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Warning Signs You are Developing a Physical Dependency on Alcohol

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signs of physical dependency on alcohol

Alcohol is the most commonly used addictive substance in the United States. More than 85.6% of adults have drank at some point in their lives, and more than 50% of adults report drinking each month. However, not everyone who drinks alcohol becomes dependent on it or addicted to it. The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) estimates that nearly 15 million people ages 12 and older have an alcohol use disorder (AUD).[1]

Drinking isn’t always harmful as long as you are doing so safely and in moderation. But how do you know if your drinking has gotten out of hand and if you are developing a physical dependency on alcohol? It all comes down to how often you drink, how much you drink, and how your body responds when you don’t drink.

What is a Physical Dependency on Alcohol?

Physical dependence occurs when the brain adapts to the presence of alcohol in the body. Once this happens, the brain needs alcohol to function normally. While it is possible to be physically dependent on alcohol without being addicted to it, physical dependency is one symptom of alcohol use disorder (AUD) or alcoholism.[2]

Dependence can only happen if you abuse alcohol excessively over an extended period of time. You won’t spend one weekend binge drinking and wake up on Monday with alcohol dependency. This is because it takes time for the effects of alcohol on the brain to make structural and chemical changes. Instead, a dependence develops in chronic drinkers who consume alcohol on a regular (usually daily) basis.

Physical dependence is characterized by withdrawal symptoms that appear when you stop drinking and are able to be alleviated after drinking alcohol. People who suffer from alcohol dependence may fear the anticipated symptoms of alcohol withdrawal, causing them to continue drinking rather than sober up.

Without treatment, a physical dependence can cause physical and psychological discomfort.

Signs You Are Developing a Physical Dependency on Alcohol

If you are someone who drinks a lot, you may be concerned about developing alcohol dependence. Many people don’t realize their bodies are reliant on alcohol until it is too late. So, how do you know whether or not you are developing a physical dependency on alcohol? Here are the warning signs to look out for.

You Need to Drink More Than You Previously Did to Get Drunk

The more you drink, the more your body gets used to processing alcohol and functioning with alcohol in your system, and the more alcohol you’ll have to consume to feel drunk. You may have felt the effects of alcohol after 1-2 drinks in the past, but now find yourself needing 4-5 drinks just to get a buzz. This is an example of tolerance.

Alcohol tolerance happens when you need to drink increasing amounts of alcohol over time to achieve the effects you used to with smaller amounts of alcohol. Tolerance encourages you to drink more so you can get drunk. And, since drinking more over time is how physical dependence occurs, tolerance is a tell-tale sign that your drinking is getting out of control.

You Crave Alcohol if You Don’t Drink

Some people may say they “crave” a drink after a long, stressful day. But, when you are developing alcohol dependence, you may struggle with strong compulsions and powerful cravings to drink in all kinds of situations. You may want to drink to celebrate good days and to cope with bad days. You may find yourself always making excuses to drink or justifying the reasons for your drinking.

If you find yourself battling with alcohol cravings, and often giving into these cravings by picking up a drink, you may be well on your way to developing a physical dependency on alcohol.

You Wake Up With the Shakes

Excessive alcohol use and early alcohol withdrawal can both cause tremors, also known as “the shakes” or “alcohol shakes.” The shakes can affect any part of the body but are very common in the arms, hands, and fingers.

Alcohol-induced tremors are caused by sympathetic nervous system hyperactivity that occurs after chronic alcohol exposure. Alcohol abuse increases the sensitivity of GABA receptors in the brain which help control muscles, movements, and coordination. When alcohol isn’t present in an alcohol-dependent system, these receptors become overactive and may cause tremors or shakes.[3]

You know you are experiencing the shakes if you have trouble writing, drawing, or holding objects still–and if those shakes go away as soon as you start drinking more alcohol.

You Experience Any Symptoms of Alcohol Withdrawal When You’re Not Drinking

Once you have developed a physical dependency on alcohol, you will start experiencing withdrawal symptoms that begin 6-12 hours after your last drink. While shakes and cravings are two symptoms of withdrawal, others include:[4]

  • Anxiety
  • Shaky hands
  • Headache
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Insomnia
  • Sweating
  • Racing heart
  • Fever
  • High blood pressure
  • Hallucinations
  • Seizures

If you experience these symptoms when you stop drinking, or you continue drinking to avoid these symptoms, it’s time to seek help from an alcohol rehab near you.

physical dependency on alcohol

Get The Care You Need and Deserve

Woburn Wellness Addiction Treatment is a leader in the addiction treatment field, with proven success in facilitating long-term recovery. Our team of top clinical & medical experts specializes in treating addiction coupled with mental illness, ensuring that each person receives individualized care. Call us – we’re available 24/day, 7 days/week.

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Start Alcohol Rehab in Woburn, Massachusetts Today

The first step towards overcoming a drinking problem is acknowledging the problem itself and asking for help. When you call our team of admissions counselors in Massachusetts, you’ll be met with compassion, understanding, and dedication to your recovery. We’ll assess your treatment needs, verify your insurance, and help you choose an alcohol rehab program that works for you. The longer you drink, the worse your physical dependency on alcohol will become, and the harder it will be to get sober. Don’t wait any longer. Call now to begin your recovery journey.


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Medically Reviewed By

Inessa Maloney, MS, LMHC Clinical Director
Learn about Inessa Maloney

Inessa Maloney, MS, LMHC has been dedicated to the mental health and substance abuse field for a decade, providing her expertise to guarantee quality and accuracy.

  • Specializes in outpatient services with a focus on substance abuse
  • Expertise in reality-based therapy, CBT/DBT, and motivational interviewing
  • Holds a Master’s Degree in Professional Counseling
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