Alcohol Use Disorder: Symptoms, Treatment, And Recovery

HomeAddictionsAlcohol Use Disorder: Symptoms, Treatment, And Recovery

Also known as alcohol addiction or alcohol dependence syndrome, alcohol use disorder (AUD), is defined in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition (DSM-V) as consuming more alcohol or spending more time drinking than initially intended. In addition, when you have this disorder, you have the desire to limit or stop your dependence on alcohol but are unable to do so. As a consequence, you get sick or experience negative effects, such as a weak immune system, persistent changes in mood like irritability or anxiety, insomnia, and memory problems. In fact, alcohol use disorder is one of the common causes of physical and mental health issues.

Statistics Of Alcoholism And Related Problems Worldwide

In 2016, the World Health Organization estimated that around 380 million people worldwide were struggling with alcoholism, of which 5.1% were over 15 years old. Typically, adult males suffer from alcohol use disorder more frequently than females.

Alcohol use disorder is geographically the least common in Africa, with 1.1% of the population. The highest rates of this medical condition are found in Europe, specifically in the eastern part, with 11% of the population.

Across the world, more than 3 million people die from alcohol consumption every year. Frequent use of alcohol and its related problems reduce a person’s life expectancy by around 10 years.

Causes And Risk Factors Of Alcohol Use Disorder

Risk factors of alcohol use disorder include:

  • Starting at an early age – You’re most likely to get alcohol use disorder if you begin drinking at an early age.
  • Family history – If you have a family member who has problems with alcohol, you’re bound to turn into a heavy drinker.
  • Social and cultural factors – Just like how family can influence you to drink heavily, your partner or friends may increase your risk of alcohol use disorder. Even the way drinking is portrayed glamorously in the media may influence you to drink more.
  • History of trauma – You’re at a high risk for alcohol use disorder if you have a history of emotional or another kind of trauma.
  • Stress and other disorders – Mental health issues, such as anxiety, depression, bipolar disorder, or schizophrenia may lead to excessive alcohol consumption as well.

Plus, the availability and low price of alcohol can increase your risk of alcohol use disorder.

Veterans, in particular, are at high risk for alcohol use disorder because of their increased exposure to trauma, violence, and combat. After all, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and alcoholism have relative causations.

If you’re dealing with alcohol use disorder or you know someone who does, you can click here or check out other online sources to find a reputable addiction treatment and recovery center that provides excellent services.

Symptoms Of Alcohol Use Disorder

In the field of medicine, there are criteria that should be met before getting diagnosed with alcohol use disorder. Based on the DSM-V, symptoms include the following:

1. Consuming More Alcohol For A Longer Period Than Initially Intended

Your inability to regulate the amount of alcohol you consume or stop yourself from drinking even after your planned time is a symptom of alcohol use disorder. You’re not entirely in control of your alcohol intake anymore, and you’re now overcome with the urge to drink.

2. Spending So Much Time On Alcohol Consumption, Procurement, Or Recovery

When you’re healthy, you perform daily tasks, such as eating, engaging in outdoor activities or hobbies, working, and sleeping. However, when you have alcohol use disorder, you’ll find yourself spending most of your time consuming, obtaining, or recovering from drinking, which only hinders you from doing everyday tasks.

3. Failing To Limit Or Control Alcohol Use

Most adults consume alcohol on an occasional or casual basis. However, being unable to control when to limit or stop consuming alcoholic drinks is a sign of alcohol use disorder. You might have tried limiting your drinks in the past but failed to do so.

4. Feeling The Strong Urge To Drink

When you crave alcohol so much, you often think about it and want to acquire it as soon as you can.

5. Failing To Fulfill Duties And Responsibilities

Aside from failing to cut back on drinking and feeling the urge to drink, you fail to fulfil your roles in society, be it at work, school, or home.

6. Consuming Alcohol Persistently Despite Constant Or Recurring Problems Caused By Alcohol

Alcohol use, specifically the state of being drunk, can cause you to lose control over your speech and actions involuntarily. This can lead to problems in social settings, such as ostracism, ridicule, and other forms of bullying. Furthermore, you might lose your friends or have a limited group of friends because of hanging out with other people who are heavy drinkers. Other social problems due to alcohol use disorder may include poor work performance, time off work, and workplace accidents.

Drinking excessively may lead to criminal behavior too. Some legal consequences involve sexual assault, assault, disorderly or offensive behavior, property damage, and resisting arrest.

Getting arrested or charged with an alcohol-related offense can be the beginning of your problems. You’ll have to do community service or serve time. Since you have a criminal history, you’ll struggle to find work, or you might lose your job because of taking time off work to attend court hearings or failing to perform your work duties without a driver’s license.

7. Failing To Maintain Social Activities

As a result of your dependence on alcohol, you no longer spend much time interacting with others or engaging in recreational activities.

8. Depending On Alcohol In Certain Situations

Drinking while driving or working can lead to accidents, such as falls and road trauma. When you drink too much, you might have breathing problems or overdose on alcohol. You could even be comatose or die.

The knowledge of these safety or health consequences is also a symptom of alcohol use disorder.

9. Consuming Alcohol Despite Knowledge Of Having Physical Or Psychological Problems

You’re aware that you have physical or psychological problems caused by alcohol, but you still can’t keep yourself from consuming it. The fact that you’re conscious of the problems you’re dealing with means that you have lost control over your intake of alcohol.

10. Having A High Tolerance For Alcohol

People have different levels of tolerance for alcohol naturally, but having such a high tolerance could lead to excessive drinking. You drink and drink until you’re intoxicated.

11. Experiencing Signs Of Alcohol Withdrawal

When you stop consuming alcohol abruptly after a long time of depending on it, your body may have a hard time adjusting, leading to physical and psychological symptoms. Symptoms may vary, depending on the timeline. For instance, six hours after drinking, symptoms are mild: headaches, shaky hands, anxiety, insomnia, and nausea. Between 12 to 48 hours after your last drink, you may deal with serious problems, such as seizures and hallucinations.

To relieve these symptoms, you turn to alcohol or find a substitute.

Alcohol use disorder is considered mild if there are two to three symptoms present during evaluation, moderate if there are four to five symptoms, and severe if there are six or more symptoms.

If you notice that you have any of these symptoms, avoid self-diagnosis. Seek a professional immediately.

Treatments For Alcohol Use Disorder

There are effective treatments for alcohol use disorder, and some of them are:

  • Assessments By Primary Care Physicians

Going to primary care physicians to get proper treatment and referrals should be the first step you take. Healthcare providers will evaluate your drinking patterns and prescribe medications. Additionally, they help form a treatment plan and assess your holistic health.

  • Cognitive Behavioral Therapy

Your behavior can influence you to rely on substances like alcohol. Various behavioral treatments like cognitive behavioral therapy can help address this problem.

Cognitive behavioral therapy is one of the most common methods. It can be done through one-on-one sessions or a group setting. It focuses on the feelings and situations that may be the cause of alcohol dependence. A therapist will guide you through changing your thought process and teach you healthy coping mechanisms.

  • Motivational Enhancement Therapy

In comparison to CBT, motivational enhancement therapy is done in a shorter period. The foundation of this approach is to strengthen your will and motivate you to stop drinking by helping you identify the pros and cons of treatment and creating a plan to improve your behavior. Along with this, it motivates you to complete your treatment and stick with the program.

  • Marital And Family Counselling

A family’s relationship and connection with you can be a factor that can cause you to drink heavily or end your dependence on alcohol. If family problems are the root cause, a counsellor can help you. Research studies have shown that undergoing family therapy is an effective treatment.

  • Brief Interventions

Brief interventions are short one-on-one sessions that allow the counsellor to provide information about your problem, pattern, and physical and psychological status. Apart from this, a counsellor helps you set goals to reduce alcohol dependence.

  • Drugs and Medications

There are medications available that can help you address alcohol use disorder or prevent a relapse. The United States Food and Drug Administration approved disulfiram (Antabuse), naltrexone (Trexan), and acamprosate (Campral) as medications for alcohol use disorder.

  • Mutual Support Groups

A well-known group that aids in the intervention and management of alcohol use disorder is Alcoholics Anonymous, which is also known as AA. Other similar mutual support groups can provide peer support to help you control your alcohol intake and quit drinking without dealing with the shame and ridicule of other people. These groups, together with professional treatment, are effective in managing and stopping the adverse effects of alcohol.

Search For A Suitable Treatment

When looking for the right treatment for alcohol use disorder, be wary of fads and schemes that come with instant treatments that don’t work. Remember that treatment and recovery is a slow but worthwhile process. Ensure that you get advice from qualified professionals only, such as primary care providers, psychiatrists, psychologists, social workers, and alcohol counsellors. They’re experts you can trust.

Recovery From Alcohol Use Disorder

As mentioned earlier, the recovery process is a step-by-step process that can be grueling and take a lot of time. Most people who try to recover from alcohol use disorder are most likely to relapse at some point, but there are some who do succeed.

Here are four steps that you’ll have to go through during recovery:

  • Initiation Of Treatment

They say that the first step is always the hardest, and this is true for those who want to recover from substance use, such as alcohol use disorder. You’ll have to deal with feelings of denial, shame, and guilt, as well as pessimistic views that the treatment may not work.

A professional will work with you and support you so that you can overcome the problem. They will help you sort out your negative feelings about getting treatment and encourage you to continue the treatment.

  • Early Stages Of Abstinence

At the start of therapy, you’ll have to abstain from alcohol, so both your body and mind can recover. Cravings will be inevitable but normal at this stage. Withdrawal symptoms may manifest physically or psychologically, and there might be triggers that can tempt you to drink again.

Many people usually give up at this stage, as they don’t see positive results of the treatment yet. They fail to realize that recovery is a process that takes time and effort.

  • Maintaining Abstinence

When you’re able to abstain from alcohol, your body and mind start to readjust into a setting that’s not dependent on alcohol. Your desire to consume alcohol is lessened, and you may start returning to daily activities, such as enjoying your hobbies. However, a relapse can still occur at this stage. Thus, it’s essential to finish your treatment.

  • Advanced Recovery

This is the stage where you’ve made a complete recovery. You’re no longer dependent on substances, such as alcohol.

A treatment facilitator can create long-term goals and plans to prevent relapse. Reaching this stage may take months or even years, but it will be all worth it in the end.


Alcohol use disorder is a difficult medical condition to deal with, but identifying its symptoms and undergoing treatments will lead to a full recovery—even if it takes a long time. The National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence (NCADD) and National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) are a few institutions you can turn to for help.

There’s no shame in asking for help. Just remember that you’ll be able to overcome the problem as long you have the courage and willingness to receive and finish your treatment.

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