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Overview: Alcohol Use Disorder (AUD)
Alcohol use disorder (AUD), commonly referred to as alcoholism, alcohol addiction, or alcohol abuse, is a devastating substance use disorder (SUD). The effects of alcohol can damage your health, relationships, and overall well-being. Learning how to prevent alcoholism can mean the difference between a fulfilling life and one filled with alcohol-related challenges.
One of the most important things you can do to prevent alcohol dependency is to understand the risk factors of developing the disorder. Some people have a higher risk than others for developing an alcohol use disorder.
For instance, high-risk individuals include people who:
- Start drinking alcohol early in their adolescence
- Have a family history of alcohol or drug use
- Are men
- Need higher amounts of alcohol to feel intoxicated
- Have an unhealthy heavy drinking pattern
- Binge drink
- Are dealing with a mental health issue, such as depression or anxiety
- Grew up and are still a part of a family or culture in which it is acceptable to drink a lot
Men who have more than five standard drinks and women who have more than four drinks per occasion within two hours (binge drinkers) face a greater risk for developing alcohol use disorder. Men who have more than 15 drinks and women who have more than eight drinks per week (heavy drinkers) also do.
It’s important to realize that there is no stereotypical or standard alcoholic, which makes it more challenging to figure out how to prevent alcohol use disorder. Addiction to alcohol can affect people from all parts of the general population, in all income brackets, and all career or educational situations.
Someone can also be functional when they are an alcoholic and lead a normal life while dealing with an alcohol use disorder.
How to Reduce Your Risk of Alcohol Addiction
Alcohol is a legal drug that is fully accepted by society as a normal part of adult life. Many even view underage drinking as a normal part of growing up in the United States, despite it being illegal. This attitude makes it difficult for someone with an alcohol use disorder to escape the pressure to drink. In many cases, social situations even include peer pressure to consume alcohol. This pressure exists for people of all ages, not just teens.
If you or a loved one is struggling with alcohol dependence, it can be difficult to overcome. However, there are steps you can take to manage alcohol consumption and reduce the risk of drinking when you are dealing with alcohol challenges.
The following health information will help you create healthy alcohol consumption habits and help prevent alcohol addiction:
Prevent Alcohol Addiction by Not Keeping Alcoholic Beverages in Your Home
Having alcohol in your home increases the likelihood you’ll consume it. Just as someone dieting would avoid stocking high-calorie treats, you should not have alcohol just a few steps away when you’re trying to reduce your intake. Replace alcoholic beverages with alcohol-free options like club soda or juice.
Prevent Alcohol Addiction by Avoiding Emotional Drinking
It’s common for people to turn to alcohol when they are feeling negative emotions. It’s also a big part of celebrations when people are happy and feeling good. Using alcohol in either situation can increase the likelihood of eventually developing a dependency or alcohol use disorder.
Prevent Alcohol Addiction by Not Binge Drinking
If you’re the type of person who goes into a situation with alcohol intending to get “blackout drunk,” it’s time to discuss your drinking behavior with a professional. If you accidentally over-consume alcohol in social situations because of distraction or awkwardness, you can implement strategies to avoid binging.
Alternate alcoholic drinks with non-alcoholic drinks, say no to activities that encourage excessive drinking (like drinking games), and consider setting a specific limit on the number of drinks you’ll have during any single occasion.
Prevent Alcohol Addiction by Avoiding Bars
Bars are a popular place to socialize with friends, families, and colleagues. But it’s tough to avoid drinking when you’re in an environment dedicated to alcohol.
Even if you can order non-alcoholic drinks, spending time in bars increases the temptation to drink. If you are concerned about developing a problem with alcohol, suggest alternate activities when friends and other people want to socialize.
Peers influence drinking behavior for people of all ages. Spending time with heavy social drinkers makes it more difficult to prevent alcoholism.
Preventing Alcohol Addiction in Young Adults
Underage drinking is a serious problem. It not only affects a young person’s short- and long-term health, it also increases the risk that a person will develop an alcohol use disorder. Teenage drinkers are more likely to binge drink and make bad choices when intoxicated, including driving under the influence and engaging in risky or violent behavior.
To reduce the likelihood that a young person you care about will drink alcohol, read the following tips:
- Encourage teens to feel confident about turning down alcohol
- Speak openly and honestly about drinking, its risks, and what will happen in terms of discipline if a teen drinks
- Be aware of your at-home supply of alcohol so you can tell if it’s secretly being consumed
- Do not permit unchaperoned parties or imply it’s acceptable to consume alcohol at home
- Encourage healthy relationships with peers who don’t drink
- Set a good example with responsible alcohol consumption
Preventing Alcohol Addiction in Older People
Alcohol addiction can develop and be unhealthy and dangerous at any age. But just as younger people face more significant risk when consuming alcohol, so do adults over the age of 65. This is because the body processes alcohol differently as we age.
Alcohol remains in the body longer and creates a “buzz” or tipsy feeling faster than it does for middle-aged adults. Alcohol consumption also affects balance, which might already be a concern for an older adult.
To avoid developing an alcohol use disorder later in life:
- Understand that health and well-being risk is higher than it was a few years ago
- Know that drinking alcohol can exacerbate existing health problems, including those related to heart attack, stroke, balance, and memory loss
- Realize that mixing alcohol with OTC, prescription medications, and “natural” remedies and supplements can be dangerous
- Recognize common triggers that are likely as we age, such as the death of friends and loved ones, loneliness, and boredom
Regardless of your age or the age of loved ones, knowing the “red flags” that could indicate a problem with alcohol can go a long way in preventing someone from developing a full-blown addiction.
If you notice any of the following unhealthy drinking habits, it’s a good idea to seek help or speak to the person about your concerns:
- Solitary alcohol consumption
- Need to increase consumption to achieve the same effect
- Neglect of personal hygiene
- Poor appetite
- Absenteeism from work or school
- Angry responses when asked to discuss alcohol consumption
Alcohol Treatment Options
Addiction treatment is available for anyone suffering from substance abuse. Drinking problems can be addressed at a facility that offers health services for all substance use disorders or alcohol specifically.
If you, a loved one, or a family member is struggling with alcohol use disorder, one of the best steps is to contact your health care provider. They can refer you to a treatment program that fits your unique needs.
Common treatment options include:
- Inpatient rehab
- Outpatient rehab
- Partial hospitalization programs
- Support groups like Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) or SMART Recovery