Alcohol use disorder or AUD is the medical term of someone with alcoholism, which by definition means a person that is unable to control their desire to drink no matter how bad the consequences on their lives.
According to the National Institute of Health (NIH), around 15 million American adults suffer from some form of AUD, representing 6.2% of the population. The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that there are 3.3 million deaths caused by alcohol abuse around the world every year.
What Is the Definition of AUD?
A person who has abused alcohol for a prolonged period of time is likely to have developed alcohol use disorder. Essentially, AUD is a drinking problem that has become severe, requiring treatment with a specialist alcoholism treatment program.
As a form of addiction, AUD is characterized by an overwhelming need to consume alcohol, with withdrawal symptoms emerging very quickly whenever they stop drinking – even to sleep.
Someone with AUD is likely to be preoccupied with using alcohol to the extent that it takes center stage in their lives. Work and family commitments are unattended to, they may get into financial difficulty and generally, a person is likely to become increasingly unreliable as their condition deepens.
Ultimately, AUD is defined by someone who no longer chooses to drink but has an overwhelming need to.
What Are the Symptoms of AUD?
Not everyone who enjoys a drink from time to time is at risk of developing AUD. It is more likely to become a problem for a person who regularly abuses alcohol with binge drinking, for example. The signs and symptoms of AUD include the following:
- Drinking secretively or alone
- Being unable to restrict the amount of alcohol consumed
- Experiencing blackouts where chunks of time are forgotten
- Creating rituals around drinking, for example, after work or whenever a meal is eaten
- Becoming combative or aggressive when challenged on their drinking by others
- Stashing alcohol around the office or home in unlikely places so as to conceal use
- Experiencing relationship difficulties, legal or financial problems caused by alcohol abuse
- Withdrawal symptoms emerging quickly after the last drink of the day
What Are the Risk Factors of AUD?
There are some risk factors considered to be linked to excessive drinking with the potential for developing alcohol use disorder, including:
A family history of alcoholism or AUD may make it more likely for future generations to develop the illness.
How easy it is to access alcohol depends on the kind of people an individual mixes with and whether there is alcohol routinely involved.
People who regularly drink to excess tend to encourage others to follow suit. This is referred to as “enabling” in the addiction community and normalizes alcohol consumption so that others are unaware of the risks.
Research shows that there are some stress hormones that are directly linked to alcohol abuse. When certain individuals experience stress and anxiety levels rising in response to a difficult situation, they are at risk of consuming alcohol to block it out.
Individuals with a low opinion of themselves are often at risk of drinking too much alcohol, particularly in social situations.
It is not uncommon for a person with AUD to also be suffering from a mental health condition such as depression. People with depression may seek to reduce their symptoms by using alcohol, which can lead to them developing AUD.
How the Body Processes (Metabolizes) Alcohol
Everyone processes or metabolizes alcohol in different ways, with some being more susceptible to its effects than others. Generally speaking, the more alcohol a person consumes, the more tolerant they are likely to become, meaning they need more to get the desired effects.
What Are The Long-Term Effects Of Alcohol Abuse?
When someone has abused alcohol for a long period of time, they are at risk of developing the following health complications:
- Persistent fatigue
- Frequent blackouts and memory loss
- Weakened eye muscles
- Hepatitis, cirrhosis and other liver problems
- Gastritis, pancreatitis and other gastrointestinal conditions
- High blood pressure and hypertension
- High risk of cardiomyopathy, heart failure, stroke and other heart problems
- Diabetes type 2, with an associated risk of hypoglycemia
- Possible fertility issues as a consequence of disrupted menstruation or erectile dysfunction
- Consuming alcohol while pregnant can cause fetal alcohol syndrome in newborn babies
- Increased risk of fractures as a result of thinning bones
- Confusion, dementia, uncontrollable shakes or numbness in the extremities
- Increased risk of developing certain types of cancer
- Abusing alcohol increases the risk of developing a mental illness or can exaggerate the symptoms of an existing condition
What Is the Treatment for AUD?
The very first step towards achieving recovery from alcohol use disorder is to accept that there is a problem. This should be quickly followed by the next step, which is to reach out for help at a specialist alcohol treatment center. Fortunately, there is a wide range of support groups and professional services to help individuals struggling to control their need to consume alcohol.
In terms of alcohol abuse treatment programs, some of the recognized treatment options for AUD include:
- DIY detox: Some people choose to stop using alcohol on their own, without seeking specialist help. However, this has been shown to be less effective for long-term sobriety and medical supervision throughout detox is always recommended, particularly for people with severe AUD.
- Counseling: Individual and group therapy is a valuable component of a program in an alcohol treatment center and introduces patients to others in similar situations who can provide mutual support both in alcohol rehab and recovery.
- Dual-diagnosis treatment: There is a strong correlation between AUD and mental illnesses such as depression and anxiety. Some individuals use alcohol to reduce the symptoms of an existing condition, whereas others may develop the symptoms as a direct result of alcohol abuse. Specialist alcohol abuse treatment is required so that both AUD and any co-existing mental illness are address separately, while at the same time.
- Inpatient alcoholism treatment programs: Some people with AUD feel more comfortable receiving alcohol abuse treatment in a completely sober environment, away from their daily lives. Detox in a residential or inpatient facility is always supervised by medical professionals so that withdrawal symptoms can be dealt with effectively as and when they emerge.
- Outpatient alcoholism treatment programs: Some people need less support than others to overcome their illness or they may have commitments at home or work that they are unable to leave to receive residential alcohol abuse treatment. Others may have completed an inpatient program and need a little extra support in the initial days after leaving alcohol rehab. Outpatient alcoholism treatment programs generally offer the same treatments and therapies as residential alcohol treatment centers although services can be accessed at the convenience of the patient.