What Is An Alcohol Use Disorder?

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Alcohol is widely accepted, legal, and seriously dangerous. Learning about alcohol use disorder may help an individual seek treatment for alcohol abuse.

AlcoholTreatment.net What Is An Alcohol Use Disorder_

Understanding Alcohol Use Disorder

Alcohol use disorder (AUD) is a chronic disease, characterized by compulsive alcohol use, loss of control of amount consumed, and a negative emotional state when not using alcohol. Alcohol use disorder is a global issue, but in the United States alone, there are an estimated 18 million people suffering with AUD. AUD doesn’t merely affect the person drinking; it may also harm their families.

In 2013, the American Psychiatric Association issued the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (5th Edition). In the manual, the terms alcoholism (alcohol dependence) and alcohol abuse are integrated into a single condition known as alcohol use disorder.

Alcoholism (Alcohol Dependence)

Alcoholism is a chronic, progressive, and primary disease that causes a person to have strong cravings for alcohol, loss of control of alcohol consumption, tolerance, and withdrawal symptoms. A person suffering from alcoholism may not be able to see their drinking as a problem, and may have a hard time quitting alcohol alone.

Alcohol Abuse

Alcohol abuse is drinking that causes harm, distress, relationship problems, lack of productivity at work, and illness. With alcohol abuse, an individual is not physically addicted to alcohol, but it still causes serious problems in their life.

Binge Drinking

Binge drinking is a type of problem drinking characterized as a pattern that brings an individual’s blood alcohol concentration (BAC) to .08 or higher. For men, this BAC level is reached with five drinks, and for women four drinks, in about two hours. Binge drinking may result in blackouts and alcohol poisoning. Binge drinking often plays a major part in the progression of alcoholism.

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Causes Of Alcohol Use Disorder

Most people aren’t born with an alcohol use disorder, but certain factors may put them at greater risk of developing it. There are many causes of alcohol use disorder, and not everyone who drinks alcohol will develop a drinking disorder. There isn’t always a single reason that a person develops an AUD, although there are many people who share common factors which contribute to their disease.

One common cause of alcohol use disorder is using alcohol to cope with mental illnesses such as generalized anxiety disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder, or depression disorder. Other causes of alcohol use disorder include genetic, psychological, social, and environmental factors.

Symptoms Of Alcohol Use Disorder

Many people with alcohol use disorder attempt to validate their drinking, or compare their own drinking to that of another person. In any case, if an individual’s pattern of drinking repeatedly causes distress and problems in daily life, they are likely to be suffering from an alcohol use disorder.

Signs and symptoms of alcohol use disorder include:

  • Individual had times when they ended up drinking more or longer than they intended.
  • Wanting to cut down or stop drinking, or trying to, but not being able to.
  • Spending a lot of time drinking, or being sick from the aftereffects of alcohol.
  • Experiencing cravings, or a strong need or urge to drink.
  • Drinking, or being sick from drinking, interferes with taking care of home or family, or causes job troubles/school problems.
  • Continuing to drink even though it is causing trouble with family or friends.
  • Giving up or cutting back on interests or passions in order to drink.
  • Getting into situations while (or after) drinking that increase the chances of getting hurt.
  • Continuing to drink even though it makes the person feel depressed/anxious or adds to another health problem, or after experiencing a blackout.
  • Drinking a greater amount than before to get the desired effect, or finding that the usual number of drinks had much less effect than before.
  • Experiencing alcohol withdrawal symptoms, such as trouble sleeping, shakiness, irritability, anxiety, depression, restlessness, nausea, sweating, or hallucinations.

An alcohol use disorder is termed mild, moderate, or severe based on the number of symptoms that an individual experiences.

Mild: The presence of two to three AUD symptoms
Moderate: The presence of four to five AUD symptoms
Severe: The presence of six or more AUD symptoms

Not every person with a drinking problem will meet all 11 criteria of AUD. Due to the progressive nature of the disease, even those suffering from a mild alcohol use disorder are at a greater risk of developing a moderate or severe condition. If an individual met two or more symptoms of alcohol use disorder within the last year, it may be time to seek help.

Health Risks Of Alcohol Use Disorder

An alcohol use disorder affects nearly every area of a person’s life, including their work, home, school, and health. Too much alcohol is dangerous, and has been known to cause problems with the heart, liver, kidney, pancreas, brain, and immune system.

Too much alcohol may even kill a person. According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, an estimated 88,000 people die each year from alcohol, and it’s the third leading cause of preventable death in the United States.

Alcohol Withdrawal Symptoms

Withdrawal symptoms occur when a heavy drinker abruptly decreases their alcohol consumption or stops altogether. Alcohol withdrawal can be mild, or moderate to severe, and is a leading cause of relapse. The most severe form of alcohol withdrawal is known as delirium tremens.

Symptoms of alcohol withdrawal may include:

  • anxiety or nervousness
  • depression
  • irritability and mood swings
  • problems sleeping
  • nausea and vomiting
  • loss of appetite
  • headache
  • fatigue
  • jumpiness or shakiness
  • nightmares
  • not thinking clearly
  • sweating, clammy skin
  • dilated pupils
  • pallor
  • rapid heart rate
  • tremor
  • Delirium Tremens
  • agitation
  • fever
  • seeing or feeling things that aren’t there (hallucinations)
  • seizures
  • severe confusion

Medication-Assisted Treatment And Detoxification

Many people with alcohol use disorder are unable to stop drinking without experiencing the painful withdrawal symptoms that go with it. A medication-assisted treatment and detoxification may help decrease the physical symptoms of alcohol withdrawal, but neither is considered a full treatment for alcohol use disorder.

A medication-assisted treatment (MAT) uses behavioral treatment with an FDA-approved medication such as acamprosate, disulfiram, or naltrexone. MAT is a holistic approach to alcohol treatment. MAT helps minimize alcohol withdrawal and/or reduce the urge to drink.

A medically-assisted detoxification (medical detox) helps a person push all of the unwanted chemicals out of their body and manage their withdrawal symptoms. Yet medical detox isn’t just a treatment for withdrawal symptoms; it’s treatment for the physical addiction to alcohol. A medical detox may help an individual avoid severe delirium tremens, permanent brain damage, and even death.

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