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What is Alcohol Use Disorder?
Alcohol Use Disorder (AUD), commonly referred to as alcoholism, is a type of substance use disorder in which individuals regularly consume alcohol compulsively and with negative consequences.
Many people drink alcohol regularly without struggling with alcohol abuse or alcohol addiction. For example, looking forward to drinking with coworkers on a Friday evening after work doesn’t mean you have an AUD. However, frequently consuming alcohol in a way that feels difficult to control or interferes with everyday life may be a sign of an AUD.
How prevalent is AUD?
In the United States, Alcohol Use Disorder is generally common and rates of AUD are increasing. The 2014 National Survey on Drug Use and Health found that about 17 million people in the United States over the age of 12 had an AUD, while about 60.9 million reported binge drinking at least once in the past month.
When considering gender, men are more than twice as likely to both abuse and become dependent on alcohol than women. Despite that, women tend to experience more severe consequences from alcohol use disorder than men including psychiatric problems and poor social adjustment. Additionally, women were less likely to seek treatment than men.
Symptoms of Alcohol Use Disorders
Alcohol use disorder can be diagnosed as mild, moderate, or severe depending on the number of symptoms endorsed. Those with mild levels of AUD endorse 2-3 symptoms. People diagnosed with moderate AUD present with 4-5 symptoms and those with severe AUD show more than 6 symptoms. Some common symptoms of AUD include:
- Compulsive drinking: When struggling with alcohol use disorders you may try to drink less or stop drinking altogether, but find it challenging to do so.
- Craving alcohol: Cravings for alcoholic beverages may be intense enough to disrupt everyday life.
- Risky use or harmful consequences: You may continue to drink, even when it’s dangerous or has adverse consequences for you or the people around you, such as driving a car after drinking or starting fights with friends or family members.
- Lack of enjoyment: While drinking was fun the first time, it might now cause stress and conflict.
- Memory impairment: If you drink so much that you forget what happened, you may be struggling with an alcohol use disorder.
- Impairment: Your alcohol use limits your ability to engage in work, school, or personal responsibilities.
- Tolerance: You may need to drink a larger amount of alcohol to feel intoxicated.
- Withdrawal: If you stop drinking or go too long without drinking, you may experience withdrawal symptoms.
It’s helpful to remember that you don’t need to experience all of the symptoms mentioned above to have an alcohol use disorder. Any time drinking causes problems in your life, it’s worth exploring your treatment options.
Types of Alcohol Use Disorders
The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual published by the American Psychiatric Association at one time distinguished between alcohol dependence and alcohol abuse in the following ways:
- Alcohol dependence, or alcohol addiction, is characterized by an addiction to alcohol. Individuals struggling with alcohol dependence may wish to stop drinking or drink less, but find it challenging to do so. Common symptoms of addiction include a compulsive need to drink, whether the user enjoys drinking or not. Alcohol dependence may also involve withdrawal symptoms and tolerance.
- Alcohol abuse usually doesn’t include compulsion, withdrawal symptoms, or tolerance issues. However, alcohol abuse can still have serious negative consequences, including behaving dangerously, losing control, neglecting responsibilities, and social problems, such as conflicts with others, due to drinking too much alcohol. Individuals struggling with alcohol abuse are not addicted to alcohol but still suffer negative consequences because of recurrent alcohol use.
- Binge drinking, which involves heavy alcohol use over a short period, is also a typical pattern among individuals with alcohol use disorders. Excessive alcohol consumption and heavy drinking among individuals with severe AUD can lead to health problems, including liver disease, alcohol poisoning, brain changes, and mental illness.
What should you do if you’re struggling with an AUD?
If you’re struggling with problem drinking or alcoholism, the good news is that substance use disorders are treatable. For help managing your alcohol use, consider exploring the following treatment options:
- Therapy: Working with a mental health professional can help you understand your alcohol use patterns and take steps to reduce your alcohol consumption. Different kinds of treatment are effective in treating AUDs, including cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) and couples therapy. Currently, many therapists are offering online therapy as an alternative to in-person sessions.
- Support groups: Support groups allow individuals struggling with alcohol use to meet others facing the same challenges. Support groups are a common and useful treatment option, especially for individuals looking to stop drinking altogether. Visit the Alcoholics Anonymous Help Center for more information.
- Rehabilitation programs: Rehabilitation treatment programs for alcohol addiction and abuse are available in many forms, from long-term residential programs to outpatient programs. These programs offer a wide variety of services, including counseling, group therapy, and medical treatment. Consult the national directory provided by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration for more information.
- Medical treatment: In some cases, treatment for alcohol addiction may begin with a withdrawal process managed by medical professionals, which is followed by treatment with medical support. Contact your healthcare provider or addiction treatment center to discuss medical treatment options.
- Hotlines: If you need immediate support, call the National Suicide Prevention Hotline at 1-800-273-8255. The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration Hotline at 1-800-622-4357 can also help you navigate treatment options.
What should you look for in a therapist?
It’s normal to feel vulnerable when experiencing acute stress, such as the current COVID-19 outbreak. If you’re struggling with an alcohol use disorder, environmental factors can create a unique set of challenges and concerns. Additionally, individuals struggling with a relapsing, chronic disease like AUD may face heightened anxiety, isolation, and withdrawal symptoms.
During this time, it’s essential to acknowledge the challenges you may face in order to avoid using alcohol to self-medicate or cope. Facing what is causing you to stress is easier with the help of a licensed mental health professional.
If you’re struggling with an AUD, consider reaching out to a mental health professional through WithTherapy. WithTherapy’s unique service will match you with a therapist such as a psychologist, counselor, or social worker who you feel comfortable with. One of the qualified mental health professionals on our platform can help you understand your alcohol use patterns and take steps to reduce your substance use.