Alcohol use disorder (so-called alcoholism) is a pattern of heavy drinking that involves problems controlling your drinking, being preoccupied with alcohol, drinking alcohol regardless of the problems it causes, drinking more to get the same effect, or experiencing withdrawal symptoms when you suddenly stop drinking.
If you consume alcohol in an unhealthy way, or if you have other alcohol-related health issues, it is considered unhealthy drinking. In addition, binge drinking is classified as consuming at least five drinks in two hours for men and four drinks for women. The risks associated with binge drinking are substantial.
Alcohol use disorder is likely if your pattern of drinking causes significant distress and interferes with daily functioning. The severity of the disease can vary depending on its severity. It is important to treat even mild disorders early because even mild problems can worsen.
The condition of alcoholism occurs after drinking so much that you become physically dependent or addicted to alcohol. You become obsessed with alcohol when this occurs.
Drinking causes negative results, such as losing a job or ruining relationships with people they love, even when people with alcohol use disorder continue to drink. Many people realize the negative effects of alcohol, but it’s not enough to make them stop drinking.
Even if they drink alcohol heavily, some people aren’t physically dependent on alcohol. Alcohol abuse used to be called this.
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Is drinking too much harmful to me?
The health effects of excessive alcohol consumption can be devastating. The condition is associated with:
- Dementia and brain damage
- Suicide, despair, and depression
- Mouth, breast, liver, and colon cancers
- Alcohol exposure before birth can cause fetal alcohol syndrome
- Injuries (such as fractures or drowning) and accidents (such as falls or burns)
- Inflammatory liver disease, such as cirrhosis, hepatitis, or fatty liver
- Homicides, blackouts, assaults, DUIs and more
Personal problems can also result from frequent or heavy drinking, such as:
- Personal relationships
What causes it?
It is still unknown why people suffer from alcohol use disorders. When you drink alcohol in large quantities, you cause chemical changes to your brain, leading to alcohol use disorder. When you drink alcohol, these changes increase your pleasure. Drinking often makes you feel better, even if there are adverse effects.
In the end, alcohol use disorders lead to withdrawal symptoms due to the absence of pleasurable feelings associated with alcohol consumption. There can be unpleasant withdrawal symptoms, as well as dangers associated with them.
A drinking problem develops slowly over time. There is also a family history of the disorder.
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What are the risk factors?
Alcohol use disorder has no known cause; however, certain factors can increase the likelihood of developing it.
You are at risk if you:
- You drink at least 15 drinks a week if you are male
- If you are a female, you consume more than 12 drinks per week
- One drink per day more than five times a week (binge drinking)
- An alcoholic parent
- Depression, anxiety and schizophrenia are mental health problems
Alcohol use disorders may also be more likely to develop if you:
- Peer pressure is a problem for young adults
- Feel low about themselves
- Stress levels are high
- Being around alcohol-using families or cultures
- An alcohol use disorder runs in your family
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What are the symptoms?
When people are addicted to alcohol, they exhibit behavioral and physical symptoms that are indicative of alcohol use disorder.
Following are some behaviors that may be associated with alcohol use disorders:
- Drinking alone
- Tolerating alcohol well (having a high tolerance for alcohol)
- Questioning their drinking habits in a violent or angry manner
- Eating poorly or not at all
- Putting their health at risk
- Missing school or work because of drinking
- Alcohol consumption that cannot be controlled
- Excusing oneself from drinking
- If there are legal, economic or social problems, you continue to drink
- Due to excessive drinking, you have to miss important work, social and recreational activities
Physical symptoms of alcoholism include:
- Cravings for alcohol
- Shaking and nausea are common withdrawal symptoms when one does not drink
- After drinking, tremors (involuntary shaking)
- Drinking leads to memory lapses (blacking out)
- Alcoholic ketoacidosis (including symptoms of dehydration) or cirrhosis affecting health
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What are the stages of alcohol use disorder?
The development of an alcohol use disorder occurs in stages.
- At-risk stage: The act of drinking for social reasons, stress relief, or to feel better. The tolerance you develop for alcohol may increase over time.
- Early alcohol use disorder: A person at this stage is experiencing blackouts, drinking alone or in secret, and constantly thinking about alcohol.
- Mid-stage alcohol use disorder: There are problems with your daily life because of alcohol use (work, family, finances, physical health, mental health, etc). Lab tests and scans can show organ damage.
- End-stage alcohol use disorder: You are now primarily concerned with drinking, ignoring food, intimacy, health, and happiness. We are now on the verge of despair, organ damage complications, and death.
Do I abuse alcohol?
Alcohol misuse and safe alcohol consumption can sometimes be difficult to distinguish. The Mayo Clinic suggests that if you answer “yes” to certain questions, you may misuse alcohol.
- What is the minimum amount of alcohol you should consume to feel its effects?
- Are you guilty of drinking?
- What do you do when you’re drunk? Do you get irritable or violent?
- Does drinking affect your schoolwork or work?
- What are your thoughts on reducing your drinking?
More detailed self-tests are available from the National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence and AlcoholScreening.org. You can use these tests to determine whether you misuse alcohol.
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You can receive a diagnosis of alcohol use disorder from your physician. You’ll be asked questions about your drinking habits and a physical exam will be performed.
You may be asked by your doctor if you:
- Driving after drinking
- When you drink, you miss work or lose your job
- Feeling drunk when you drink more alcohol
- Drinking has caused you to have blackouts
- Your drinking hasn’t gone down despite your efforts
- Taking a questionnaire on alcohol use disorder can also help diagnose your condition.
Other types of diagnostic tests aren’t typically necessary for the diagnosis of alcohol use disorder. When you exhibit signs and symptoms of liver disease, your doctor may order blood work.
You can suffer severe liver damage if you use alcohol excessively. Toxins are removed from your blood by your liver. Alcohol and other toxins are harder to filter from the bloodstream when you drink too much. Complications such as liver disease can result.
Alcohol use disorder treatment
There are different treatments for alcohol use disorder, but the end goal is to stop drinking altogether. This is called abstinence. There are several stages to treatment, including:
- Getting rid of alcohol through detoxification or withdrawal
- Learning new coping skills and behaviors during rehabilitation
- An emotional problem that causes drinking may be addressed through counseling
- Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) is one of many 12-step programs that provide support
- There is alcohol use disorder medications for treating alcohol-related health problems
- Controlling addiction through medication
To treat alcohol use disorder, several medications alcohol use disorder may be helpful:
- Alcohol withdrawal is the only time when naltrexone (ReVia) is used. A person may use this drug in combination with counseling to reduce their craving for alcohol due to blocking certain brain receptors related to the alcoholic “high.”
- Alcohol dependence can be treated using an anti-alcoholic medication called acamprosate. Taking this drug as part of a treatment regimen is also recommended.
- Antabuse (disulfiram) causes physical discomfort when consumed with alcohol (such as nausea, vomiting, and headaches).
When alcohol abuse is severe, you might need inpatient treatment. In these facilities, you can recover from alcohol dependency and withdraw from alcoholism on a 24-hour basis. You will need to continue receiving outpatient treatment after you are well enough to leave.
It is common for people to feel good about themselves after drinking alcohol at first.
The problem is that if you have consumed unhealthy amounts of alcohol for a long period of time, you are likely to become sedated when you drink. The nervous system is depressed by alcohol.
When a person is under the influence of alcohol, their judgment may be impaired. Alcohol can affect the way the drinker thinks, feels, and behaves. People who drink heavily regularly may have difficulties coordinating their muscles and speaking properly.
The following problems may result from regular heavy drinking:
- Fatigue: There is a feeling of being tired most of the time.
- Memory loss: Short-term memory is particularly affected by alcohol.
- Eye muscles: There can be a significant loss of muscle strength in the eye muscles.
- Liver diseases: Cirrhosis is an irreversible and progressive condition that has a high risk of developing hepatitis.
- Gastrointestinal complications: It is possible to develop gastroenteritis or damage to the pancreas. They will hinder digestion, absorption, and hormone production in the body.
- Hypertension: Those who drink heavily regularly are likely to have high blood pressure.
- Heart problems: It is associated with a higher risk of cardiovascular disease (damaged heart muscle), heart failure, and strokes.
- Diabetes: People with diabetes have a high risk of developing diabetes type 2, and regular alcohol consumption has a high risk of complications. Hypoglycemia occurs when alcohol prevents the liver from releasing glucose. It can be dangerous to suffer hypoglycemia if a diabetic is already using insulin to control blood sugar levels.
- Menstruation: Menstruation can be disrupted or stopped when you consume excessive amounts of alcohol.
- Erectile dysfunction: Erectile dysfunction can make it difficult to maintain an erection.
- Fetal alcohol syndrome: Birth defects are more likely to occur when pregnant women consume alcohol. Symptoms such as a small head, heart problems, shortened eyelids, and developmental difficulties may occur in the newborn.
- Thinning bones: Bones are thinner and more likely to fracture when alcohol inhibits the production of new bone.
- Nervous system problems: The extremities may be numb, the mind may be confused, and the extremities may be numb.
- Cancer: Some cancers, such as esophageal cancer, liver cancer, colon cancer, rectum cancer, breast cancer, prostate cancer, and pharyngeal cancer, are more likely to develop.
- Accidents: The risk of injury from falls, road traffic accidents, and other events is higher.
- Domestic abuse: It is well known that alcohol causes conflicts with neighbors, spouse-beating, and child abuse.
- Work or school problems: There is often a connection between alcohol abuse and employment problems or educational difficulties.
- Suicide: Suicide rates are higher among people who drink alcohol inappropriately or who are dependent on alcohol.
- Mental illness: Mental illness is more likely to occur when alcohol is misused, and it can aggravate existing illnesses.
- Problems with the law: The odds of someone who consumes alcohol spending time in court or in prison are significantly higher than those who do not.
Can alcohol use disorder be prevented?
Alcohol use disorder can be prevented by limiting alcohol consumption. Men and women should limit their daily alcohol consumption to one and two drinks, respectively, according to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism.
You should visit your doctor if you think that you may have a problem with alcohol or if you show signs of alcohol use disorder. A self-help program such as Women for Sobriety or an AA meeting may also be of help to you.
Outlook of alcohol use disorder
Recovering from alcoholism can be challenging. If you can stop drinking, your outlook will improve. Treatment often helps people overcome their addictions. Making a full recovery requires a strong support system.
As a result of your drinking, you may have also developed health complications. You can severely damage your liver if you have an alcohol use disorder. Further complications can include:
- Bleeding in the gastrointestinal (GI) tract
- Brain damage
- Cancer in the GI tract
- High blood pressure
- Pancreatitis (pancreatic inflammation)
- Nerve damage
The symptoms of Wernicke-Korsakoff syndrome (a disease of the brain that causes symptoms such as confusion, vision changes, and memory loss) include changes in mental status.