ReachOut.com uses cookies to give you the best experience.  Find out more about cookies and your privacy in our policy.

There's a big difference between enjoying a drink and having an alcohol addiction. Knowing what the difference is can be helpful in preventing the harmful effects of alcohol addiction.

This can help if:

  • you’re worried about a friend who drinks too much
  • you’re worried that you drink too much
  • you want to know the difference between drinking alcohol and being addicted to it.
Girl on laptop holding wine

What is alcohol addiction?

‘Addiction’ means having a dependence on a substance or activity. Unlike someone who simply ‘wants’ something, a person with an addiction will have physical cravings and urges for the substance they’re addicted to. 

Being addicted to alcohol, sometimes called being an alcoholic, means that you have a physical dependency on alcohol. There are changes that happen in the brain of someone who drinks a lot of alcohol which makes them have physical withdrawals if they don’t drink.

Signs of alcohol addiction

Alcohol addiction is a complex problem that can be hard to notice, particularly in Australia where it’s socially acceptable to drink a lot. This is why it’s so important to check in with yourself and your mates, and to make sure that a few beers after work isn’t turning into something more serious.

Some of the signs of alcohol dependence include:

  • worrying about when you’ll be able to have your next drink
  • sweating, nausea or insomnia when you don’t drink
  • needing to drink more and more alcohol to get drunk
  • drinking alcohol, or wanting to, when you wake up in the morning
  • consuming alcohol regularly on your own, or trying to hide your drinking
  • fighting with friends and family about your drinking or going out.

What are the negative effects of alcohol addiction?

There are short-term and long-term side effects of being addicted to alcohol:

Short-term effects include:

  • bad vision
  • blackouts
  • seizures
  • depression
  • malnutrition
  • anxiety
  • paranoia.

Long-term effects include:

  • permanent damage to the brain
  • high risk of stroke and heart failure
  • cirrhosis of the liver
  • high risk of mouth and throat cancer
  • suppressed immune system.

There are also a lot of social, personal and mental health problems that can arise because of alcohol dependency.

Treatment options

Treatment for alcohol dependency is complex and often involves more than one of the following options:

  • talking therapy (such as seeing a counsellor or psychologist)
  • group therapy (support groups such as Alcoholics Anonymous)
  • drug therapy (particular medicines that can help with withdrawals).

In order for any therapy to work, the person must first admit that they have a dependency on alcohol. You can’t force someone to get treatment if they don’t think there’s anything to fix.

ReachOut NextStep is a tool that will give you personalised tips and help. If you’re struggling with alcohol dependency, give it a go. It will connect to info and services that can help.

What can I do now?