Alcohol use disorder (AUD) is a spectrum of issues involving problem drinking. The drinking continues even though it is clearly associated with physical, mental, and social health problems.
The specific cause of AUD is unknown. It is often a complex combination of factors, including genetics and environment.
Factors that may increase the chance of AUD include:
Symptoms can vary between people. The most common signs and symptoms of AUD include:
Problematic alcohol use can lead to tolerance. As a result, greater amounts of alcohol are needed to reach intoxication.
A sudden withdrawal of alcohol can also cause physical symptoms in people who have developed a physical dependence. Withdrawal symptoms may include:
AUD is linked to the development of serious health complications and early death.
The doctor will ask about symptoms and medical history. AUD is diagnosed based on information collected from specific questions, such as number of drinks, social habits, lifestyle changes, and personal relationships. If a family member or friend is present, they may be asked questions as well.
There is no test for AUD. Further tests may be needed if there are some signs of related illness or organ damage.
The first and most important step is recognizing that a problem exists. Successful treatment depends on the desire to change. Denial is common in people with AUD. Support and counseling is available for family and friends who have a loved one with AUD who is in denial.
AUD treatment is aimed at learning how to manage the disease. Most professionals believe that this means giving up alcohol completely and permanently. A combination of approaches is most effective. Medical support may be needed to safely manage withdraw from alcohol. This could require hospitalization in a detoxification center. Support may include medications, fluid or nutrition support, and general monitoring by professional staff.
Treatment to maintain management of disorder may include:
Certain medications may help prevent relapse, such as those that:
AUD affects all aspects of life, including relationships, family, and work. Counseling is a large part of AUD treatment. It may be one-on-one, in a group, or with other family members. Counseling works to improve coping skills and learn other ways of dealing with stress or pain. Counseling that helps develop coping mechanisms may also be useful for family members.
Treatment and counseling take time. What works for some may not work for others. Some aspects include professional interventions, education, self-help plans, and follow-up via computers or text messaging. The length of time involved in counseling depends on how many problems are affected by AUD.
Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) helps many people to stop drinking and stay sober. Members meet regularly and support each other. Family members may also benefit from attending meetings of Al-Anon. Living with an alcoholic can be a painful, stressful situation.
Relapse is common in people who are recovering from an addiction. Treatment, like taking medication and working with a therapist, may help reduce the chance of drinking and provide the support needed in case of a relapse.
AUD affects the body's major organs, including the brain, heart, liver, and pancreas. Treatment for AUD may also include medical treatment for life-threatening health conditions. These may include:
Some Organs Damaged with AUD
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It may not be possible to prevent AUD, but it tends to run in families. If you have any family members with a history of problem drinking, be aware that it may increase your risk for addictive behaviors.
Education and structured programs can help children and teens learn about alcohol and how it affects families and society. Parents can be good role models for their children by avoiding alcohol, or drinking in moderation in a safe environment without driving. Moderation is one drink or less per day for women and two drinks or less per day for men.
Canadian Centre on Substance Abuse
Mental Health Canada
Alcohol use disorder. EBSCO DynaMed Plus website. Available at: http://www.dynamed.com/topics/dmp~AN~T115540/Alcohol-use-disorder. Updated October 23, 2015. Accessed September 30, 2016.
Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5). American Psychiatric Association; 2013.
Tyburski EM, Sokolowski A, Samochowiec J, Samochwiec A. New diagnostic criteria for alcohol use disorders and novel treatment approaches—2014 update. Arch Med Sci. 2014;10(6):1191-1197.
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5/14/2010 DynaMed Plus Systematic Literature Surveillance http://www.dynamed.com/topics/dmp~AN~T115540/Alcohol-use-disorder: Vivitrol (naltrexone). Food and Drug Administration website. Available at: http://www.fda.gov/Safety/MedWatch/SafetyInformation/SafetyAlertsforHumanMedicalProducts/ucm106211.htm. Updated August 28, 2013. Accessed February 6, 2015.
Last reviewed March 2016 by James Cornell, MD
Please be aware that this information is provided to supplement the care provided by your physician. It is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. CALL YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER IMMEDIATELY IF YOU THINK YOU MAY HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.
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