A glass of wine with dinner, a beer after work, a cocktail in the sunshine on holiday. Alcohol makes an appearance in so many parts of our lives it can be easy to forget that, like many drugs, it’s addictive, both physically and psychologically.

The NHS estimates that around 9% of men in the UK show signs of alcohol dependence. Our recent 'Alcohol and the gay community' survey found 11% of gay men admitted to having a problem with alcohol - higher than the national average. This means that drinking alcohol becomes an important, or sometimes the most important, factor in their lives and they feel they’re unable to function without it.

But if you were ‘dependent’ on alcohol, you’d be stumbling around drunk every day, right? Not necessarily. There are varying degrees of alcohol dependence and they don’t always involve excessive levels of drinking.

If you find that you ‘need’ to share a bottle of wine with your partner most nights of the week, or always go for a few pints after work, just to unwind, you’re likely to be drinking at a level that could affect your long-term health. You could also be becoming dependent on alcohol.

If you find it very difficult to enjoy yourself or relax without having a drink, you could have become psychologically dependent on alcohol. Physical dependence can follow too – that is your body shows withdrawal symptoms, such as sweating, shaking and nausea, when your blood alcohol level falls.

Four warning signs that you may be dependent on alcohol

  • Worrying about where your next drink is coming from and planning social, family and work events around alcohol.
  • Finding you have a compulsive need to drink and finding it hard to stop once you start.
  • Waking up and drinking – or feeling the need to have a drink in the morning.
  • Suffering from withdrawal symptoms, such as sweating, shaking and nausea, which stop once you drink alcohol.

If you’re worried that you have any of these symptoms of alcohol dependence, talk to your GP or seek further information.

Staying in control - here are four ways you can cut back:

Try alternative ways to deal with stress. Instead of reaching for a beer or glass of wine after a hard day, go for a run, swim or to a yoga class, or talk to a friend about what’s worrying you.

Keep track of what you’re drinking. Your liver can’t tell you if you’re drinking too much, but a special tool from MyDrinkaware can. It can even help you cut down. Take their self-assesment test to see what they say: www.drinkaware.co.uk/selfassessment.

Give alcohol-free days a go. If you drink regularly, your body starts to build up a tolerance to alcohol. This is one of the main reasons why many medical experts recommend taking regular days off from drinking to ensure you don’t become addicted to alcohol. Test out having a break for yourself and see what positive results you notice.

Ask a health professional for advice. Advances in alcohol research have provided new treatment options. A health care professional can look at the number, pattern, and severity of your symptoms, to help you decide the best course of action if needed.

What Next?

SUPPORT: Antidote at London Friend is the UK’s only LGBT run and targeted drug and alcohol support service. For more information, visit www.londonfriend.org.uk.

If you’re concerned about someone’s drinking, or your own, Drinkline runs a free, confidential helpline. Call 0300 123 1110 or visit www.alcoholics-anonymous.org.uk.