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What is Alcohol Use Disorder (AUD)?

Alcohol use disorder (AUD) is more commonly known as alcoholism. It’s defined by chronic relapsing of the brain, and it develops with long-term alcohol use. People with alcohol use disorder have difficulty controlling and quitting their alcohol consumption for many reasons. They may also suffer from alcohol withdrawal symptoms while trying to tone back their drinking habits, which only further impairs their ability to quit altogether.

Unfortunately, alcoholism is quite common in the United States. An estimated 15 million people across the country struggle with alcoholism. But, contrary to popular belief, not everyone who has a drinking problem is considered an alcoholic. 

There are significant differences between binge drinking, alcohol misuse, and alcoholism. While all of these types are considered part of alcohol use disorder, they’re not one and the same. That said, one can (and often does) lead to the next. It’s a slippery slope.

Binge drinking, for example, is considered a heavy drinking pattern that increases someone’s blood alcohol concentration (BAC) level to 0.08 g/dL. While this BAC level will vary depending on various factors (food intake, weight, hydration level, medications, other drugs, etc.), it typically hits .08 g/dL after four drinks for women and five drinks for men in about two hours.

Alcohol misusers, unlike heavy drinkers, continue to drink despite the toll that the effects of alcohol take on their physical and mental health, their families, their finances, their work performances, and other aspects of their lives. Their reasons for doing so may vary, but they all continue to drink despite the damage it causes.

But not everyone who misuses alcohol is considered an alcoholic. About one-third of American adults are deemed excessive drinkers, but only about 10 percent of them are considered alcoholics.

Unlike alcohol misusers, alcoholics develop a dependency on alcohol that makes it feel nearly impossible to quit. They become addicted to alcohol, and the withdrawal symptoms they may face while not drinking can range from unpleasant to even dangerous. This is because alcohol changes the brain’s chemical makeup, driving alcoholics to consume more drinks more often.

If you, a loved one, or someone else you know is struggling with alcohol or substance use disorder, know that help from medical professionals is available. No one should fight an alcohol addiction alone. So reach out for help immediately, before the negative consequences worsen and the addiction becomes more difficult to overcome.

How Does Alcohol Change a Person’s Behavior? 

Alcohol can significantly change someone’s behavior and overall well-being. Someone with alcohol use disorder may exhibit sure signs of alcoholic behavior, such as the following:

  • They may start to neglect their self-care, such as their hygiene or nutrition.
  • They may let their work, school, family obligations, and responsibilities fall to the side.
  • They may lie or make excuses about their poor drinking habits. 
  • They will still consume alcohol despite the obvious issues it causes.
  • They may drink alone.
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Warning Signs of Alcoholism (Alcoholic Behavior)

There are some major warning signs of alcoholic behavior. These include the following:

  • They will continue to consume more and more alcohol.
  • They will develop a high tolerance for alcohol that requires them to keep drinking in order to achieve the same effect.
  • They will have intense cravings for alcohol, which will increase in frequency over time.
  • They may struggle to limit their drinking.
  • They may experience some alcohol withdrawal symptoms, such as nausea or irritability, if they try to quit drinking.

4 Stages of Alcoholism & Signs

There are four stages of alcoholism that you should be aware of:

1. Early

Stage 1 alcoholism is considered the pre-alcoholic phase. These are the people who drink to dull pain, to forget, to destress, to escape reality, etc. While they don’t yet have a full-on addiction to alcohol, their drinking behavior could quickly spiral into one. It’s important to take the above warning signs seriously during this stage because this is the easiest stage to create change.

2. Problematic

Stage 2 alcoholics are those who are drinking excessively, regularly blacking out from drinking too much, lying about their drinking patterns, and thinking obsessively about drinking. Their alcohol consumption has become a serious cause for concern.

3. Severe

Stage 3 alcoholics are deemed “middle alcoholics” who may be missing work, forgetting family obligations, and showing physical signs of alcohol abuse (weight gain, facial redness, etc.). They may also be more irritable and show obvious signs of struggle to those who are close to them.

4. End-Stage

Stage 4 alcoholics are those who have let drinking come in the way of everything that’s important in their lives. Alcohol has taken a toll on their physical and mental health, it’s affected their personal and professional relationships, and it’s caused them severe psychological damage. This is the worst stage of alcoholism.

Whatever stage you or someone you know is at, support is available to help you or them take back control. Quitting is possible.

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Alcoholic Behavior in Relationships

Alcoholic behavior can take a serious toll on all types of relationships. Because someone who struggles with alcoholism tends to exhibit irritability, this can create tension in relationships. 

Since many alcoholics lie about their behaviors, distrust in relationships can develop. And, because late-stage alcoholics may prioritize drinking over their work and family obligations, it’s obvious how this can affect their partners and other family members.

If your loved one is struggling with alcoholism and it’s hurting your relationship, reach out for help as soon as possible. 

How to Help an Alcoholic (Addiction Treatment Options)

If you or someone you know is struggling with alcohol use disorder, get help. The sooner you start, the easier it’ll be to take back control. Here are a few treatment options available:

  • Inpatient treatment facility
  • Outpatient treatment facility
  • Group support system
  • Traditional talk therapy
  • Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT)
  • Holistic healing programs
  • Faith-based treatment programs

Resources

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“Alcohol Questions and Answers.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 15 Jan. 2020, www.cdc.gov/alcohol/faqs.htm.

“Alcohol Use Disorder (AUD).” MedlinePlus, U.S. National Library of Medicine, 29 Apr. 2020, www.medlineplus.gov/alcoholusedisorderaud.html.

“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.

“Alcohol Use Disorder: A Comparison Between DSM–IV and DSM–5.” National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 13 Mar. 2020, www.niaaa.nih.gov/publications/brochures-and-fact-sheets/alcohol-use-disorder-comparison-between-dsm.

“Drinking Levels Defined.” National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 26 June 2020, www.niaaa.nih.gov/alcohol-health/overview-alcohol-consumption/moderate-binge-drinking.

“Drinking Too Much Alcohol Can Harm Your Health. Learn the Facts.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 30 Dec. 2019, www.cdc.gov/alcohol/fact-sheets/alcohol-use.htm.

“Factors That Affect How Alcohol Is Absorbed & Metabolized.” Factors That Affect How Alcohol Is Absorbed & Metabolized | Office of Alcohol Policy and Education, www.alcohol.stanford.edu/alcohol-drug-info/buzz-buzz/factors-affect-how-alcohol-absorbed.

“Family History of Alcoholism: Are You at Risk?” Department of Mental Health, www.dmh.lacounty.gov/our-services/employment-education/education/alcohol-abuse-faq/family-history/.

“Preventing Chronic Disease.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, www.cdc.gov/pcd/issues/2014/14_0329.htm.

Publishing, Harvard Health. “Alcohol Abuse.” Harvard Health, www.health.harvard.edu/addiction/alcohol-abuse.

Skerrett, Patrick J. “Heavy Drinkers Aren't Necessarily Alcoholics, but May Be ‘Almost Alcoholics.’” Harvard Health Blog, 17 June 2020, www.health.harvard.edu/blog/heavy-drinkers-arent-necessarily-alcoholics-may-almost-alcoholics-201411217539.

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