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What is Alcohol Addiction (Alcohol Use Disorder)?

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.

Causes of Alcohol Use Disorder

The most common causes of AUD include:

Biological Causes

Genetic factors and a family history of alcoholism can contribute to your risk of developing an AUD.

However, there isn't just one "alcoholic gene" that increases a person's risk of developing alcoholism.

Two genes that have the strongest known link to alcoholism include:

  • ADH1B — People with this gene metabolize alcohol slower, so they experience fewer adverse side effects.
  • GABRB1 — This gene is associated with the production of gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA). Consuming alcohol alters the amount of GABA available to the brain, causing relaxation and anxiety relief. This is known as “self-medicating."

Psychological Causes

A person’s poor coping skills regarding stress, negative feelings, and boredom can make them vulnerable to alcohol addiction. If they are unable to handle stressors, alcohol can make coping easier for them.

AUD often co-occurs with a mental health disorder (dual diagnosis). Depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder, and schizophrenia are common. People who have received a dual diagnosis often drink alcohol to relieve unpleasant symptoms.

Social and Environmental Causes

While drinking in college may seem ordinary, it can lead to alcoholism down the road. This is because college students tend to binge drink. This type of drinking can continue even after someone leaves college, potentially leading to an AUD.

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Symptoms of Alcohol Use Disorder

The DSM-5 (the diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders—the gold standard for mental health disorders in the United States) defines AUDs as substance use disorders where an individual displays two of the following 11 symptoms in a year:

  1. Drinking more or for longer than was intended
  2. Unsuccessful attempts to cut down or stop alcohol use
  3. Spending a lot of time obtaining, using, or recovering from alcohol consumption
  4. Cravings for alcohol
  5. Failure to fulfill responsibilities at work, school, or home due to drinking alcohol
  6. Continuing to drink despite having social problems caused by the effects of alcohol
  7. Important social, work, or recreational activities are stopped or reduced because of alcohol use
  8. Drinking in physically dangerous situations
  9. Continuing to drink even though it is known to have negative effects on your health.
  10. Developing a tolerance
  11. Having withdrawal symptoms

When is it Time for Alcohol Addiction Treatment?

If you identify with any of the symptoms listed above, it may be time for alcohol addiction treatment. The earlier you seek treatment, the better chance you have of a successful, long-term recovery.

Alcohol use disorder (AUD) is a disease. It is difficult and dangerous to try to overcome on your own. This is because withdrawal symptoms can develop, and professional monitoring is essential to keep these symptoms under control. In many cases, AUD withdrawal symptoms can be dangerous (and potentially deadly).

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Alcohol Addiction Treatment Options

If you or a loved one struggles with an alcohol use disorder (AUD), there is help available. Common treatment options include, but are not limited to:

Partial Hospital Programs

Partial hospitalization programs are a form of intensive addiction treatment. They help patients struggling with an alcohol use disorder (AUD), mental health disorder, or a dual diagnosis overcome their addiction.

Residential Treatment

Residential treatment centers are inpatient facilities that offer 30-day, 60-day, or 90-day addiction treatment programs.

Inpatient Rehabilitation

Inpatient rehab is an effective treatment method for alcohol use disorder (AUD). Inpatient treatment takes place at a licensed residential treatment center. These centers offer 24-hour comprehensive and structured care.

Outpatient Rehabilitation

Outpatient treatment helps people with mild to moderate alcohol use disorders (AUD). Unlike inpatient treatment, outpatient rehab works around a person's schedule, and they do not stay overnight.

Inpatient vs Outpatient Care

The difference between inpatient and outpatient care is the amount of time a patient spends under medical supervision or in a rehabilitation facility. People in inpatient care are hospitalized overnight, while those in outpatient care return home and do not stay overnight.

Rehab Costs

The cost of rehab varies a great deal based on the specific program in question. Inpatient treatment programs provide round-the-clock care for people recovering from drug and alcohol addiction. Medication-assisted treatment involves a patient taking medication to reduce withdrawal symptoms and/or alleviate cravings. Outpatient programs tend to be less expensive, but can still be a significant cost because patients work with multiple care providers.

Alcohol Rehab Insurance

The cost of rehab varies depending on where you live and the program you choose. Health insurance plans cover alcohol rehabilitation expenses, at least in part, for most people. The Affordable Care Act ensures that all Americans with insurance coverage have access to rehab.

Medication-Assisted Treatment (MAT)

Medication-assisted treatment (MAT) incorporates the use of medications to help someone overcome alcoholism. MAT, combined with counseling and treatment programming, creates a “whole patient” approach to managing substance use disorders. For many patients, MAT helps sustain recovery.

Holistic Treatment

Holistic addiction treatment incorporates unique therapies to help an individual overcome their addiction. These therapies include, but are not limited to:

  • Art therapy
  • Music therapy
  • Massage therapy
  • Animal therapy
  • Experiential therapy
  • Exercise and nutrition
  • Yoga and meditation

Multisystemic Therapy (MST)

Multisystemic Therapy (MST) for Youth Alcohol Recovery uses intense involvement and contact with the adolescent's family. This practice helps to uncover and analyze the functional roots of adolescent's behavioral problems. MST treatment programs' target population are youths between the ages of 12 and 17 who show severe problems and serious antisocial behavior.

Screening, Brief Intervention and Referral to Treatment (SBIRT)

Screening, Brief Intervention & Referral to Treatment (SBIRT) is an approach to delivering early intervention and treatment to individuals with substance use disorders and people at risk for developing them. SBIRT was introduced after the Alcohol Use Disorders Identification Test (AUDIT) was created in 1982 by the World Health Organization. The goal of brief interventions is to discuss risky substance use behaviors and problems with candidates. For those not yet involved in a treatment program, this stage encourages them to seek treatment.

CAGE Alcohol Abuse Questionnaire, Screening & Assessment

CAGE is an acronym that refers to a series of questions that medical professionals may use to screen patients for alcohol misuse. The questionnaire may also be self-administered.

Hypnosis to Stop Drinking

Hypnosis is a method to put someone in a relaxed state. It can help improve your focus and turn your attention internally. Hypnotherapists use hypnosis to achieve a medical benefit for the patient. Hypnosis has been proven effective in smoking cessation. Patients who wish to address their alcohol consumption through hypnosis should speak with an addiction specialist.

Groups and Other Resources

Other alcohol addiction resources:

Support Groups & Aftercare

Alcoholic addiction, also called alcohol use disorder (AUD) or alcoholism, is a complex disorder that affects brain circuitry. The condition can alter a person's thoughts, emotions, impulse control, and memory formation. There are various ways to treat alcohol addiction, including support groups. Alcohol addiction support groups are usually free to join and membership is anonymous.

Sober Living

Sober living homes help those suffering from addiction and the behavioral health problems that often come with it as there is no temptation for substance abuse. Patients learn important life skills and the focus is on reaching long-term recovery and achieving personal goals.

Alcohol, illegal drugs, and prescription and over-the-counter medicines are banned from the premises. Sober Living Homes are not just a place to live, but somewhere patients engage in therapy, regular exercise, and 12-step meetings.

Ways to Stop Drinking

Alcohol use disorder (AUD) occurs when you cannot control how much you drink. The length of time it takes to quit drinking varies from person to person. For some, controlling their alcohol consumption is an important factor in avoiding AUD. Here are nine ways to reduce alcohol use.

Moderation Management

Moderation Management (MM) is an alcohol consumption management program. It offers both guidance regarding alcohol consumption and a network of peer support for people interested in changing their drinking behavior.

Resources

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“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.

Hussong, A. M., Huang, W., Curran, P. J., Chassin, L., & Zucker, R. A. (2010). Parent alcoholism impacts the severity and timing of children's externalizing symptoms. Journal of abnormal child psychology, 38(3), 367–380. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10802-009-9374-5

Morozova, Tatiana V., et al. “Genetics and Genomics of Alcohol Sensitivity.” Molecular Genetics and Genomics, vol. 289, no. 3, 2014, pp. 253–269, www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4037586/, 10.1007/s00438-013-0808-y.

“Genetics of Alcohol Use Disorder | National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA).” Nih.Gov, 2017, www.niaaa.nih.gov/alcohol-health/overview-alcohol-consumption/alcohol-use-disorders/genetics-alcohol-use-disorders.

Morozova, Tatiana V., et al. “Genetics and Genomics of Alcohol Sensitivity.” Molecular Genetics and Genomics, vol. 289, no. 3, 2014, pp. 253–269, www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4037586/, 10.1007/s00438-013-0808-y.

“Family Alcoholism Statistics - Alcoholism Statistics.” Alcoholism-Statistics.Com, 2013, www.alcoholism-statistics.com/family-statistics/.

“Coping With an Alcoholic Parent.” Coping With an Alcoholic Parent - Johns Hopkins All Children's Hospital, www.hopkinsallchildrens.org/Patients-Families/Health-Library/HealthDocNew/Coping-With-an-Alcoholic-Parent.

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