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. Withdrawal symptoms can include insomnia, nausea, sweating, anxiety and physical discomfort. If you are experiencing dependence, it also means you need to consume more alcohol to achieve the intended effect.

Signs of alcohol addiction

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.

Health problems from alcohol addiction

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

Short-term effects include:

  • vision problems

  • memory problems (blackouts)

  • depression

  • anxiety

  • paranoia

  • seizures

  • poor nutrition, resulting in weight loss, reduced energy and other health issues.

Long-term effects include:

  • permanent brain damage

  • liver damage

  • high risk of cancers, such as mouth and throat cancers

  • high risk of cardiovascular disease, such as a stroke and heart failure

  • more frequent illness, because of a weakened immune system.

Getting help with alcohol addiction

The first step to getting help for addiction is recognising the problem. If you think you might be addicted to alcohol, it’s important to seek professional help. You can start by visiting your GP, who can also refer you to a range of other professionals and specialist services.

Some of the services you can access for more information include:

  • Australian Alcohol and Drug Information Service - you can call them directly on 1800 250 015

  • Counselling ONLINE, for free online 24/7 drug and alcohol counselling.

Group therapy (support groups such as Alcoholics Anonymous and SMART Recovery) and drug therapy (speak to your GP about medicines that can help with withdrawals) are other options.

ReachOut NextStep is a tool that will give you personalised tips and help, and will connect you to useful info and services.

What can I do now?

  • Try ReachOut NextStep to learn about support options available for you.

  • Make an appointment with your doctor to discuss any concerns you have about how much you’ve been drinking.