Alcohol Use Disorder: What It Is, Dangers, & Treatment

The medical community acknowledges alcohol abuse and addiction as alcohol use disorder (AUD). Alcohol use disorder is a term used to describe alcohol abuse, dependence, or addiction.

No matter what words are used, the illness is serious. It can worsen and have lasting and deadly effects if not treated properly.

In the United States, alcohol is nearly omnipresent in everyday life and celebratory events. While some people manage their alcohol consumption effortlessly, many others struggle with control.

Alcohol use disorder doesn’t necessarily manifest as someone reaching rock bottom. Some people use alcohol to cope with sadness or anxiety.

Others may go to happy hour daily at lunch or drink heavily on weekends. Some people may have a drink before bed each night. Over time, alcohol dependence and misuse can worsen, causing severe long-term physical and mental health problems.

Treatment for alcohol use disorders has improved. It now focuses on all factors and uses the best evidence-based methods. This helps people overcome and manage their disorders in daily life.

You should first understand the available options to find the best treatment for AUD. Seek help from professionals who can guide you in making the right choice. It is important to choose a treatment that is tailored to your specific needs and preferences.

What Is an Alcohol Use Disorder?

The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) states that alcohol use disorder (AUD) is the clinical term for problem drinking, which can range from mild to severe heavy drinking and binge drinking. Instead of saying alcoholism, it is more helpful to have compassion and understanding for people with alcohol use disorders. This allows us to understand the complexities of the issue better.

The American Psychological Association (APA) employs the DSM-5, or Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Health Disorders, presently cataloged as the fifth edition, to classify alcohol use syndromes and appraise their gravity.

The 11 criteria for diagnosing alcohol use disorder (AUD) are as follows:

  • Feeling strong cravings or urges to drink alcohol
  • Repeatedly failing to meet responsibilities at work, school, or socially because of alcohol use
  • Continuing to drink despite experiencing relationship problems caused by alcohol consumption
  • Giving up or reducing recreational and social activities in favor of drinking
  • Using alcohol in situations where it poses physical risks
  • Persisting in drinking despite clear negative consequences
  • Developing a tolerance to alcohol, necessitating more to achieve previous effects
  • Suffering withdrawal symptoms when alcohol consumption is reduced or stopped
what is a alcohol use disorder

Only a mental health professional can diagnose an alcohol use disorder (AUD) based on honest answers to their questions. The diagnosis can be classified as mild, moderate, or severe.

Meeting 2-3 criteria qualifies as a mild case, 4-5 criteria as moderate, and six or more criteria as severe. At the same time, a person might meet various combinations of these criteria. No one-size-fits-all diagnosis exists for alcohol use disorder.

The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) reveals that approximately 14 million adults in the US grapple with alcohol misuse. 1 in 10 children under 18 lives with an adult struggling with alcohol use disorder.

Alcohol use disorder can affect anyone, but certain factors can increase the risk of developing this condition.

Factors that increase the likelihood of developing alcohol use disorder (AUD) are:

  • Regular episodes of excessive drinking or intense alcohol intake in brief durations
  • A familial background of substance or alcohol misuse
  • Genetic susceptibility
  • Initial contact with alcohol at a young age
  • A past of mental health issues such as anxiety or depression
  • Undergoing maltreatment, negligence, or traumatic incidents
  • Pressure from peers and societal influences

Certain factors, especially alcohol misuse, increase the likelihood of developing mental health disorders. A co-occurring disorder is when someone has both mental health issues and problems with substance abuse.

SAMHSA says that 6.5 million Americans have both an alcohol use disorder and a mental health disorder. These co-occurring conditions need thorough, evidence-based treatment through a dual diagnosis program.

Long-Term Effects of Alcohol Use Disorder

Long-term alcohol use disorder leads to physical and mental changes in people.

Frequent long-term consequences of alcohol abuse disorders encompass:

  • Feelings of depression
  • Experiencing anxiety
  • Escalating symptoms of mental health problems
  • Loss of memory
  • Development of ulcers
  • Diseases of the liver
  • Cardiac diseases
  • Renal diseases
  • Damage to nerves
  • Onset of dementia
  • Persistently elevated blood pressure
  • Compromised immune system
  • Sexual performance issues
  • Problems with fertility
  • Behavioral issues
  • Increased incidence of cancer
  • High occurrence of physical accidents, murder, and self-harm
  • Insecurity in housing
  • Monetary problems
  • Legal complications

Depending on how long the addiction lasts, some long-term effects of alcohol can heal with time and treatment, while others will need lifelong health care and management.

Alcohol Withdrawal Symptoms

When someone stops drinking alcohol after a long time, they might have withdrawal symptoms. These symptoms can be different in how severe they are for each person. Alcohol withdrawal is often severe and challenging, and it can occasionally be hazardous. It is crucial to consult a doctor before stopping drinking.

After stopping alcohol use, a person may experience:

  • Perspiration
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Headaches
  • Anxiety
  • Trembling hands
  • Restlessness
  • Irritability
  • Insomnia
  • Hyperactivity
  • Depression
  • Mental fog
  • Fluctuating body temperature
  • Rapid heart rate
  • Seizures
  • Delerium Tremens (DTs)

Medical detox is the safest method to manage withdrawal while safeguarding your health and preventing relapse. Detox is not enough for alcohol use disorders. Successful recovery after detox requires evidence-based treatments and therapies.

alcohol use disorder treatment

Customized Treatment Plans for Alcohol Use Disorder

Alcohol use disorder treatment depends on the person’s specific needs, like how severe their AUD is, if they use other substances, and if they have other health problems at the same time. Usually, staying at a treatment center helps a lot because it provides around-the-clock care. This helps because there are no outside distractions or interruptions.

Widely recognized, evidence-based treatments for alcohol use disorder (AUD) include:

  • Medication-assisted therapy (MAT) Medication-assisted therapy (MAT) for alcohol use disorder uses Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved, non-addictive medications like naltrexone and acamprosate to manage withdrawal symptoms and reduce alcohol cravings. Some people may receive antidepressants or other medicines to treat co-occurring disorders.
  • Behavioral therapies, such as cognitive behavioral therapy and other kinds of talk therapy, focus on the underlying causes of addiction. They help teach healthy ways to handle stress and change how we think.
  • Support groups like 12-step programs help create a feeling of community and build support networks that last for a long time.
  • Family therapy incorporates family members into the recovery journey, aiming to mend and strengthen relationships through enhanced understanding and communication skills.
  • Relapse prevention planning involves creating a comprehensive action plan to navigate future recovery challenges without turning to alcohol.

Addiction treatment centers use these and other proven methods to help people with alcohol use disorder in a way that supports their long-term recovery by meeting their specific needs and goals.

Alcohol Use Disorder Treatment at NATC

If you or someone you know is struggling with an alcohol use disorder, Northridge Addiction Treatment Center (NATC) offers kind and proven treatment for substance use and other related health issues.

We provide onsite medical detox to keep you safe during withdrawal in a calm, peaceful, and healing setting. Once you finish withdrawal, we will make a personalized treatment plan for you. This plan will include proven treatments such as one-on-one therapy and support groups.

Our center provides fancy meals, TVs in rooms, and a pool with lounges for your comfort while you’re here. Our main goal is to give you top-notch, personalized treatment and a chance for a meaningful recovery.

Contact us now. Our caring specialists are here to help you start a new, healthy, and happy life with a strong foundation for recovery.

Find Meaningful Recovery

Our caring and compassionate specialists are eager to help you comfortably navigate this journey to recovery. Our individualized treatment plan, programs, and therapies may be a perfect match for you or your loved one. Let us assist you in living the happy life you deserve. It starts with a phone call.

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