Alcohol Dependence – Alcoholism


Alcohol dependence, more commonly called ‘alcoholism’, is the most severe drinking problem.

Alcoholics experience an overwhelmingly strong, craving for alcohol.

The NHS estimates that around 9% of men and 3% of women in the UK show signs of alcohol dependence; and it is a problem which is increasing.

Alcohol dependent people can build up a tolerance to alcohol which means that they suffer withdrawal symptoms if they stop.

Drinking large amounts daily has a range of long-term health consequences, including liver damage, high blood pressure, stroke and heart disease. Alcohol can also contribute to mental health problems, as it is a depressant which interferes with the brain’s neurotransmitters.

However, as well as physical issues, equally difficult are the social impacts on the person’s relationships and ability to work.  The behaviour of the person when under the influence of alcohol can cause a range of problems for those around them.

4 Signs and Symptoms of Alcohol Dependence

  1. A compulsive need to drink
    • Overwhelming urge to have alcohol – and finding it hard to stop once you start
  2. Worrying about where your next drink is coming from
    • Alcoholics often plan social, family and work events around ensuring they can access drink. This may be publicly or in secret
  3. Needing a drink first thing
    • Waking up and drinking in the morning
    • Strong desire to have an early drink to ‘settle nerves’, ‘calm down’ or ‘face the day’
  4. Withdrawal symptoms when blood alcohol levels dip
    • Sweating, shaking, tremors, nausea, hallucinations, seizures
    • Symptoms stop when you drink alcohol


The circumstances for each patient are different and alcohol dependence is often something which quietly builds up until it is suddenly out of control.

There are some common factors, which include:

  • Runs in the family – genetic tendency but also family attitudes to drinking during your childhood
  • Stressful events e.g. breakdown of relationships, bereavement, redundancy.  Heavy drinking which starts at times of difficulty can lead to alcohol dependence
  • Patients who have psychiatric disorders such as depression, anxiety, PTSD, psychosis, drug dependence may often drink to ‘self-medicate’. Alcohol abuse can interfere with the chemical balance in the brain, making the psychiatric disorder worse – which can lead patients to drink more and become more dependent on alcohol.  A vicious circle

Conventional Treatments

The most common treatment routes are:

  • Counselling – individual and/or family therapy
  • Monitoring and controlling consumption or abstinence
  • Self-help group therapy e.g. Alcoholics Anonymous 12-step programme
  • Rehab/detox
  • Psychotherapy – talking therapies, counselling
  • CBT – cognitive behaviour therapy
  • Medication – there are two drugs used to treat craving for alcohol: Naltrexone and Acamprosate, but these are not always effective and side-effects can be unpleasant

rTMS Treatment for Alcohol Dependence

On the basis of research, we believe that rTMS – Repetitive Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation could offer sufferers of alcohol dependence an alternative treatment option, using transcranial magnetic stimulation to work directly on the associated areas of the brain.

Many researchers and clinicians consider craving an important contributor to the development and maintenance of alcoholism.   Craving has been described as a powerful urge to drink or as intense thoughts about alcohol.

TMS treatment offers a medication-free approach to treating alcohol cravings and dependence.

rTMS Treatment Clinics

Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation therapy treatment for alcohol dependence is available at all Smart TMS clinics. See our clinic locations for more information.

Smart TMS was the first UK clinic to offer treatments for anything other than depression.

We are able to provide rTMS treatment, for recently detoxified alcohol dependent patients, after 10 days of abstinence. We use the same treatment protocols as Psychiatrist Dr Luigi Gallimberti – see National Geographic: TMS Treatment for Addiction for more information.

To discuss this further, please contact us.

Alcoholism and TMS Treatment

Research and Studies

There is scientific evidence that rTMS is effective and safe for the treatment of alcohol dependence.

Research Studies

There is increasing scientific evidence that rTMS can reduce alcohol craving in recently detoxified patients and assisting them to remain abstinent (Boggio et al, 2008, Mishra et al, 2010, Mishra et al, 2015, and Herremans et al, 2015).

In addition to helping with the craving for alcohol it has also been shown that rTMS treatment, in recently detoxified alcohol dependent patients, can help improve memory function ((Heremans et al, 2013 and Qiao et a, 2016).