Alcohol use disorder develops when an individual forms an unhealthy pattern of drinking, which is commonly known as alcohol abuse. Alcohol abuse is a condition where an individual consumes too much alcohol on a particular occasion and, as a result, tends to do or say things that they would not do otherwise. The critical point to the condition of such abuse is that the abusers are not physically dependent on alcohol and can usually survive for an extended time without it. However, abusing alcohol can turn into an alcohol use disorder (AUD) sooner or later, where you will find it difficult to drag through the day without alcohol. At this stage, your addiction is medically referred to as a chronic, relapsing brain disease and needs medical intervention for recovery. Nevertheless, both the conditions pose health and psychological complications and need help immediately, no matter how mild it is.
AUD: When is drinking a problem?
AUD is a public health crisis that affects many individuals, families, and communities. In the United States, alcohol-related deaths account for over 88,000 annually; this is almost 10 percent of all deaths in the United States. Underage drinking, binge drinking, heavy drinking, drinking till you black out are all harmful drinking behaviors that generally lead to an AUD. Although we are all well aware of the dangers of using drugs, thanks to the war on drugs, most individuals are quite oblivious to the dangers that lurk within the alcohol and addictive drinking habits. However, there are many effective treatments that incorporate medications and behavioral therapy that can help anyone overcome their addiction. If you or your loved one have a drinking problem, seek assistance from a physician or addiction treatment center near you.
What are the symptoms of AUD?
Recognizing the early signs of AUD can help you or your loved one make changes before things get worse. The longer the problem persists, the more severe the symptoms of dependence grow, and the harder it gets to recover. Doctors diagnose AUD when a patient’s heavy drinking causes distress or harm. If you find yourself drinking more and more or longer than you intend or find yourself unable to stop or cut down on drinking even when you try, these may be early signs of an AUD. The development of alcohol dependence and tolerance is the initial symptom of addiction. If you find yourself experiencing these early symptoms of an AUD, enroll in an addiction treatment plan, or visit a health professional for guidance.
The first thing you or someone else with an AUD would do to overcome their addiction is to consult a relevant doctor. Simply conveying that you have an alcohol addiction will not suffice to start the treatment. The doctor will diagnose your condition first and then refer you to the relevant professionals to help with your recovery process. The fundamental steps that are followed during a typical diagnosis procedure are:
- The doctor will develop a casual conversation with you to assess your current condition. He/she will also inquire about your drinking habit, associated disorders, and your overall health. At certain times, the doctor might also seek your permission to talk to your friends or family about your addiction. This might be necessary to identify the gravity of your addiction, as it is normal for you to underestimate your condition.
- The doctor will perform or ask you to undergo a physical examination. The goal of this examination is to identify the physical signs that might hint at an alcohol problem.
- You will be asked to complete a psychological evaluation that will question you about your symptoms, behaviors, and thoughts.
- The doctor will then use The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders fifth-edition on you. This is most often used to diagnose any mental health complications.
The procedures mentioned above are the typical ones that are used to diagnose any addiction problems. However, it is entirely reasonable for healthcare facilities to follow different procedures or to follow the above with a few other procedures. After the diagnosis results indicate that you have an AUD, the doctor will refer you to one of the treatment options as follows:
- Detoxification – for individuals with a severe type of AUD, detox might be the first step towards recovery. Here, you will be put through a treatment that is medically managed to stop your drinking habit and to give your body enough time to get rid of the addictive substance. This usually takes around two to seven days and might require you to take in sedatives to prevent agonizing withdrawal symptoms and cravings for the substance.
- Psychological counseling or therapies – for an individual suffering from AUD, stopping the drinking habit is only part of the recovery program. Certain psychological aspects of your life would have also been damaged due to your addiction, and counseling and therapies aim to treat them. These are mostly provided by psychologists, social workers, or counselors and might consist of individual or group counseling or therapy, family therapy, or couples therapy. Here, the professionals might teach you some crucial tools to help you change the behaviors that make you relapse back into the drinking habit, deal with stress, and set goals towards sobriety and achieve them.
- Medications – Since alcohol use disorder is a disease; certain medications are also used as part of a typical AUD treatment process. Although these medications will not, in any essence, cure the addiction, they will make drinking less enjoyable by generating feelings of nausea and headaches so that you will stop consuming it eventually in the future. A few of the commonly used medications for alcohol use disorders are Disulfiram, Naltrexone, and Acamprosate. Disulfiram will make you sick when you consume alcohol. Naltrexone will prevent the “high” feeling that you get from drinking, and Acamprosate will help you deal with cravings.
- Continuing support – a good treatment program will not just stop after you complete the necessary program. It will also extend its support after the treatment period to ensure that you stay sober, manage relapses, and cope with the lifestyle changes. This support may include medical and psychological care and can be provided through support groups.
How do alcohol use disorders affect people?
While some research indicates that small amounts of alcohol can have beneficial cardiovascular effects, it is also highly acknowledged that heavy drinking and binge drinking habits could lead to addiction and other related health problems. Short-term effects of abusive drinking habits include memory loss, hangovers, and blackouts. And long term effects of drinking may include stomach ailments, heart problems, cancer, brain damage, severe memory loss, and liver disease such as liver cirrhosis.
Alcoholism or alcohol dependence doesn’t just affect the person who drinks. In fact, drinking problems can increase your chances of being involved in automobile accidents, unlawful risky, and reckless behaviors that could put your life and the lives of those around you at risk. It could also lead to aggressive behaviors, violence, domestic abuse, family issues, child abuse, and child neglect. Children affected by an alcoholic parent could grow up to have psychological problems that could lead to the abuse of alcohol themselves.
Abusing alcohol can also negatively impact a person’s mental health. The abuse of alcohol can worsen pre-existing mental health disorders or be the cause of developing conditions such as depression and anxiety.
What are the treatments for alcohol use disorder?
Individuals with AUD can benefit from an inpatient or outpatient treatment program, depending on the severity of their addiction and dependence. These treatment centers provide patients with medically assisted treatment in conjunction with behavioral therapy and education on relapse prevention and positive coping skills. These treatment centers also provide patients with access to support groups such as Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) and medical assistance in treating co-occurring disorders.
While outpatient treatment remains ideal for those with a mild form of alcohol dependence or addiction, patients with moderate to severe addiction would require treatment at an inpatient treatment center as they would require medical assistance to help alleviate alcohol withdrawal symptoms and additional support to remain sober.
Patients who complete inpatient and/or outpatient treatment are highly advised to seek further treatment through aftercare support to help maintain recovery.
Is treatment for alcohol use disorder effective?
Receiving treatment for AUD is an effective way to overcome alcohol dependence and prolong sobriety. However, it is vital that we understand the chronic nature of this relapsing disease and understand the need for continuous treatment to maintain recovery.
The chances of relapsing remain high for those who suffer from alcoholism. However, it’s important to simply see it as a temporary setback rather than a failure. According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, experiencing a relapse does not necessarily mean you are unable to recover; it simply means you require additional support and guidance. Understanding your triggers and improving your coping skills during alcoholism treatment can help you be more successful in your journey to recovery.
Your doctor should help you in identifying the best treatment option based on your addiction and will refer to the relevant professionals if the treatment is out of their expertise. If you wish to know more about overcoming alcohol abuse or addiction, feel free to talk to us.