The Major Symptoms of Alcohol Use Disorder — and the 3-Step Treatment Process

 In Alcohol, All Articles

People with alcohol use dependence cannot control their alcohol usage, leading to negative outcomes in many aspects of their life.

By Chaunie Brusie

You may have heard the terms “alcohol dependence” and “alcohol abuse.” Alcohol use disorder (AUD) is a single medical diagnosis that encompasses these formerly separate disorders.

Around 15 million people in the United States have AUD, according to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA). Here’s what you need to know about alcohol use disorder, including symptoms, treatment options and what to do if you suspect that you or a loved one may have AUD.

What Is Alcohol Use Disorder?
Alcohol dependence was previously identified as at least three of the following behaviors occurring in a 12-month period, per the American Psychiatric Association (APA) :

  • Need for increasing amounts of alcohol to reach intoxication or increased “tolerance”
  • Withdrawal symptoms
  • Drinking in larger or longer amounts
  • Trying to decrease drinking, but being unable to
  • Giving up social, occupational, or recreational activities because of drinking
  • Greater time being spent drinking, recovering from drinking, or trying to give up from drinking
  • Continuing drinking despite being aware of recurrent physical or psychological problems caused by drinking

Alcohol abuse, on the other hand, was formerly defined by the APA as only one of the following behaviors over the course of 12 months:

  • Recurrent use of alcohol resulting in a failure to fulfill major role obligations
  • Recurrent alcohol use in situations where it could cause physical harm
  • Recurrent legal problems related to one’s alcohol use
  • Continued alcohol use despite social or interpersonal problems linked to drinking

Beginning in May 2013 however, both alcohol dependence and alcohol abuse were reclassified under the diagnosis of AUD, per the NIAAA. Put simply, AUD is a medical condition characterized by a compulsive loss of control over alcohol use, leading to life problems and functional decline, says Patrick Fehling, MD, a psychiatrist at UCHealth Center for Dependency, Addiction and Rehabilitation (CeDAR).

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