If you drink too much for too long, you can become dependent, or physically addicted, to alcohol.
This means that for you to feel normal or at least moderately functional, your body would require some alcohol input every single day. Without it, a physically dependent person feels, at best, very uncomfortable; at its worst, it could mean long-term health consequences, psychological pain, loss of relationships, hallucinations, seizures, or even death.
There are many factors that contribute to alcohol dependency. Certainly, heavy drinking done over a number of years increases one's chances of becoming dependent. A genetic predisposition to alcohol addiction also comes into play (Kimura & Higuchi, 2011). High levels of stress also have an impact on developing dependency.
Over time, the impact of dependency begins to wear on people, and they often begin to exhibit signs of depression, anxiety, and even suicidal thoughts and feelings. Memory loss, sexual problems, and sleeplessness soon begin to become issues for those people dependent on alcohol. Withdrawal symptoms begin to worsen, potentially becoming severe, resulting in shaking, sweating, rapid heart rate, and, for some, seizures and the DTs (Hoffman & Weinhouse, 2019).
Ongoing alcohol dependency can begin to erode personal relationships as well, and cause problems at work and in other areas of a person's life. It could lead to losing a job, financial problems, legal issues, divorce, and isolation.
What to do if you think you might be dependent
If you think that you might have an alcohol dependency problem, you should first talk with your family doctor or primary care provider. They will be able to help you sort out what kind of help you might need, and ensure that you are physically taken care of in the process.
If you're not sure but are wondering if you have a problem, or if you just want to spend some time thinking about your drinking, and you are an MSU employee, you may want to consider making an appointment with one of the counselors at the Employee Assistance Program. They will be able to talk with you about your drinking pattern and help you reflect on what kind of relationship you want to have with alcohol.
This concludes our section on Thinking About Drinking. We hope that we provided you a safe confidential means to assess your drinking habits and your relationship with alcohol. If through your assessment you found that you would like to make some changes in your drinking pattern, why not explore our Thinking about Drinking: Tips & Tools section where you can find the latest information about self-help, cutting down, or quitting options.
Hoffman R. S., & Weinhouse G. L. (2019). Management of moderate and severe alcohol withdrawal syndromes. (S. J. Traub, & J. Grayzel, Eds.) Retrieved from https://www.uptodate.com/contents/management-of-moderate-and-severe-alcohol-withdrawal-syndromes
Kimura M., & Higuchi S., (2011) Genetics of alcohol dependence. Psychiatry and Clinical Neurosciences., 65(3), 213-225.