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Alcohol Dependence Syndrome Defined By Experts

Lisa Taylor
Lisa TaylorAddiction Counsellor

Science and medicine have come a long way in treating alcohol-related problems over last several decades. A plethora of scientific studies has showed us things about alcohol consumption we have never known before. In addition to the greater volume of data these studies have provided, we also have a better understanding of how alcohol affects both the mind and body. This greater understanding has led some to reclassify alcoholism as a medical condition or syndrome. This condition is known as 'Alcohol Dependence Syndrome' (ADP).

ADP is technically just one form of a much broader condition known as 'Dependence Syndrome', a syndrome recognised by the World Health Organisation (WHO) and other respected public health bodies. WHO defines dependence syndrome as follows:

“...a cluster of physiological, behavioural, and cognitive phenomena in which the use of a substance or a class of substances takes on a much higher priority for a given individual than other behaviours that once had greater value.”

In plain English, ADP is a combination of psychological and behavioural conditions that cause the alcoholic to give higher priority to alcohol consumption than any other factor in his or her life. The alcoholic's mind considers alcohol as essential to life as food, water and air, motivating the person to engage in behaviours that ensure adequate alcohol consumption at all times.

Getting a Clinical Diagnosis

A clinical diagnosis of alcohol dependence syndrome can only be provided by a trained professional who has experience in this area. Anyone living in the UK can make an appointment with an NHS GP for the purposes of an alcohol-related examination. In such cases, doctors are trained to utilise two different measuring tools to provide a clinical diagnosis:

  • AUDIT – The Alcohol Use Disorders Identification Test (AUDIT) is considered the most accurate screening tool for ADP. It is a tool that was developed by WHO to replace older screening tools that were not as accurate. AUDIT is used by doctors around the world to identify alcoholism.
  • SADQ – The Severity of Alcohol Dependence Questionnaire is another effective screening tool that involves 20 different questions that inventory certain behaviours associated with ADP, for the purposes of assessing risk. Answers to each of the questions are scored; the total score is compared with the Alcohol Dependence Scale.

If you were to seek out a clinical diagnosis of dependence syndrome, you would be asked a series of questions relating to your drinking habits and how your drinking affects other aspects of your life. For example, a doctor might ask how many times in the last year you or someone else has been physically hurt as a result of your drinking. The point of these questions is not only to determine how often and how much you drink but how your drinking negatively impacts your life. The answers you provide – assuming you are being honest – tell the clinician how severe your drinking problem is.

Getting Treatment and Support

Let us assume that you saw your GP and were given a clinical diagnosis of alcohol dependence syndrome. What then? Your doctor would most likely offer to write you a prescription for medication that would help control your alcohol cravings, and then encourage you to undergo alcohol counselling at a minimum. He or she might even encourage you to check into a detox programme at your local NHS hospital. In the absence of such a programme, you might be encouraged to undergo outpatient detox at a local clinic.

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There are a couple of things you should know about treatments provided by the NHS. First and foremost, such treatments are not always best for patients. NHS programmes for alcoholics tend to be oversubscribed, subjecting patients to long wait times and taking longer to complete than is necessary. It is our viewpoint that the best course of treatment for someone clinically diagnosed as alcohol dependent is found through a private rehab clinic offering residential treatment programmes.

The second thing you should know about NHS treatments is that they tend to be open-ended. In other words, treatment providers can only help the alcoholic if that individual is faithful to making all scheduled appointments and counselling sessions. If the effort is not there, the services provided are of little value.

Again, we recommend private treatment in a residential clinic to overcome these weaknesses. Checking into a residential clinic increases the chances that the recovering alcoholic will stick with his or her treatment programme through to its conclusion. A patient can voluntarily check out before finishing treatment, but this is not the norm. Most who check in go on to complete treatment.

Let Us Help You

There is no way for us to say for sure whether or not you are suffering from alcohol dependence syndrome without speaking with you. The information provided here can only act as a guide. Our question to you is this: are you concerned you might be dependent on alcohol? If not, are you at least concerned that you are drinking too much? In either case, let us help you figure it out.

Calling our 24-hour helpline gives you access to a free and comprehensive evaluation. Our trained counsellors use the same screening tools used by NHS doctors to determine the severity of your drinking problem. If our evaluation determines a high risk of alcoholism in your case, we can quickly connect you with a private rehab clinic or other service provider in your local area.

We understand that not all of our clients want or need the treatments offered by private clinics. In such cases, we also refer people to independent counsellors, NHS programmes, alcohol support groups, and local charities. From our perspective, the most important thing is that our clients get treatment.

Alcohol dependence syndrome is a very real condition affecting millions of people around the world. You do not need to be one of them. If you are having trouble controlling how much you drink on a regular basis, now is the time to contact us and do something about it. Let us evaluate you and, if necessary, put you in contact with the treatment provider.


1. WHO –

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