Alcohol use disorder (AUD) is defined as a chronic relapsing brain disease marked by a person’s compulsive alcohol use, loss of control of alcohol consumption and negative emotional state when not using alcohol. AUD is defined as mild, moderate or severe, based on the number of symptoms a person has.
Problem drinking that becomes severe is given the medical diagnosis of alcohol use disorder. Alcoholism and alcohol abuse are both distinct disorders under the umbrella of alcohol use disorder.
Alcoholism is a term used to define alcohol addiction (physical dependence), a disease in which a person has very little to no control over their drinking. A person struggling with alcohol abuse isn’t necessarily addicted to alcohol, but it still causes many difficulties with their ability to function at work, school and home.
The truth is that alcohol use disorder can happen to anyone, no matter their race, religion, mental health, gender, income or education. Though there are certain causes and risk factors that might make a person more vulnerable to AUD. There are an estimated 17 million people in the United States with alcohol use disorder, and most of them never receive any type of treatment for it.
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Signs And Symptoms Of Alcohol Use Disorder
Alcohol is widely accepted, but it’s still a drug. Like other drugs, it can be abused. A person struggling with alcohol use disorder may try to keep their drinking a secret or make excuses to drink at inappropriate times. Not every person with AUD will show all the signs and symptoms of the disorder.
The 11 symptoms of alcohol use disorder include:
- inability to control the amount of alcohol a person drinks
- wanting to cut down or stop drinking but not being able to
- spending a lot of time drinking, seeking alcohol or overcoming the effects of alcohol
- feeling a strong craving for alcohol, or a strong need or urge to drink
- recurrent alcohol use has resulted in a failure to meet obligations at work, school or home
- continuing to drink, even though it causes relationship problems
- giving up or cutting back on activities in order to drink
- getting into potentially dangerous situations as a result of drinking alcohol
- continuing to drink even though it causes depression or anxiety, adds to another health problem or after having a blackout
- increased alcohol tolerance—having to drink much more than previously to get the desired effect, or finding that the usual number of drinks has much less effect
- experiencing withdrawal symptoms, such as irritability, nausea, sweating or shaking as alcohol wears off
The severity of a person’s alcohol use disorder is based on the number of symptoms they experience. A mild AUD is the presence of two to three symptoms. A moderate alcohol use disorder is the presence of four to five symptoms. A severe alcohol use disorder is the presence of six or more symptoms.
Even a person struggling with a moderate alcohol use disorder has a high at risk of it spiraling out of control and becoming more severe. Knowing the signs of AUD may help people persuade friends or loved ones to get treatment to quit the use of alcohol.
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Causes And Risk Factors Of Alcohol Use Disorder
There is no single or simple reason that some people develop alcohol use disorder while others do not. No two cases of AUD are exactly the same, yet some people will be at a greater risk of developing the disorder. The effect alcohol has on a person depends on environmental, psychological, genetic and social factors.
Alcohol causes the brain chemistry involved with judgment, pleasure and impulse control to change. As a person develops alcohol use disorder, they may completely lose control of their drinking.
The most common risk factors of alcohol use disorder include the length of time a person drinks, their age, family history with alcohol, the presence of a co-occurring mental disorder and the perceived social acceptability of alcohol use. A person who binge drinks has a higher risk of developing AUD. Binge drinking is defined as five standard drinks for men and four drinks for women in a matter of about two hours.
Dangers Of Alcohol Abuse
The dangers of alcohol are often downplayed in society, perhaps because many people who drink don’t ever experience an issue with it. Nonetheless, alcohol is dangerous and it’s involved in as many as 88,000 deaths (62,000 men and 26,000 women) each year in the United States.
The risks of heavy drinking go beyond hangovers, alcohol poisoning, addiction, and fatalities. Alcohol abuse is also a leading cause of health problems in the U.S. Drinking alcohol can lead to liver disease, heart disease, depression, stroke, internal bleeding, sleep disorders, kidney failure and injury.
According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, alcohol plays a part in about 60 percent of fatal burn injuries, drownings, and homicides; 50 percent of severe trauma injuries and sexual assault; and 40 percent of fatal motor vehicle accidents, suicides, and fatal falls.
Alcohol Withdrawal Symptoms
When a person drinks too much alcohol, their body and mind may become dependent on the drug to function properly. When a person who is physically addicted to alcohol stops drinking, they may experience mental and physical withdrawal symptoms.
Alcohol withdrawal is a body’s reaction to the lack of a substance that has become necessary to function. Withdrawal symptoms vary based on how much and how often a person drinks, and in severe cases, alcohol withdrawal can be fatal.
The signs and symptoms of alcohol withdrawal may include:
- delirium tremens
Delirium tremens (DTs) is the rapid onset of mental confusion and is the most severe form of alcohol withdrawal. Delirium tremens is characterized by shaking, high blood pressure, confusion, and hallucinations. Delirium tremens can be fatal without professional treatment.
Alcohol Use Disorder Treatment
A person suffering from alcohol use disorder may have a very hard time quitting drinking without treatment. During the early stages of alcohol treatment, medically-assisted detoxification (medical detox) helps an individual overcome their physical addiction to alcohol. Alcohol use disorder is a disease of the body, mind, and spirit. Medical detox is merely the first step to overcoming alcohol use disorder.
Most people’s experience with overcoming alcohol will differ, but the first step is often admitting that there is a problem. An individualized approach treats alcohol use disorder as it applies to each person. The trusted professionals at Vertava Health of Massachusetts understand alcohol use disorder and the treatment required to beat it. There may not be a cure for AUD, but when it’s treated as a chronic illness there is hope to live a full life in recovery.
Reach out to Vertava Health of Massachusetts today to learn more about alcohol use disorder treatment.