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Alcohol use disorder (AUD) is a health condition characterized by an impaired ability to stop or control alcohol consumption. This is often despite negative social, occupational, or health consequences.
AUD is sometimes referred to as:
The condition is considered a brain disorder. AUD can be mild, moderate, or severe. Lasting adjustments in the brain resulting from alcohol consumption can lead to AUD and make individuals vulnerable to relapse.
In 2019, 14.1 million adults aged 18 and older suffered from AUD. Approximately 414,000 adolescents aged 12 to 17 also had AUD during this period.
An individual’s risk for developing alcohol addiction partly depends on how much, how often, and how quickly they drink alcohol. Drinking alcohol excessively, which includes binge drinking and heavy alcohol use, increases the risk of AUD over time.
Other factors that lead to AUD include:
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If you feel concerned about your drinking habits, here is a list of signs to watch out for:
Moderate drinking is consuming up to one beverage per day for women and up to two drinks per day for men.
Heavy alcohol use is defined as more than three drinks per day for women and more than four drinks per day for men.
Nearly one-third of American adults are defined as excessive drinkers. However, only ten percent of them have an AUD. SAMHSA defines heavy alcohol use as binge drinking on 5 or more days in the past month.
These results show that most people who drink excessively are not alcohol dependent. This group of people can be considered as ‘almost alcoholics.’
True alcoholics experience intense cravings for alcohol. They typically cannot control their drinking and display withdrawal symptoms if they try to stop. They usually continue drinking despite health or other alcohol-related issues.
However, while only ten percent of heavy drinkers are alcoholics, it does not mean that the other 90 percent do not have drinking problems. Excessive drinking negatively affects up to one-third of drinkers who are not defined as having AUD.
Many ‘almost alcoholics’ experience alcohol-related issues with their health, relationships, and work. However, while these individuals do not qualify as having AUD, they may need to look at how drinking affects their lives.
The Alcohol Use Disorders Identification Test (AUDIT) was created by the World Health Organization in 1982. It was developed as a simple way to screen and identify individuals at higher risk of developing alcohol issues.
The AUDIT test helps identify the first signs of excessive drinking and mild dependence. It is used to detect alcohol issues experienced within the last year.
The AUDIT is currently one of the most accurate alcohol screening tests available. It is rated 92 percent successful in detecting excessive or harmful drinking. Unlike some alcohol screening tests, AUDIT is typically accurate across gender and ethnic groups too.
The AUDIT test contains ten multiple-choice questions. These questions ask about:
The answers are noted on a point system. A score of more than eight suggests an alcohol problem.
A few mild symptoms and side effects can signal the beginning of an alcohol substance abuse problem. It helps to know the signs, so you make adjustments early on. If excessive drinking continues over time, the number and severity of symptoms can increase and lead to AUD.
If you have experienced more than two of the following symptoms in the past 12 months, this indicates AUD:
There are various short-term and long-term effects of alcohol addiction.
Over time, excessive alcohol consumption can result in the development of chronic diseases and other severe problems. By limiting the amount you drink, you can reduce the risk of these effects.
Short-term effects include:
These short-term effects are often the result of binge drinking. They can also increase the risk of many long-term health conditions.
Long-term effects include:
There are several ways you can help a loved one stop drinking.
Confronting your loved ones about their drinking problem can be difficult. Try to approach them in a non-accusatory way and plan what you will say ahead of time. Ensure that your loved one is sober and relatively emotionally stable.
Ensure that you are also feeling calm as your friend or family member must not feel attacked. Avoid accusatory language, like ‘You had better seek help or else.’
Approaching someone to discuss your worries about their drinking problem is different from an intervention. An intervention involves more planning. During an intervention, you typically share your feelings, give consequences, and present treatment options.
An intervention may be the best course of action if your loved one is resisting help. During the intervention process, friends, family members, and co-workers typically gather together to confront the individual to urge them to receive treatment.
Usually, interventions are held with the help of a professional therapist or counselor. A professional therapist or counselor can help guide the intervention and provide medical advice.
People seeking treatment for AUD may also benefit from attending support groups such as Alcoholics Anonymous (AA). If you suffer from AUD and a co-occurring mental illness, it is essential to seek treatment for both.
Some people may require intensive treatment for AUD. They may need to attend an inpatient treatment center for rehabilitation.
At rehab, treatment is highly structured. It typically involves various types of behavioral therapies. Rehab may also include receiving medicines for detox to assist with alcohol withdrawal symptoms.
When you stop drinking after years of alcohol misuse, your body will begin to reverse the effects of heavy drinking. In time, you will notice the financial, relationship, and health benefits of stopping alcohol use.
One of AUD symptoms is giving up the social activities and hobbies you once loved to focus on drinking. However, when you become sober, you will have more time to rediscover yourself and your passions.
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