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 Alcohol Use Disorder: What You Need To Know

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Alcohol Use Disorder

Drinking alcoholic drinks for many is often seen as a way to relax, socialize, or celebrate. However, drinking too much or drinking as a way of dealing with feelings of depression or anxiety has a severe effect on the entire body. Most commonly, alcohol intake harms the brain, heart, pancreas, mouth, liver, and immune system. But, in spite of its widely-known negative impacts, more Americans than ever before are consuming alcohol regularly.

According to research data published in 2018 by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, yearly more than 88.000 people in the United States die from alcohol-related deaths. Also, more than 15 million Americans struggle with an alcohol use disorder. However, what is genuinely devastating is the fact that less than eight percent of those receive treatment.

What is Alcohol Use Disorder?

According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, alcohol use disorder (ADU) is a medical diagnosis of severe problem drinking. AUD is a chronic relapsing brain disease defined by

  • Compulsive alcohol use, 
  • Loss of control over how much you drink and
  • A negative emotional state when not drinking (you feel anxious, irritable, and/or stressed)

Alcohol addiction results in repeated significant distress and problems functioning in your daily life. According to science, AUD can be mild, moderate, or severe. The level is established based on the number of symptoms a person experiences. Since even a mild disease can escalate and lead to severe problems, doctors advise that early treatment is essential.

Risk Factors for Developing Alcohol Use Disorder

Alcohol use disorder can stem from different factors. The existence of alcoholism risk factors does not mean you will automatically develop a drinking problem; however, knowing them should serve as a prevention measure. 

Several common alcohol abuse risk factors include:

Drinking at an Early Age – Excessive use of alcohol at a young age can lead to problems later on in life. This especially applies when adolescents engage in frequent binge drinking. Alcoholism can affect anyone at any age.

Family History With Alcohol Addiction – Growing up around family members or relatives that suffer from alcoholism increases the risk of alcohol abuse. If you are surrounded by people who drink excessively, alcohol use can look differently. In these circumstances, you can easily fall victim to bad habits.

High Levels of Stress – Drinking to reduce stress can quickly become problematic.  For this reason, it is essential for professionals in high-stress level industries to find other ways (like doing sport or maintaining a hobby) to de-stress to prevent alcohol abuse.

Peer Pressure – When a partner or close friend frequently drink, you may be more inclined to join them. Giving in to peer pressure can be tempting, so rather than feel the need to drink, offer to be designated driver.

Frequent Alcohol Consumption Over a Long Period – When drinking too much becomes a pattern, you significantly increase your chances of developing an alcohol-dependence. The more you drink, the more you become tolerant to alcohol, which means in time, you will need to drink more alcohol to achieve the same effects you felt with less.

Symptoms and Diagnosis

Alcohol use disorder is diagnosed when a patient’s drinking causes distress or harm. According to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM–5), 11 criteria help a professional decide if someone has an AUD, and those are:

  • Drink more, or longer, than planned
  • Have tried to stop or cut back more than once, but couldn’t
  • Spend a lot of time drinking, (or being sick or hungover)
  • Want alcohol so badly you are unable to think of anything else
  • Have problems with family/ work/ school,  due to drink (or because you are hangover)
  • Carrying on with drinking even though it has caused problems for you or your closed ones
  • Cut back or quit on other activities that were important to you so you can drink
  • Have found yourself in situations where you can get hurt while drinking or afterward 
  • Keep drinking even though it makes you depressed or anxious, damage your health, or led to a memory blackout
  • To reach the effect, you have to drink more
  • Found that you had withdrawal symptoms, like trouble sleeping, shakiness, restlessness, nausea, sweating, a racing heart, a seizure, or seeing, hearing, or feeling things that aren’t there.

These criteria address both the physical and psychological components of alcohol use disorder. The physical dependence is an essential component of the alcohol addiction; however, a person can be physically dependent on alcohol (the body will build tolerance and will go through withdrawal if the intake ceases or if there is a severe reduction of the usually consumed amount) without being psychologically dependent on it. The psychological component refers to how the person’s thoughts and actions become adjust toward obtaining and drinking alcohol, even to the exclusion of essential responsibilities.

If a person experience at least two of the eleven factors (symptoms) described above, in the past year, then it is considered that the person has an alcohol use disorder. The existence of two or three signs equals a diagnosis of a mild alcohol use disorder, while four to five symptoms are considered moderate, and six or more is considered severe.

Available Treatment Options for Alcohol Use Disorder

Most people with diagnosed alcohol use disorder can get better from some form of treatment. Medical treatments include two types of therapy – medicines and behavioral. Medications usually prescribed for treating alcohol use disorder are Disulfiram, Naltrexone, and Acamprosate. Alcohol counseling includes cognitive-behavioral therapy, motivational enhancement therapy, marital and family counseling, and brief interventions.  For the majority of people, using both types gives the best results. Also, going to a support group such as Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) has been an essential activity for many. The important thing is that if you have an AUD, it is vital to ask for treatment.

In severe cases, intensive treatment is required – joining a residential treatment center for rehabilitation (rehab). These treatments are highly effective since they are highly structured. They usually include several different kinds of behavioral therapies, including medicines for detox (medical treatment for alcohol withdrawal) and/or for treating the AUD.

Last but not least

It is easy for a few drinks with friends to become a full-blown alcohol addiction. Individuals struggling with alcohol use disorder cannot function normally without alcohol,  thus often suffering in silence. If you think you or someone you know may have an alcohol use disorder, it is vital to ask for help. There are many treatment options available which can help you or your loved one overcome alcohol abuse and achieve long-term sobriety.