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What is Alcohol Addiction?

Alcohol addiction, formally known as alcohol use disorder (AUD), occurs when a person excessively drinks on a regular basis. People with this disorder are unable to control their alcohol use despite the negative consequences that come with it.

Someone with an AUD also experiences physical alcohol dependence. Withdrawal symptoms will develop if they suddenly stop drinking, including nausea, shaking, anxiety, and seizures, among others.

Alcohol abuse and addiction can affect anyone at any age. Fortunately, there are ways to prevent alcohol use disorder (AUD), especially in underage drinkers. Prevention tips include talking with children about the dangers of alcohol, monitoring alcoholism behaviors at home, and teaching valuable coping mechanisms.  

Types of Alcoholics

Alcohol use disorder (AUD) can affect anyone at any age. There are five different types of alcoholics, including:

  • Young adult alcoholics
  • Young antisocial alcoholics
  • Intermediate familial alcoholics
  • Functional alcoholics
  • Chronic severe alcoholics

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What Causes Alcohol Use Disorder (Addiction)?

When it comes to alcohol use disorder (addiction), every person’s situation is different. There isn’t just one cause of alcohol addiction, but possible causes fall into three categories:

  • Biological
  • Psychological
  • Socio-cultural

Many young people under 21 years of age also look at alcohol as a rite of passage. At this age, people are looking for ways to assert their independence, engage in new experiences, and take risks. As a result, they may turn to alcohol and other substances. The dangers of underage drinking can be severe, and even life-threatening, if taken too far. 

Symptoms of Alcohol Use Disorder (Addiction)

Changes in behavior are usually what cause people to recognize that their loved one has an alcohol addiction. These symptoms include:

  • Inability to limit the amount of alcohol you drink
  • Inability to cut down how much you drink
  • Spending more time drinking or recovering from drinking
  • Experiencing regular cravings for alcohol
  • Building an alcohol tolerance
  • Drinking in unsafe situations, such as drinking and driving
  • Continuing to drink despite medical problems
  • Allowing alcohol to affect personal and professional relationships
  • Losing interest in hobbies or activities you used to enjoy
  • Suffering from withdrawal symptoms when you are unable to drink

Effects of Alcohol Misuse & Addiction

Alcohol misuse and addiction can also have negative effects on your health, such as:

The Harmful Effects of Hangovers

Hangovers are the result of the body’s attempt to recover from heavy alcohol consumption. Heavy drinking leads to frequent urination, which commonly results in dehydration, dry mouth, thirstiness, dizziness, and an electrolyte imbalance, among other symptoms. 

Symptoms of Alcohol Withdrawal

The symptoms of alcohol withdrawal vary. For some people, they are mild and uncomfortable. In more severe cases, the symptoms of withdrawal can be life-threatening. Symptoms usually peak between 24 to 72 hours and usually settle within a week.

Alcoholic Cardiomyopathy (Alcohol-Induced Heart Disease)

Long-term, heavy alcohol consumption can lead to heart disease. More specifically, alcoholic cardiomyopathy is a type of alcohol-induced heart disease that severely damages the heart muscle. The main cause of alcohol cardiomyopathy is linked to chronic alcohol addiction.

Effects of Alcohol - Cancer

Drinking any amount of alcohol increases a person’s risk of developing certain cancers. However, heavy alcohol consumption and those with a long-term alcohol use disorder (AUD) are most at risk.

Mental Health Effects of Alcohol

Many people with underlying mental health conditions turn to substance use, such as drinking alcohol. They do so to self-medicate and avoid the negative feelings associated with their mental illnesses.

Alcohol Abuse and Mental Health

Alcohol abuse can negatively impact your mental health. In many cases, those addicted to alcohol are also diagnosed with a mental health disorder (dual diagnosis).

Anxiety and Alcohol Abuse

Anxiety disorders are mental health disorders that cause constant fear and worry. They can range from mild to severe, depending on the person. For many, alcohol provides temporary relief of anxiety symptoms and is a way to self-medicate. However, this cycle can lead to problems later on, such as a dual diagnosis (when a person has both an alcohol use disorder and a mental health disorder).

Depression and Alcohol

Depression is the most common mental health disorder in the U.S., affecting over 16 million American adults. Unfortunately, alcohol abuse is common in people with depression. Many turn to alcohol in order to escape feelings of sadness.

Bipolar Disorder and Alcohol Abuse

Bipolar disorder is a mental health disorder that causes extreme mood swings. Those with bipolar disorder often turn to alcohol to self-medicate and reduce unpleasant symptoms. However, doing so can lead to serious problems later on, such as alcohol addiction.

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“College Drinking.” National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 19 Aug. 2016, https://www.niaaa.nih.gov/alcohol-health/special-populations-co-occurring-disorders/college-drinking.

Moss, Howard B, et al. “Subtypes of Alcohol Dependence in a Nationally Representative Sample.” Drug and Alcohol Dependence, U.S. National Library of Medicine, 1 Dec. 2007, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2094392/.

“Researchers Identify Alcoholism Subtypes.” National Institutes of Health, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 29 Sept. 2015, https://www.nih.gov/news-events/news-releases/researchers-identify-alcoholism-subtypes.

“Alcohol Facts and Statistics.” National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 6 Dec. 2019, https://www.niaaa.nih.gov/publications/brochures-and-fact-sheets/alcohol-facts-and-statistics.

Augier, Eric, et al. “A Molecular Mechanism for Choosing Alcohol over an Alternative Reward.” Science, American Association for the Advancement of Science, 22 June 2018, https://science.sciencemag.org/content/360/6395/1321.

Edenberg, Howard J, and Tatiana Foroud. “Genetics and Alcoholism.” Nature Reviews. Gastroenterology & Hepatology, U.S. National Library of Medicine, Aug. 2013, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4056340/.

“Genetics of Alcohol Use Disorder.” National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 21 Sept. 2018, https://www.niaaa.nih.gov/alcohol-health/overview-alcohol-consumption/alcohol-use-disorders/genetics-alcohol-use-disorders.

“Alcohol Use Disorder.” Mayo Clinic, Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research, 11 July 2018, https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/alcohol-use-disorder/symptoms-causes/syc-20369243.

“Alcohol Use Disorder.” National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 4 June 2020, www.niaaa.nih.gov/alcohol-health/overview-alcohol-consumption/alcohol-use-disorders.

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