Alcohol dependence (also called alcoholism) occurs when you have a
physical or emotional dependence on the use of alcohol. Alcohol dependence is
diagnosed when a pattern of alcohol use leads to significant impairment or
distress with at least 3 of the following occurring any time in the same
You experience tolerance to alcohol as defined by
A need for increasingly large amounts of
alcohol to become intoxicated (drunk) or feel the effects of the
A lack of intoxication with continued use of the same
amount of alcohol.
You experience withdrawal from alcohol as
demonstrated by either:
symptoms that occur when not drinking alcohol.
taken to relieve or avoid withdrawal symptoms.
You drink alcohol in larger amounts or over a
longer period of time than you intended.
You experience a
persistent desire or unsuccessful efforts to cut down or control your
You spend a great deal of time in activities necessary to
obtain alcohol, use it, or recover from its effects.
You give up or
are not as involved in important social, occupational, or recreational
activities because of alcohol use.
You continue drinking alcohol
even though you know it is causing or making worse physical or psychological
problems (such as continued drinking even though you know it is aggravating an
If you have a history of experiencing withdrawal symptoms, this may
indicate that you have severe alcohol dependence.1
Because withdrawal symptoms can be very uncomfortable and sometimes intense,
some people with alcohol dependence choose to continue drinking to avoid or
relieve withdrawal symptoms. Occasionally these symptoms can continue at lower
intensities for months (such as difficulty sleeping).
American Psychiatric Association (2000). Alcohol-related
disorders. In Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 4th
ed., text rev., pp. 212-223. Washington, DC: American Psychiatric Association.
Jan Nissl, RN, BS
Susan Van Houten, RN, BSN, MBA
Primary Medical Reviewer
Adam Husney, MD - Family Medicine
Specialist Medical Reviewer
William M. Green, MD - Emergency Medicine
January 18, 2008
WebMD Medical Reference from Healthwise
January 18, 2008
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