Alcohol Use Disorder

Alcohol use disorder is a disorder that is typified by a dangerous pattern of alcohol consumption that involves having difficulty controlling your drinking, having an intense preoccupation with alcohol, continuing to drink alcohol even when it creates problems, or having physiological withdrawal symptoms when you cease consumption.  The hallmark of alcohol use disorder is consumption that impedes daily functioning and causes significant distress in multiple life domains (family, relationships, work, etc.).  Alcohol use disorder can range from mild to severe, however mild AUD can often escalate into severe AUD quickly, and as such early intervention is critically important.

Signs and Symptoms

The signs and symptoms of AUD vary, but they almost always include:

  • An inability to moderate consumption
  • Repeated unsuccessful attempts to cut down on consumption
  • Dedicating a large amount of time to drinking or recovering from drinking
  • Feeling strong urges to drink
  • Failing to fulfill major obligations due to excessive consumption
  • Continuing to drink alcohol despite explicit evidence that it is causing hardship
  • Developing a tolerance to alcohol such that you require more in order to feel the desired effect
  • Experiencing withdrawal symptoms, including nausea, sweating and shaking, when you are not drinking

Alcohol Intoxication and Alcohol Withdrawal

Alcohol use disorder is typified by oscillations between alcohol intoxication and alcohol withdrawal. Alcohol intoxication is the result of increased alcohol content in the blood stream.  Each drink that is consumed raises the blood alcohol concentration slightly, and as that concentration rises so does one’s level of impairment.  As one continues to drink, they become more susceptible to the symptoms of alcohol intoxication, which include unstable and fluctuating moods, slurred speech and inappropriate behavior.  Very high blood alcohol levels can lead to blackouts, comas, or even death.

Alcohol withdrawal may occur if alcohol use has been excessive and prolonged and is then greatly reduced or abruptly stopped. Alcohol withdrawal can occur within several hours of discontinuing use, or the symptoms can appear much later. Symptoms include sweating, rapid heartbeat, hand tremors, problems sleeping, nausea and vomiting, hallucinations, restlessness and agitation, anxiety, and occasionally seizures.

Getting Help

If you feel as though you occasionally consume too much alcohol, have experienced any of the aforementioned symptoms,  or alcohol is beginning to impede your daily functioning, talk to your doctor or seek the help of a professional.  At times it is difficult to recognize that your drinking has become problematic, and as such it is important to listen to the feedback of others if they ask you to examine your drinking habits.  The long term effects of excessive drinking can be devastating, both to the individual and those whom they love, and as such it is important to seek help sooner rather than later to avoid any of the long term consequences of overconsumption.