What Is Alcohol Addiction? Reasons, Causes, Stages, Effects And Spot

Alcohol addiction, also known as alcoholism or alcohol dependence, is a serious health condition characterised by an individual’s inability to control their alcohol consumption and a strong, often excessive, desire to drink. Prolonged alcohol misuse can lead to various social problems, including unemployment, divorce, domestic abuse, and homelessness. In the UK, millions of people are affected by alcoholism, and it has significant public health implications, with a notable percentage of adults exceeding recommended alcohol consumption guidelines. Treatment options, support, and resources are available to address alcohol addiction and its associated challenges, but the condition can be highly detrimental to both individuals and society.

What Makes Alcohol Addictive?


Alcohol is addictive due to its impact on brain chemistry. When alcohol is consumed, it stimulates the release of dopamine and endorphins in the brain, chemicals associated with pleasure and satisfaction. These substances also act as natural painkillers. The brain begins to associate alcohol consumption with these pleasurable sensations, leading to psychological triggers that can drive addiction. Continued alcohol abuse can lead to physical dependence on alcohol, resulting in withdrawal symptoms when an individual tries to stop drinking. While not everyone who drinks becomes addicted to alcohol, several factors contribute to alcohol addiction, and the social acceptance of drinking can sometimes lead to denial about the presence of addiction.

7 Causes Of Alcohol Addiction 

There are several factors and risk factors that contribute to alcohol addiction. These include:

  1. Steady Drinking Over Time: Consistent and prolonged alcohol consumption increases the risk of developing alcohol use disorder (AUD).
  2. Starting at an Early Age: Individuals who begin drinking alcohol at a young age are more susceptible to developing AUD.
  3. Family History: Having a family history of alcoholism can significantly increase the likelihood of an individual developing alcohol addiction.
  4. Depression and Other Mental Health Problems: Mental health issues, such as depression, can contribute to alcohol misuse and addiction.
  5. History of Trauma: Individuals who have experienced traumatic events in their lives may turn to alcohol as a coping mechanism, which can lead to addiction.
  6. Bariatric Surgery: A 2019 study authored by V Ivezaj, suggests a link between bariatric surgery and an increased risk of alcohol addiction post-surgery.
  7. Social and Cultural Factors: Social influences and cultural norms can play a role in an individual’s drinking habits and the development of alcohol addiction.

These 7 factors are commonly associated with the development of alcoholism, and while they contribute to the risk, alcohol addiction is a complex condition with multiple contributing factors. It’s important to recognise these risk factors and seek help if you or someone you know is struggling with alcohol addiction.

5 Stages Of Alcoholism


These 5 stages of alcohol addiction provide a framework for understanding the progression of alcoholism. 

  • Stage 1 involves experimentation and occasional binge drinking, often seen as casual drinking behaviour.
  • Stage 2 marks increased tolerance to alcohol, where individuals need more to achieve the desired effect.
  • Stage 3 is characterised by problem drinking, where negative consequences start to appear but may not deter continued alcohol use.
  • Stage 4 represents physical dependence, where the body relies on alcohol, leading to withdrawal symptoms when not drinking.
  • Stage 5 signifies full-blown alcohol addiction or alcoholism, where individuals lose control over their drinking despite severe consequences.

These 5 stages highlight the progressive nature of alcohol addiction, emphasising the importance of early intervention and treatment to prevent further harm. Recognising the signs at each stage is crucial for addressing alcohol use disorders effectively.

Effects Of Alcohol Addiction

Alcohol addiction, leads to strained relationships, social consequences, including liver damage, cognitive impairment, adverse physical, mental and a higher risk of accidents.

On Families

Alcohol addiction has a profound and negative impact on families. It affects relationships, family finances, and the emotional well-being of children and spouses. Additionally, alcohol addiction can contribute to domestic violence, and it often runs in families, making it a family disease. The effects on family members can include feelings of guilt and responsibility for the drinking problem, strained relationships, and financial difficulties. Alcohol addiction is a complex issue with far-reaching consequences for families.

On The Body

Alcohol addiction can have severe and lasting effects on the body. It increases the risk of chronic diseases such as high blood pressure, heart disease, stroke, liver disease, and digestive problems. Moreover, it is associated with the development of various types of cancer, including breast, mouth, throat, esophagus, voice box, liver, colon, and rectum cancer. Alcohol misuse can damage not only physical health but also mental well-being, and it poses risks to almost every part of the body.

On Mental Health

Alcohol addiction can significantly impact mental health. Alcohol’s chemical changes in the brain can lead to negative emotions such as anger, depression, and anxiety, regardless of one’s initial mood. It can also impair the brain’s ability to process information, making it difficult to understand feelings and the potential consequences of actions. Moreover, alcohol dependence can result in social issues such as homelessness, job loss, divorce, and domestic abuse. Additionally, long-term alcohol misuse can lead to cognitive problems, memory loss, and hindered mental functioning, while also increasing the risk of conditions like depression and anxiety. Alcohol’s effects on mental health are closely intertwined, and excessive alcohol consumption can have lasting negative consequences on both physical and mental well-being.

On Society

Alcohol addiction has significant and far-reaching effects on society. It contributes to a wide range of health issues, including liver cirrhosis, pancreatitis, heart failure, hypertension, depression, strokes, and cancer. Alcohol-related harm places a substantial economic burden on society, costing between £27 and £52 billion annually, with at least £3.5 billion of this cost affecting the NHS directly according to the Institute Of Alcohol Studies. Alcohol addiction also leads to numerous social consequences, such as violence, crime, homelessness, job loss, and domestic abuse. Alcohol addiction is the leading cause of ill-health, disability, and death among people aged 15 to 49 in the UK and has considerable toxic effects on the digestive and cardiovascular systems according to Alcohol Change UK.

How To Spot Alcohol Addiction

There are common signs and symptoms that can help individuals spot alcohol addiction. These signs include being unable to control the amount and timing of alcohol consumption, experiencing strong cravings for alcohol, and developing a tolerance where larger amounts of alcohol are needed to achieve the same effects. Other indicators of alcohol addiction include changes in behavior, physical and behavioral signs, and putting health and safety at risk due to unhealthy alcohol use.

Can Alcohol Addiction Be Cured?

No, Alcohol addiction cannot be cured, but it can be managed through recovery and abstinence. There is no known cure for alcoholism, and it is recognised as a permanent condition. Recovery from alcohol addiction involves medical treatment, such as prescription medications and rehabilitation programs, to help individuals achieve and maintain abstinence from alcohol. It is crucial to understand that while treatment can be highly effective, the dependence on alcohol remains, and individuals must commit to a lifelong journey of sobriety to manage their condition successfully.

Is Binge Drinking An Alcohol Addiction?

No, binge drinking and alcohol addiction are related but distinct concepts. Binge drinking refers to a pattern of excessive alcohol consumption within a short period, often with the intention of becoming intoxicated. It is a risky behaviour that can have serious health consequences. While binge drinking is a cause for concern, it does not necessarily indicate an alcohol addiction or alcohol use disorder (AUD).

Can You Live A Normal Life With An Alcohol Addiction?

Living a normal life with an alcohol addiction is challenging and often comes with significant health risks. Alcohol addiction, especially in its later stages, can severely impact life expectancy. End-stage alcoholism, for example, can significantly shorten an alcoholic’s life. The average lifespan of an alcoholic is notably shorter compared to the general population, with Abbey Care Foundation indicating an average lifespan of around 52 years old for alcoholics, as opposed to the typical lifespan of 81 years in the U.K.

Where Can You Get Help For Alcohol Addiction?

In the UK, help for alcohol addiction is readily accessible through the NHS, Alcoholics Anonymous (AA), local support services, charities like Mind and Turning Point, and specialised rehabilitation centres. General practitioners (GPs) can provide assessments and guidance, while various helplines offer advice and support. Additionally, online resources like DrinkCoach and specialist services are available to assist individuals struggling with alcohol dependence. These diverse resources are dedicated to helping individuals overcome alcohol addiction and regain control over their lives. Checkout our Free Resources page for a full list of help for alcohol addiction in the UK.

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