Alcoholism: risks, symptoms, and treatments

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Health Assured team

04 November 2021

Alcohol is physically and psychologically addictive. Alcoholism occurs when the body becomes dependent on alcohol. A person with alcoholism or alcohol dependence will experience an excessive desire to drink and withdrawal symptoms when they don’t. Generally, at this point alcohol will take priority over all other areas of life. There are serious health implications that come with this. But it’s more than just health, alcohol dependence affects other areas of life too. Social connections weaken, mental health becomes an issue and there is an increased risk of accident or injury.

It’s a serious problem and one that isn’t always easy to overcome. People suffering from alcoholism often can’t see the damage they are doing. This guide will cover the risks, symptoms and treatments for alcoholism. 

The health risks of alcoholism

The NHS recommendation for weekly alcohol consumption is 14 units per week. This is considered low-risk alcohol consumption. 14 units is equal to six pints of lager or six medium glasses of wine.

Alcohol consumption beyond this limit poses serious health risks. For people with alcoholism who are abusing alcohol long-term, the problems can be as severe as:

  • Cancers of the mouth, throat and breast
  • Stoke
  • Heart disease
  • Liver disease
  • Brain damage
  • Damage to the nervous system
  • Pancreatitis
  • Infertility
  • Dementia

Spotting the signs of a problem

Because alcohol is often socially accepted as a way to relax, it’s sometimes hard for people to spot there’s an issue. Here are some symptoms of alcoholism that may signal a potential problem:

  • It’s difficult to stop drinking once you start
  • Other people have made comments about your drinking
  • You feel the urge to drink alcohol in the mornings
  • Mental health problems: anxiety, depression, panic attacks
  • Withdrawal symptoms: the shakes, sickness, excessive sweating
  • You’re concerned about your drinking habits
  • You regularly drink more than 14 units of alcohol each week
  • You’re sometimes unable to remember what happened the night before because of your drinking
  • You feel guilty about your drinking habits

Getting help or helping someone with alcohol dependence

It’s possible to overcome alcohol dependence and its harmful effects. The first step involves acknowledging there’s a problem. From here, it’s a good idea to reach out to the GP to assess the situation. They’ll be able to provide advice, treatments and solutions that can help. Charities like Alcoholics Anonymous and Alcohol Change UK also offer helplines, group meetings and support services to those in need.


There are a range of treatments used to help people overcome alcohol addiction here are some of the most common.

Cognitive Behavioural Therapy: this kind of therapy can help identify unhelpful thinking habits that could be contributing to the alcohol dependence. The process encourages you to challenge your thoughts and recognise triggers that may lead you to drink.

Medication: there are various medications that are used to treat alcoholism. These include acamprosate, disulfiram, naltrexone and nalmefene. They help to change the chemical imbalance that takes place in the brain and causes the craving for alcohol.

Drinking diary: as part of the treatment, you might be asked to keep track of how much you are drinking each day. The dairy should include any alcoholic drink you have, what time you had it, where you had it and how many units you had. This will help you observe patterns in your drinking habits and could help you to cut down.

For guidance on reducing your alcohol intake, see our blog: 4 simple ways to reduce your alcohol intake

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