What Is Alcohol Use Disorder?

What Is Alcohol Use Disorder? – Alcohol use disorder (AUD) is a clinical diagnosis that is characterized by excessive, problematic drinking. AUD is considered to be a chronic relapsing brain disease marked by compulsive alcohol use, a loss of control over alcohol use, and an adverse emotional state when not drinking.

Understanding Alcohol Use Disorder

According to 2015 data from the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, roughly 16 million people in the U.S. have an alcohol use disorder. This number includes approximately 6.2 percent or 15.1 million adults, equaling about 9.8 million men and 5.3 million women.

The most recent version of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5) integrates two distinct disorders previously separated by different criteria – alcohol abuse and alcohol dependence. Alcohol use disorders are sometimes referred to as alcoholism or alcohol addiction. For the purpose of this article, these terms may be used interchangeably.

As a result of the changes in the DSM, these terms, however, are no longer considered to be adequate for a clinical diagnosis. Moreover, alcohol use disorder has become an all-encompassing category for problematic drinking behavior that is better defined using that subclassifications mild, moderate, and severe.

To be diagnosed with an AUD, the person must meet specific criteria (signs of problematic alcohol use) as defined in the DSM-5. Any individual who exhibits two or more of the 11 criteria during a 12-month period could receive a diagnosis of AUD. The severity of an AUD is rated as being mild, moderate, or severe:

Mild—2 to 3 criteria met
Moderate—4 to 5 criteria met
Severe—6 or more symptoms met

DSM-5 Diagnostic Criteria for Alcohol Use Disorder

The following are the 11 signs or criteria (paraphrased) for alcohol use disorder as outlined by the DSM-5:

  1.  Alcohol is often consumed in higher amounts or over a more extended period than was originally intended.
  2. There is a persistent desire to reduce or control alcohol use, but attempts to do so have failed.
  3. A considerable amount of time is spent engaging in activities necessary to obtain and use alcohol or recover from its effects (hangover).
  4. Cravings, or a strong urge to consume alcohol.
  5. Repeated alcohol use resulting in the neglect of major obligations at home, work, or school.
  6. Continued alcohol consumption despite having incurred repeated social or interpersonal problems related to alcohol use and its effects.
  7. Important or enjoyable social, occupational, or recreational activities are neglected in favor of alcohol use.
  8. Recurrent alcohol consumption in situations in which it is physically hazardous (e.g., drinking and driving).
  9. Alcohol use is continued despite being aware that there are persistent physical or psychological problems that are related to problematic alcohol consumption.
  10. Tolerance has increased, as defined by either the need for increasing amounts of alcohol to achieve the desired effects or a significantly reduced effect with continued use of the same amount of alcohol.
  11. Withdrawal, a condition that manifests highly unpleasant symptoms when drinking is discontinued.

These criteria may be accompanied by the following symptoms:

  • Anxiety and nervousness
  • Appetite loss
  • Depression
  • Fatigue
  • Irritability and agitation
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Clamminess or sweating
  • Headache
  • Jumpiness
  • Shakiness and tremors
  • Mood swings
  • Nightmares or sleep disturbances
  • Unclear thoughts
  • Suicidal thoughts or behaviors
  • Delirium tremens

Other Signs and Symptoms

The effects of alcoholism are not by any means limited to diagnostic criteria. Other indicators may include the following:

  • Transient blackouts or short-term memory loss
  • Irritability and extreme mood swings
  • Poor performance at work or school
  • Drinking alone or hiding drinking from others
  • Legal or financial problems related to alcohol use
  • Changes in appearance including looking disheveled, unhealthy, or having poor hygiene
  • Making excuses for excessive or inappropriate drinking, such as to relax, cope with stress, or feel normal
  • Withdrawing from friends and family or associating with new friends that abuse substances

Get Help for Alcohol Use Disorder

Whether you call it alcoholism, alcohol addiction, or alcohol use disorder, this condition has the potential to harm a person’s life irreversibly. The sooner a drinking problem is identified and treated, however, the higher the potential for a significantly improved outcome and less long-term damage to one’s health and emotional well-being.

Recovery in Tune offers evidence-based programs that concentrate on providing services vital to the recovery process, such as behavioral therapy, counseling, group support, and aftercare planning. We also provide medication-assisted treatment to individuals for whom it is appropriate.

We employ compassionate, highly-skilled health professionals who specialize in addiction and are dedicated to providing clients with the tools and support they need to achieve long-lasting wellness and sobriety.

If you or someone you know is suffering from alcoholism, contact us today and find out how we can help you begin your journey to recovery!

Related: Alcohol Poisoning Treatment

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