Understanding Alcohol Use Disorder, Alcohol Dependence, and Treatment Options

Learn more about alcohol use disorder and alcohol dependence and its symptoms, as well as treatment options in our informative article.

Alcohol use disorder (AUD), also known as alcoholism or alcohol dependence, is a chronic medical condition characterized by the inability to stop or control alcohol consumption. This inability to stop occurs even despite negative consequences experienced by the individual. AUD, which is referred to also as alcohol addiction and alcohol abuse, is considered to be a disorder of the brain and can be classified as mild, moderate, or severe based on several factors.

Alcohol use disorder or AUD varies in severity, onset, and how it impacts a person’s life in each case. Not everyone is impacted the same way by alcohol addiction. AUD and how it manifests is unique to each person, and each situation. For example, one person may engage in binge drinking for years but doesn’t develop an alcohol dependence until later in life. However, the next person may start heavy drinking in their high school years and within just a year or so they have developed a severe AUD.

It is important to note that the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, in the DSM-5, has grouped alcohol dependence and alcohol abuse into a single diagnosis they refer to as alcohol use disorder. More information on the evolution of alcohol problems and their diagnoses can be found on the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders website.

According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA), in 2019 14.1 million adults over the age of 18 years in the United States had an AUD or alcohol addiction. By 2021, the post-pandemic numbers skyrocketed to 28.6 million adults in our country had an AUD. When it comes to youth, the NIAAA reported that an estimated 414,000 adolescents aged 12 to 17 years also had an AUD in 2019 which increased to 894,000 teens in 2021 with an AUD. That’s 29.5 million of people living with painful and life-robbing alcohol use disorder.

AUD (Alcohol Use Disorder) and The Three Stages of Alcohol Addiction

As mentioned, alcohol dependence and AUDs develop at different rates for each person. However, there are generally three stages of alcohol use disorder. These are:

  1. Denial about having an alcohol problem

  2. Loss of control

  3. Deterioration

During the first stage of alcohol addiction denial, the individual may sense they are drinking too much, too frequently, or developed alcohol dependence. However, in this first stage of an alcohol use disorder, there may still be the illusion or remnants of being able to control the drinking. This stage then progresses to the second, loss of control. In this stage, even if the person wants to stop or cut down on amounts and frequency of drinking alcohol, they are unable to stop drinking. This inability to stop then leads to the third stage which is deterioration. In this stage, an individual’s physical health, mental health, relationships, work or school, and other responsibilities are being negatively affected—but they are still unable to stop drinking. Health problems like liver disease may also result from long-term alcohol problems.

No matter which stage of alcohol use disorder an individual is in, treatment can work and recovery isn’t just possible, it’s probable. Addiction treatment centers that utilize evidence-based treatment programs are very effective in helping those with an AUD to find recovery.

Physical Risk Factors with Long-Term Alcohol Problems

Individuals with long-term alcohol problems may develop a number of negative physical health problems including:

  • Cirrhosis

  • Liver Disease

  • Memory Issues

Treatment of Alcohol Use Disorders

When it comes to treatment for alcohol use disorder it’s important to understand that treatment can work when the individual is willing to work for toward recovery from their alcohol problem. There may be times where a brief intervention will motivate an individual to seek treatment for their alcohol addiction. As mentioned, addiction treatment centers offering evidence-based addiction treatment programming have been shown to provide the foundation many need to recover from alcoholism.

It’s important to realize that it can be dangerous—even fatal—to stop drinking suddenly after consuming alcohol regularly for an extended period of time. The body will go into withdrawal and the person will usually experience at least some withdrawal symptoms. Some of these withdrawal symptoms can be life-threatening so it’s always advised to do so under the supervision of a qualified healthcare provider or within a treatment program.

Alcohol Withdrawal Symptoms

Once a person who has been drinking alcohol for a period of time stops, withdrawal symptoms can be felt as soon as two hours after the last consumption. The amount of alcohol consumed will also factor into the severity of the withdrawal symptoms. The specific symptoms experienced depend on several factors unique to the person. In general, an individual can experience any or all of the following alcohol withdrawal symptoms:

  • Headaches

  • Blackouts

  • Nausea

  • Anxiety

  • Shakiness

  • Tremors

  • Sweating

  • Loss of appetite

  • Hallucinations

  • Seizures

  • Irritability and restlessness

  • Agitation

  • Vomiting

  • Fast heart rate

  • Disorientation

  • Tremors

  • Insomnia

As you can see, some of the alcohol withdrawal symptoms (and potential health conditions) can be difficult to manage on one’s own and even life-threatening. This is why it’s imperative to seek treatment for alcohol use disorders at an addiction treatment center with qualified medical professionals and staff to help during this difficult stage of recovery.

Treatment for alcohol use disorder may include a number of therapeutic treatment options including individual psychiatry sessions, cognitive behavioral therapy, support groups, detoxification programs, alcoholics anonymous, and, when necessary, treatment of co-existing psychiatric disorders and general health problems. Both inpatient and outpatient treatment plans are available and the most effective treatment for alcohol problems are those tailored to the individual. Treatment may be long- or short-term, depending on the needs of the person and their specific treatment program.

At Caron, we believe that recovery isn’t just possible, it’s probable.

If you or a loved one are suffering from an AUD or substance use disorder (SUD)

Caron Treatment Centers can help.

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