Alcohol is used more than any other addictive drug in Australia. If you suspect that you drink too much, or someone you live with might have a problem, then it might be helpful to know the warning signs and where to find help.
What is alcoholism?
If you drink a lot of alcohol, you might become dependent on it to make you feel good. Your drinking behaviour could tip over into alcoholism, a type of substance abuse.
The signs of alcoholism
You or someone you know might be drinking too much if they:
- have a strong urge to drink
- cannot control how much they drink
- feel physical effects like nausea, sweating, shakiness and anxiety if they stop after a period of heavy drinking
- need to drink more over time to get the same good feeling
- drink while alone, or hide alcohol from members of the household
- struggle with work, education or relationships for no obvious reason
- lie about how much they drink
- drink early in the day or are anxious about when they will be able to drink
- forget what they said or did while they were drinking
Effects of alcoholism
If you drink too much alcohol, you are at increased risk of illnesses such as heart disease and liver disease, cancer, diabetes and damage to the brain. It can also have a bad effect on those around you as it is a key player in car accidents, family violence and crime.
Although it seems to make you feel good, alcohol can increase the risk of depression and anxiety and also can make these worse if they are already present.
If you are a family member or friend living with an alcoholic you are likely to feel upset, angry, anxious, guilty, stressed, disappointed and helpless at various times.
If you are a carer, carers associations in your state or territory can provide counselling and help to organise respite care. Visit the Carer Gateway website or call 1800 422 737 (Monday-Friday, 8am-6pm) for more information.
Treatment for alcoholism
Treatment options depend on the strength of alcohol dependence. For low level dependence, your doctor might discuss the problem with you and suggest changes you can make or recommend counselling.
Stronger dependence will need different treatments to manage the effects of alcohol withdrawal. The treatments might include:
- behavioural treatment to improve coping skills
- peer support through groups such as Alcoholics Anonymous or Smart Recovery
- spending time at a detoxification facility
Preventing alcoholism and harm
Becoming familiar with the Australian guidelines for low-risk drinking habits can help guard against alcoholism. If you have children, you should talk to them about drugs, alcohol and mental health, including binge drinking.
Being a good role model can also help.ReachOut.com has information about addiction and mental health for teenagers.
Last reviewed: March 2018