What Is Alcohol Use Disorder and What Is the Treatment?

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Alcohol use disorder is also known as alcoholism. This is a condition where an individual has a physical need or a desire to drink alcohol even when its negative effects on their life are apparent. People with alcohol use disorders were called alcoholics in the past. But, this is now considered a negative and unhelpful label. Therefore, health professionals now consider an individual as having an alcohol use disorder instead of referring to them as an alcoholic.

This disorder affects many people across the world. It’s not surprising that almost everybody knows a person that has called AddictionResource alcohol abuse hotline seeking help to beat their addiction. Alcohol has ruined many lives and careers. That’s because the addictive nature of alcohol makes quitting and recovering fully difficult for most people.

The National Institute of Health reports that 15.1 million American adults had a drinking problem in 2015. That’s about 6.2% of the entire population.


Alcohol use disorder is described as a severe drinking problem. When a person has this condition, they do not know how or when to quit drinking. Most of their time is spent thinking about getting and using alcohol. They lose control of the amount of alcohol they consume even when it’s already causing problems at work, home, and financially.

When a person talks about alcohol abuse, they may refer to its inappropriate or excessive consumption and not necessarily dependence.

Consuming alcohol moderately doesn’t generally cause physical or psychological harm. Nevertheless, when a social drinker increases consumption or drinks more than the recommended amount regularly, they can develop an alcohol use disorder.


When you know the symptoms of an alcohol use disorder, it’s easy to tell when a person should call an alcoholic hotline for professional assistance. In most cases, the person drinking alcohol excessively is not the first to realize their problem.

Here are symptoms and signs of alcohol use disorder:

  • Drinking secretly or alone
  • Inability to limit the amount of the consumed alcohol
  • Establishing rituals like drinking before or after meals or work and being irritated when a person comments about them
  • Craving for alcohol
  • Loss of interest in previously enjoyed hobbies
  • Being irritated when approaching the drinking times, especially if no alcohol is available or availed
  • Hiding alcohol
  • Gulping alcohol down to feel great
  • Relationships, finances, law, and work problems arising from drinking
  • Drinking more alcohol to achieve the desired effect
  • Experiencing sweating, nausea, and shaking if not drinking

In some cases, these symptoms and signs may be experienced but might not be alcohol dependent. A person has a drinking problem if alcohol takes precedence over other activities. And dependence on alcohol can develop over several years. An extensive range of problems has been associated with alcohol dependence. Its effect can be psychological, social, and physical.


Developing alcohol dependence can take years. However, it can take months for some individuals, especially those vulnerable. Regular drinking can disrupt the gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA) balance in the brain and the glutamate. GABA is responsible for impulsiveness control while glutamate plays a rule in the nervous system’s stimulation.

Alcohol consumption increases dopamine levels thereby making the drinking experience feel more satisfying. Over medium- or long-term, excessive consumption of alcohol affects the levels of dopamine significantly. This makes the body of a person crave for more alcohol to avoid a bad feeling and instead feel good.

Potential Risk Factors

The World Health Organization reports that 3.3 million people die every year globally due to harmful alcohol consumption. But, why do people abuse alcohol? Here are some of the most common risk factors for excessive drinking.

  • Genes – Some genetic factors can make a person more likely to have a drinking problem. That’s why some families have a history of alcohol use disorder.
  • Easy access – Alcohol use and easy access correlate. That’s why alcohol-related deaths drop in some states when taxes and prices of alcoholic drinks are increased.
  • Age – Individuals that start drinking before they hit 15 years are more likely to develop a drinking problem.
  • Stress – People with high anxiety and stress levels are likely to drink as a way to blank out their upheaval.
  • Low self-esteem- Individuals with low self-esteem with alcohol readily available are likely to develop a drinking problem.
  • Depression- Depressed people can unwittingly or deliberately self-treat with alcohol. Excessive alcohol consumption can also increase depression risk instead of reducing it.
  • Peer drinking- Some people start drinking due to peer influence. Individuals that have drinking friends drink excessively or regularly. Unfortunately, their drinking ends up necessitating calling an alcoholism hotline when things get worse.
  • Advertising and media- The depiction of alcohol as a worldly cool and glamorous activity in some places increase the risk of developing an alcohol use disorder. That’s because the adverts convey the message that it’s acceptable to drink excessively.
  • Alcohol metabolism- Some individuals require more alcohol to experience the desired effect. These are at a higher risk of developing an alcohol use disorder.


How do you tell that a person needs to call an alcohol help hotline? Well, the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders has laid out criteria that a person with AUD must meet.

This includes a consumption pattern that leads to significant distress or impairment. A person that has experienced at least three of these criteria over the last 12 months has AUD:

  • Alcohol tolerance
  • Withdrawal symptoms after cutting down or abstaining
  • Drinking beyond intentions
  • Unsuccessful attempts to quit or cut down
  • Spending a lot of time getting, drinking and recovering from alcohol
  • Withdrawal from social, occupational, or recreational activities enjoyed previously
  • Persistent drinking

Alcoholism Test

Heavy drinking is detected with a carbohydrate-deficient transferring. Other tests can be used to indicate if a person has suffered liver damage or a reduction in testosterone levels. Family members can help a doctor understand the problem better.


Unhealthy consumption of alcohol can depress the nervous system and undermine judgment. It can also alter thoughts, general behavior, and emotions. Proper speaking and muscle coordination can also be affected seriously. Heavy drinking can also lead to coma.

Here are some of the problems that can arise from regular, heavy drinking:

  • Memory loss
  • Fatigue
  • Weaker eye muscles
  • Liver diseases like cirrhosis and hepatitis
  • Gastrointestinal complications
  • Heart problems
  • Hypertension
  • Diabetes
  • Erectile dysfunction
  • Thinning bones
  • Cancer
  • Nervous system problems
  • Accidents
  • Domestic abuse
  • School or work problems
  • Mental illness
  • Suicide
  • Legal problems


After ascertaining that it’s time to call an alcohol abuse hotline, the available treatment options should be considered.

These may include:

  • Abstaining from alcohol without professional help or Do-it-yourself
  • Counseling
  • Treatment of the underlying problems
  • Residential programs
  • Outpatient treatment programs
  • Detoxification
  • Alcoholics Anonymous

The Bottom Line

Alcohol use disorder is a serious condition that affects millions of people globally. However, it is treatable and a person can recover fully to lead an alcohol-free and more fulfilling life.



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