Alcohol Abuse and Dependence

What is Alcohol Abuse and Dependence?

Alcoholism, also known as alcohol dependence, is a chronic disease.  It is a progressive disease and occurs when the body becomes physically dependent upon alcohol.  Individuals who are dependent upon alcohol may not be able to control how much they drink and frequently continue to drink despite serious consequences.

Alcohol abuse occurs when a person is not physically dependent upon alcohol, but does exhibit problems with alcohol.  Someone who abuses alcohol may drink too much and experience problems due to consuming alcohol. 

It is possible to recover from alcohol dependence and abuse and there are many resources available for help.

Symptoms of Alcohol Abuse/Dependence

Symptoms of alcohol dependence and abuse may overlap.  However, someone who abuses alcohol may not experience physical symptoms of abuse and may not have as strong a compulsion to drink. Symptoms may include:

  • Being unable to limit the amount of alcohol you drink
  • Feeling a strong need or compulsion to drink
  • Developing tolerance to alcohol so that you need increasing amounts to feel its effects
  • Having legal problems or problems with relationships, employment or finances due to drinking
  • Drinking alone or in secret
  • Experiencing physical withdrawal symptoms — such as nausea, sweating and shaking — when you don't drink
  • Not remembering conversations or commitments, sometimes referred to as "blacking out"
  • Making a ritual of having drinks at certain times and becoming annoyed when this ritual is disturbed or questioned
  • Losing interest in activities and hobbies that used to bring you pleasure
  • Irritability when your usual drinking time nears, especially if alcohol isn't available
  • Keeping alcohol in unlikely places at home, at work or in your car
  • Gulping drinks, ordering doubles, becoming intoxicated intentionally to feel good or drinking to feel "normal"

Treatment of Alcohol Abuse/Dependence

Alcohol dependence and abuse are treatable.  Treatment strategies vary, based upon the assessment of a healthcare professional. Treatment may include an intervention, outpatient program or counseling, or residential inpatient program.  In addition, support groups are often helpful in the recovery process.

How Alcohol Abuse/Dependence Affects Lawyers

As many as one in five lawyers is a problem drinker – twice the national rate.  While it’s uncertain why lawyers experience alcohol dependence and abuse at a higher rate, it is clear that alcoholism has devastating effects on a lawyer’s career and personal life.

Lawyer assistance programs (LAPs) are here to support lawyers, judges, students and other legal professionals who suffer from alcohol dependence and abuse. Contact your state or local LAP.

How to Help a Colleague

If you believe a colleague may have a drinking problem, encourage him or her to seek help. Contact a LAP for additional support and resources.