Alcohol addiction, also called alcohol use disorder (AUD) or alcoholism, is a chronic relapsing brain disease that occurs when a person abuses alcohol or their body becomes dependent on alcohol. Despite the negative effects of drinking too much alcohol, someone with alcohol use disorder continues to drink.
According to the CDC, there are three traits of alcohol use disorder:
There is no known cause of alcohol addiction. Although, it tends to run in families and some people face a higher risk for developing alcohol use disorder than others. Some of the most common risk factors include:
Alcohol use disorder tends to develop over time, often starting as occasional binge drinking that develops into overdrinking and eventually, an alcohol addiction.
People with alcohol use disorder have abused alcohol so much that a chemical change has occurred in their brain. This temporarily increases the pleasure they experience when drinking. Because of this, they are driven to drink more often, even if it causes problems in their lives. Eventually, the pleasure fades and they must continue to drink to avoid unpleasant withdrawal symptoms.
The CDC reports that approximately 16 million people in the United States have alcohol use disorder.Centers For Disease Control (CDC)
Drinking too much or too often are the most obvious signs of alcohol use disorder. Additionally, there might be other indications that a problem with alcohol is developing. For instance, if a person engages in any of the following behaviors, it could be a symptom of an alcohol use disorder:
There might also be physical symptoms that occur when a person has developed alcohol use disorder, including:
Alcohol abuse causes long-term liver damage. This is because the liver is responsible for filtering toxins, including alcohol, out of the blood. The more a person drinks, the harder the liver must work. Over time, this can lead to liver disease and other complications.
If you believe you or a loved one might have developed an alcohol addiction, ask the following:
In the past 12 months, have you or a loved one…
To receive an official diagnosis of an alcohol use disorder, a person must meet any two of the above 11 criteria during a one-year period. The number of criteria met determines if the case is mild, moderate, or severe. Not everyone who drinks excessively has an alcohol addiction, but it is possible to develop an alcohol addiction over time from excessive drinking.
About 90 percent of heavy or binge drinkers do not meet the criteria for a clinical diagnosis of alcohol addiction.
Alcohol use disorder can lead to a variety of secondary health problems, including:
Several treatments are available for treating alcohol addiction. The goal of treatment is to help a person achieve abstinence and no longer drink. Treatment options are usually used in conjunction with one another and include:
Medication combined with therapy and other treatments offers the best long-term result.
Inpatient and outpatient treatment are available and should continue on an outpatient basis after release from inpatient care. Inpatient care is appropriate when a person’s addiction to alcohol is severe and he or she needs 24-hour supervision during withdrawal and the early part of the recovery phase.
It is possible to recover from alcohol addiction, but it’s challenging and requires professional guidance and a strong support system. Successful recovery also depends on a person’s overall health, whether or not they used alcohol to self-medicate mental health issues, such as depression or anxiety, and whether they are ready to be in recovery.
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“Alcoholism: Causes, Risk Factors, and Symptoms.” Healthline, 2012, www.healthline.com/health/alcoholism/basics
“CDC - Frequently Asked Questions - Alcohol.” CDC.Gov, 2020, www.cdc.gov/alcohol/faqs.htm#alcoholismAbuse. Accessed 7 Jan. 2020.
“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