This study evaluates the quality of life status of 39 male and 21 female Caucasian subjects admitted to a voluntary sector community alcohol detoxification unit. Baseline data including socio-demographics, severity of alcohol dependence and alcohol problems were collected 4–5 days following admission. In addition, the following measures were obtained: Rotterdam Symptoms Checklist, the Beck Depression Inventory, the General Health Questionnaire 12, Chubon's Life Situation Survey and the Nottingham Health Profile. Subjects were followed up at 12 weeks, and subdivided into two groups: relapsers and non-relapsers. A relapse was defined as drinking 21 or more units per week for men and 14 units or more per week for women over 7 consecutive days (1 unit is the equivalent of 8–10 g of absolute ethanol). Fifty-eight (97%) subjects were successfully followed-up, with 36 (62%) of the group relapsing to heavy drinking within 12 weeks. The results show that alcohol dependence is associated with a poor quality of life. Subjects rated poorly on the standardized questionnaires compared with the normative values for their reference populations. Relapsers and non-relapsers differed significantly in their life situation, depression, physical and psychological symptom total scores and the Nottingham Health Profile sub-score energy at 12 weeks compared with baseline, and these changes were investigated for each group. Within the relapse group a linear regression showed no association between any of the quality of life measures and time to relapse. Individual sub-score analysis of the Nottingham Health Profile results point to the importance of sleep, social isolation, pain, physical mobility and anergia in alcohol dependency. There was little change as a result of either not remitting or returning to heavy drinking and overall these findings confirm that alcohol dependent subjects have a poor quality of life.