Alcohol addiction

Alcohol addiction is a medical condition where your life is significantly affected by alcohol, and you have become dependent on it. Alcohol addiction can happen to anyone.

Factors of alcohol addiction

There are 3 important factors that are present in people with addictive or abusive patterns of drinking alcohol. These are dependence, tolerance, and compulsion to drink.


If you are dependent on alcohol, it means you cannot stop drinking without unpleasant effects. This makes cutting down or having alcohol free days very challenging, or impossible.


If you have a built up a tolerance to alcohol, this means you need to drink more alcohol over time to get the same effect. This means the daily amount of alcohol you drink gets higher and higher.


Compulsion to drink means your desire to drink is uncontrollable and drinking starts to take over your life. You choose to drink even when you see and experience damaging consequences.

Never drink and drive

Find out if your drinking is low risk

Aotearoa New Zealand has a binge drinking culture. This means that many people accept unhealthy or abusive patterns of drinking. But this does not change the fact that our bodies can only cope with a certain amount of alcohol before it starts to cause us problems.

You can find out if your drinking is low risk by doing a self-test.

Do I have a problem? — Alcohol and Drug Help (external link)

Signs of alcohol addiction

Signs of alcohol addiction include:

  • drinking alone
  • drinking in the morning
  • drinking at work
  • drinking when you are operating machinery, driving or in charge of young tamariki (children).

With long term alcohol addiction, you may notice physical effects on your body.

Effects on the body — (external link)

If you are addicted to alcohol

When you are addicted to alcohol, your brain chemistry changes. The changes in the brain make quitting or cutting down very hard. You develop a need for alcohol that is both mental and physical. Your body sends you messages telling you that you need to drink. Drinking usually takes away the physical symptoms of craving.

Physical symptoms of craving alcohol

The physical symptoms of craving can be very unpleasant. For heavy drinkers, stopping or reducing alcohol results in withdrawal symptoms. This can be quite dangerous. It can include symptoms like:

  • tremors
  • fainting
  • seizures
  • hallucinations (these are rare).

In severe cases it can cause death.

Most people who are heavily addicted to alcohol need help from health professionals. They also need support from whānau or friends to withdraw and become sober.

Getting free of alcohol addiction

Getting free of alcohol addiction is extremely hard. You need determination and must commit to doing the hard work. Before anything else, you need to acknowledge that you have a problem and commit to change.

Making a change — (external link)

If helping yourself does not work, see your healthcare provider. They may refer you to a support agency that specialises in addiction. In some cases, they might offer you medication.

If you need support with your drinking see your usual healthcare provider or look at the options on our getting help with alcohol or drug addiction page.

Getting help with alcohol or drug addiction

If you are feeling stuck or unsure where to start, you can talk through your options with someone on the Alcohol Drug Helpline.

Alcohol drug helpline (external link)

Most people who want to give up alcohol need to try several times before becoming permanently sober. It is part of the normal cycle of recovering from addiction.

Alcohol Drug Helpline

Information about addiction, and publicly funded alcohol, drug and gambling treatment agencies in your region. provides information, advice, research and resources aimed at breaking the cycle of alcohol harm in Aotearoa.

Clinical review

This content was written by HealthInfo clinical advisers. It has been adapted for Health Information and Services.

Clinical advisers — HealthInfo (external link)

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