Alcohol dependence (also called alcoholism) is a chronic disease characterized by uncontrolled drinking and preoccupation with alcohol.

Overview and Facts

What is Alcohol Dependence?

Alcohol dependence, also called alcoholism, is a chronic but treatable disease in which your body becomes physically dependent on alcohol. You may also become obsessed with alcohol to the point where you cannot control when or how much you drink. Stopping drinking, or drinking less, may result in alcohol withdrawal.

People with untreated alcohol dependence continue drinking despite serious alcohol-related problems affecting their health, work, finances, and relationships.

What Causes Alcohol Dependence?

Several factors, alone or together, may increase your risk for alcoholism. They include your genes (inherited family traits), your lifestyle choices, stress level, difficult or traumatic life events, the influence of friends and relatives, and the availability of alcohol in your life.

What’s the Difference Between Alcohol Abuse and Alcohol Dependence?

Alcohol abuse describes dangerous or unhealthy drinking habits such as daily drinking and binge drinking (drinking too much at once). Alcohol abuse often harms relationships, and can lead to problems at work and with the law (drunk driving, for example). Alcohol dependence means you are physically and/or mentally addicted to alcohol.

What are the Symptoms of Alcohol Dependence?
  • Drinking alone, or drinking secretly
  • A change in your ability to tolerate alcohol (and withdrawal symptoms when you stop or reduce your drinking)
  • Denial of alcohol-related problems (for example, blackouts, frequent falls, missing work or school)
  • Malnutrition
  • Medical problems affecting your nerves, digestive system, liver, heart or brain.
How are Alcohol Abuse and Alcohol Dependence Treated?

Treatment of alcohol abuse and alcohol dependence often involves a combination of counseling, self-help, and medication. Alcohol withdrawal is a potentially serious condition that can be life threatening. That’s why a short-term stay in a hospital or other safe setting overseen by a trained physician is often necessary.

Hospital-level care may be followed by participation in a partial hospital or intensive outpatient program to help support your recovery and start the process of learning how to live your life without alcohol.

The Brattleboro Retreat offers several alcohol treatment options to meet your individual needs. These range from inpatient detoxification, to partial hospitalization, intensive outpatient therapy and outpatient alcohol assessment and counseling.

IMPORTANT NOTE: Due to multiple considerations related to the COVID-19 pandemic, all inpatient admissions to the Brattleboro Retreat must FIRST meet criteria for inpatient psychiatric level of care as determined by a crisis screening evaluation. The hospital's inpatient programs continue to serve individuals on a case-by-case basis who present with a secondary substance use disorder (SUD) diagnosis requiring medically managed detoxification from alcohol, prescription drugs, and other potentially dangerous or addictive substances.

You can overcome alcohol dependence

No one sets out to become dependent on alcohol or any other substance.

We offer many programs to accommodate your particular needs.