Alcohol Use Disorder

alcohol use disorder

Verified by World Mental Healthcare Association

Alcohol use disorder (AUD) is a chronic medical condition characterized by a problematic pattern of alcohol consumption that can have significant negative impacts on a person’s health, social life, and relationships. AUD affects millions of people worldwide and is a leading cause of disability and premature death.

What Is Alcohol Use Disorder?

Alcohol use disorder, like many other substance use disorders, is a chronic and sometimes 1 relapsing illness that stems from changes in the brain. Consequently, individuals afflicted with this disorder are susceptible to relapse, even after prolonged periods of abstaining from alcohol.

Alcohol use disorder ranges from mild to severe and can be challenging to manage without proper intervention. It is a disease that affects people of all ages, genders, races, and socioeconomic backgrounds.

Additionally, prolonged and severe alcohol use disorder can result in various alcohol-induced disorders, such as alcohol-induced sleep disorder, alcohol-induced sexual dysfunction, and alcohol-induced liver disease. It is important to note that alcohol is responsible 2 for 5.1% of the global burden of disease and injury.

Types of Alcohol Induced Disorders

Symptoms Of Alcohol Use Disorder

If someone has experienced at least two 3 of the following in the last year, he or she may have mild AUD:

  1. Drinking more alcohol or for a longer time than intended.
  2. Difficulty cutting down or controlling alcohol use.
  3. Spending a lot of time drinking or recovering from its effects.
  4. Craving or a strong desire to drink.
  5. Continuing to drink despite negative consequences, such as health problems or relationship issues.
  6. Giving up important activities to drink or recover from its effects.
  7. Drinking even when it is physically dangerous, such as driving under the influence.
  8. Developing a tolerance to alcohol means that more alcohol is needed to achieve the same effect.
  9. Experiencing withdrawal symptoms when not drinking or when trying to quit.
  10. Neglecting responsibilities due to drinking.
  11. Engaging in risky behaviors while or after drinking.

Causes Of Alcohol Use Disorder

The alcohol use disorder causes are complex and multifaceted, involving a combination of the following risk factors 4 such as:

  • A family history of alcoholism can increase the risk of developing AUD.
  • Growing up in an environment where alcohol use is normalized or encouraged can increase the risk of developing AUD.
  • Experiencing high levels of stress can increase the risk of using alcohol as a coping mechanism.
  • Pressure from friends or social circles to drink can increase the risk of developing AUD.
  • Easy access to alcohol can increase the risk of developing AUD, particularly in those with a genetic or environmental predisposition.

Specific mental health factors 5 that can lead to alcohol use disorder. Here are some examples:

  • People with anxiety may use alcohol as a way to avoid or escape their anxiety triggers. For example, someone with social anxiety may drink before a social event to reduce their anxiety.
  • People with depression may use alcohol as a way to cope with their negative emotions or to feel better temporarily.
  • People with PTSD may use alcohol to numb their emotional pain or to cope with trauma-related symptoms such as nightmares or flashbacks.
  • People with ADHD may use alcohol to self-medicate and alleviate symptoms such as impulsivity, restlessness, and hyperactivity.

Mental Health Impact Of Alcohol Use Disorder

Alcohol use disorder (AUD) can have a significant impact 6 on mental health, increasing the risk of developing a range of mental health disorders, including:

1. Depression

AUD can lead to changes in brain chemistry that can contribute to the development of depression, a mood disorder characterized by feelings of sadness 7, hopelessness, and loss of interest in activities.

Read More About Depression Here

2. Anxiety

Excessive alcohol consumption can trigger or exacerbate 8 anxiety, a condition characterized by excessive worry and fear.

Read More About Anxiety Here

3. Bipolar Disorder

AUD can increase the risk of developing 9 bipolar disorder, a mood disorder characterized by episodes of depression and mania.

Read More About Bipolar Disorder Here

4. Schizophrenia

Excessive alcohol consumption can increase the risk of developing schizophrenia 10, a severe mental health disorder characterized by disordered thinking, hallucinations, and delusions.

Read More About Schizophrenia Here

5. Sleep

Alcohol use disorder effect disrupted sleep 11 patterns, including difficulty falling asleep, waking up frequently during the night, and waking up feeling unrefreshed in the morning.

This disorder can have a significant impact on an individual’s physical and mental health, leading to daytime fatigue, decreased productivity, and an increased risk of accidents or injuries.

Alcohol use disorder (AUD) can have a significant impact 12 on physical health, increasing the risk of a range of medical conditions, including:

1. Liver Disease

Excessive alcohol consumption can cause a variety of liver diseases, including fatty liver, alcoholic hepatitis, and cirrhosis.

2. Cardiovascular Disease

AUD can increase the risk of high blood pressure, irregular heartbeat, stroke, and other cardiovascular problems.

3. Gastrointestinal Problems

AUD can cause inflammation and bleeding in the digestive system, leading to stomach ulcers, internal bleeding, and other gastrointestinal problems.

4. Neurological Disorders

Chronic alcohol consumption can lead to various neurological problems, including Wernicke-Korsakoff syndrome 13, a disorder characterized by confusion, memory loss, and other cognitive issues.

5. Cancer

AUD can increase the risk of developing certain types of cancer, including liver, breast, and colon cancer.

6. Pancreas

Heavy drinking can also damage the pancreas, causing pancreatitis, a painful and potentially life-threatening condition.

7. Sexual Dysfunction

Alcohol use disorder (AUD) can contribute to sexual dysfunction 14 by causing erectile dysfunction and infertility in the long term.

Alcohol Use Disorder Diagnosis

Diagnosis of Alcohol use disorder involves evaluating an individual’s alcohol consumption patterns and identifying the steps involved in AUD:

1. Initial Screening

In this phase, a healthcare professional would ask individuals about their alcohol use and related problems to determine if they are at risk for AUD. This may involve using a brief questionnaire or assessment tool 15 such as the alcohol use disorders identification test.

2. Comprehensive Evaluation

If the initial screening indicates a risk for AUD, the healthcare professional would go for conducting a more comprehensive evaluation. This may involve a detailed interview to gather information about the individual’s alcohol use and the probability of associated physical, social, or psychological problems.

The healthcare professional may also perform a physical exam 16 such as a blood test to assess the probability of medical complications related to alcohol use.

3. Diagnostic Criteria for Alcohol Use Disorder

The diagnostic criteria are outlined in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition (DSM-5) to determine if the individual meets the diagnostic criteria 3 for AUD. The DSM-5 criteria include symptoms, and to be diagnosed with AUD, an individual must have at least two of these symptoms within a 12-month period.

4. Severity

A healthcare professional would also determine the severity 17 of the AUD, such as- mild, moderate, or severe, depending on the number of symptoms present together.

5. Differential Diagnosis

The healthcare professional would also consider other potential causes of the individual’s symptoms and behaviors, such as other forms of substance use 18 disorders or medical conditions, to ensure an accurate diagnosis.

Treatment For Alcohol Use Disorder

Treatment of Alcohol Use Disorder (AUD) typically involves a combination of interventions and approaches, depending on the individual’s specific needs. The goal of treatment 19 is to help individuals achieve and maintain sobriety, improve their physical and mental health conditions, and prevent relapse. Some common treatments form of AUD are:

1. Medication and Hospitalization

Medications can be used to help manage withdrawal symptoms and reduce alcohol cravings. Examples of medications used 20 to treat AUD include benzodiazepines, naltrexone, acamprosate, and disulfiram.

In addition, hospitalization can be an effective treatment option for individuals with chronic alcohol-related disorders. This treatment plan may involve medically supervised detoxification and medication management to alleviate withdrawal symptoms and support the individual’s overall recovery.

2. Behavioral Therapy

Behavioral therapy is a key component of AUD treatment. It involves working with a therapist or counselor to identify and change patterns 21 of behavior and thought processes that may be contributing to alcohol use. Examples of behavioral therapies used to treat AUD include cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT), motivational interviewing, and contingency management.

3. Family Therapy

Family therapy can help individuals with AUD and their family members 22 understand and address the impact of alcohol use on the family. Family therapy can also provide support and education for family members, as well as help improve communication and problem-solving skills.

How To Cope With Alcohol Use Disorder

Coping with alcohol use disorder (AUD) can be a difficult and challenging process, but there are several strategies that can be effective in managing this 23 condition:

  1. Join a support group, such as Alcoholics Anonymous 24, to find a supportive community.
  2. Practice self-care with exercise, healthy eating, and mindfulness techniques.
  3. Find alternative activities to alcohol consumption, such as hobbies or social events.
  4. Build a support network of friends and family members who understand and support recovery efforts.
  5. Avoid high-risk situations that may trigger alcohol use.
  6. Set realistic goals for recovery and track progress to stay motivated.


Alcohol use disorder (AUD) is a serious condition characterized by problematic patterns of alcohol consumption that can lead to significant harm or distress. Symptoms of AUD may include intense cravings, tolerance, withdrawal, and persistent alcohol use despite the negative consequences of other related disorders induced by heavy drinking. Seeking professional help is essential for the proper diagnosis and treatment of AUD.

At A Glance

  1. Alcohol use disorder (AUD) is a serious condition that involves problematic patterns of alcohol consumption.
  2. Alcohol use disorder symptoms may include intense cravings, tolerance, withdrawal, and persistent alcohol use despite negative consequences.
  3. Alcohol use disorder can lead to various physical, psychological, and social problems.
  4. The diagnosis of AUD typically involves evaluating an individual’s history of alcohol use and related symptoms using the criteria outlined in the DSM-5.
  5. Several therapies such as behavioral therapy or family therapy can be used to prevent the related symptoms of alcohol use disorder.
  6. Seeking professional help is crucial for the proper diagnosis and treatment of AUD.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

1. What is the difference between alcohol use disorder and alcoholism?

Alcohol use disorder vs alcoholism are often used interchangeably, but technically, alcohol use disorder is the official diagnosis in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5), while alcoholism is a colloquial term that can encompass various degrees of alcohol misuse.

2. What are the long-term effects of alcohol use disorder?

Long-term effects of alcohol use disorder can include liver disease, cardiovascular disease, neurological damage, and increased risk of certain types of cancer. Additionally, alcohol use disorder can have negative effects on mental health, relationships, employment, and overall quality of life.

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