Psychiatric Association. Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders. 5th. Arlington: American Psychiatric Association; 2013