What is alcohol addiction?

So what is alcoholism? Basically, alcoholism is a commonly used term for chronic addiction to alcohol and is a type of alcohol use disorder. It is different to alcohol misuse, which can include heavy drinking and binge drinking without involving addiction – although prolonged heavy drinking can easily lead to dependency.

You may find yourself building up a tolerance to alcohol, needing more and more to get the same effect or even to feel normal. You might also experience cravings for alcohol and a range of withdrawal symptoms when you do not drink.

Alcohol addiction withdrawal symptoms

Despite being a legal and socially acceptable drug, alcohol can produce worse physical and mental withdrawal symptoms than many other substances.

These could include:

  • Palpitations
  • Increased heart rate
  • Sweating and shivering
  • Tremors
  • Aches and cramps
  • Stomach aches
  • Headaches
  • Agitation and anxiety
  • Mood swings

At the most serious end of the spectrum is delirium tremens, which is considered to be a medical emergency and can lead to more severe cases of existing symptoms, hallucinations, seizures and even death.

There is also a recognized link between withdrawal from alcohol and depression, as well as other mental health issues.

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Alcohol detox

The process during which you metabolise the alcohol already in your system, essentially the point at which you get sober, is known as alcohol detoxification or alcohol detox.

This is generally very unpleasant and can be dangerous as it can trigger some or all of the withdrawal symptoms listed above. This is why it is always best to undergo detox in a medically supervised setting such as rehab.

Medications for treating alcohol withdrawal symptoms 

There are a number of medications that can be used to treat alcohol use disorders, particularly in regard to alcohol withdrawal symptoms.

The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) says that in the most severe cases a sudden reduction in alcohol intake “may result in the development of an alcohol withdrawal syndrome, which, in the absence of medical management, can lead to seizures, delirium tremens, and death”.

The NICE guidance also says that people with severe alcohol dependence should undergo withdrawal in an inpatient setting and some medications are only suitable for use in such a supervised inpatient setting.

Medications that could potentially be used include long-acting benzodiazepine, carbamazepine and clomethiazole, all of which can be used in a strictly controlled manner to treat severe withdrawal symptoms. A fast-acting benzodiazepine may be administered if alcohol withdrawal causes seizures.

Medications for treating alcohol addiction cravings

As well as treating alcohol withdrawal symptoms, some alcohol treatment medications can be used to help reduce cravings and prevent relapse.

NICE says that psychological interventions such as cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) should be offered, but some medications such as acamprosate Campral or naltrexone hydrochloride can be used in conjunction with therapies to help boost their effects and reduce cravings.

The four main medications that NICE recommend to treat alcohol misuse are:



Also known as Campral, this affects chemicals in the brain that are believed to have an impact on alcohol cravings. It is used to help prevent relapse when you have already quit alcohol and treatment typically begins when you start withdrawal from alcohol. A full course of treatment can last for up to 6 months.



Disulfiram, also known as Antabuse can have a deterrent effect by producing extremely unpleasant physical reactions to alcohol if you do drink. Even a small amount of alcohol can be enough to lead to a range of symptoms including headache, sweating, vomiting, and confusion. These can last for several days and can end up producing a revulsion for alcohol through negative reinforcement.



Naltrexone can be used to treat both alcohol and opioid addictions by blocking opioid receptors in the body. This has the effect of reducing cravings and also reducing or negating the pleasurable feelings you might usually experience if you drink or take opioid drugs. A course of naltrexone will typically last up to 6 months.



Nalmefene, also known as Selincro is also used to block opioid receptors in the brain, thereby reducing the craving for alcohol. This alcohol addiction medication is usually started while the addict is still drinking relatively heavily at over 7.5 units a day for men and 5 units a day for women.

The prescription will follow an initial assessment and will typically be suitable for people who are not experiencing physical withdrawal symptoms through cutting back and don’t need to stop drinking immediately.

All medications for alcohol treatment should only ever be taken under medical advice.

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Ocean Recovery inpatient alcohol rehab help

Ocean Recovery can help you to overcome your alcohol addiction and make a long-term recovery through a thorough, evidence-based holistic treatment program, through alcohol rehab. This will be tailored for your own personal circumstances but will usually start with an alcohol detox which may be medically assisted, especially as you will be in an inpatient setting.

This will be accompanied by a range of therapies and treatments, which may also include appropriate medications as detailed above. When you leave, aftercare and support package can help you to avoid relapsing as you move forward.

If you want to stop drinking, contact us today to start the ball rolling with our admissions process.

Frequently Asked Questions

Choosing the right rehab treatment provider can be a life-changing decision; here are some of the most common questions we are asked pre-admission.

Does alcohol addiction treatment really work?

Addiction treatment is not guaranteed but government figures showed that 62% of people being treated for alcohol problems only (as opposed to alcohol and other substances) were successfully treated and discharged. The figures may also be higher for those completing inpatient treatment at a private rehab, which incorporates a holistic program of detox, rehab and aftercare.

Signs and symptoms of alcohol addiction

There are numerous symptoms of alcohol addiction but some of the most telling are if you find yourself drinking more heavily and more frequently, find it difficult to stop or cut down and experience a craving for alcohol and/or withdrawal symptoms. If you believe a loved one may be suffering from addiction, we can offer confidential advice and possibly stage a guided drug and alcohol intervention if required.

How do inpatient and outpatient differ for alcohol rehab treatment?

When you attend inpatient alcohol rehab you will stay on the premises, which allows you to focus on your recovery in a tranquil environment away from the triggers and temptations related to your usual alcohol consumption. You will have round the clock support and will be able to undergo supervised alcohol detox. With outpatient rehab, you will be more responsible for attending treatment sessions and will be surrounded by all the usual people and places associated with your drinking.

John Gillen - Author - Last updated: December 22, 2023

John is one UK’s leading professionals in the addiction recovery industry. Pioneering new treatment techniques such as NAD+ and ongoing research into new therapy techniques such as systematic laser therapy, John is committed to providing the very best treatment for people throughout the UK and Europe. During his extremely busy schedule, John likes to regularly update our blog section with the latest news and trends in the industry to keep visitors to our site as well informed as possible on everything related to addiction treatment.

Dr Adel Ghaly

    Dr Adel Ghaly - Clinical Reviewer - Last reviewed: October 20, 2023

    MB BCh, Psychological Medicine (Substance Misuse Psychiatry) from 2002

    Dr Adel Ghaly is a registered Doctor who is a specialist psychiatrist. Dr Ghaly gained an MB BCh in 1982 from Assiut University and has since become a substance misuse specialist and psychiatrist. After gaining his qualification in Psychological Medicine (Substance Misuse Psychiatry) in 2002, Dr Ghaly has worked in hospitals and as a specialist trainer recognised by the GMC.