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What is Alcohol Use Disorder?

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What is an Alcohol Use Disorder?

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Alcohol Addiction Rehab » What is an Alcohol Use Disorder?

Are you struggling with an alcohol use disorder? Moreover, have you heard people use the term to describe problematic drinking behaviors? If so, you may require proven treatment and rehab at a professional addiction rehab center.

Alcohol use disorder (AUD) is a chronic, relapsing condition characterized by an inability to stop or control alcohol use despite negative social, health, or occupational consequences.(1) Some common terms used to refer to alcohol use disorder include alcohol addiction, alcohol abuse, alcohol dependence, or alcoholism. 

Clinicians categorize alcohol use disorder as mild, moderate, or severe depending on the extent of a person’s drinking behaviors. They use criteria outlined in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders to determine the severity of a person’s diagnosis.(2) Additionally, excessive alcohol use consistent with AUD causes serious and sometimes lasting changes to the brain.

Although there is no cure for alcohol use disorder, the condition is treatable with the right care. Recognizing and treating AUD early is the most effective intervention. Relapse is always a possibility, similar to other chronic conditions like diabetes or heart disease, but ongoing work can help people achieve sustained recovery. 

What are the stages of alcohol use disorder?

Alcohol use disorder is a progressive condition meaning it gets worse as time passes. Drinking usually starts as an enjoyable way to connect and spend time with friends and family. However, as someone on the way to developing an AUD continues drinking, they shift from social reasons for drinking to psychological reasons. Over time they begin losing control of their drinking and start progressing through the stages of alcohol use disorder.

  • Pre-Alcoholic Stage: The pre-alcoholic stage is difficult to identify because it occurs before drinking is ever a problem. People in this stage drink regularly or heavily and often use alcohol to relax or unwind. Not everyone in this stage progresses into alcoholism; some remain in the heavy drinking/pre-alcoholic stage while others move into the next stage of AUD.
  • Early-Stage Alcoholism: Early-stage alcoholism is the point when people begin drinking both regularly and heavily. They may black out occasionally but they still believe they’re having a good time. Most people in this stage don’t realize that alcohol is becoming a problem even if it’s evident to others around them.
  • Middle Alcoholic Phase: The middle alcoholic phase is when a person’s drinking problem becomes even more serious. Some may still be able to hide their drinking from their loved ones but they are rapidly losing control of their alcohol consumption. People in this stage need more alcohol to achieve the desired effect and may show some physical signs like bloating, redness, shaking, and sweating. Some also drink in situations they shouldn’t, such as at work, while driving, or while taking care of their kids.
  • End-Stage Alcoholism: End-stage alcoholism is when the long-term effects of heavy alcohol use become apparent. At this point, people have often tried and failed to cut back on or quit drinking. Their priorities shift as they prioritize alcohol more and more. They may have lost their job, possessions, or even their family but continue to drink. People with end-stage alcoholism often require specialized treatment to overcome their AUD.

Understanding the Mechanics of an Alcohol Use Disorder

What are the dangers of too much alcohol?

Alcohol is a tolerable substance when used in moderation but there are many dangers associated with heavy long-term use. Some of the harmful effects of excessive alcohol use include:

  • High blood pressure, stroke, heart disease, liver disease, or digestive problems
  • Cancer (throat, esophagus, mouth, breast, liver, colon, or rectum).
  • Weakened immune system
  • Memory or learning problems
  • Mental health problems, like depression or anxiety
  • Familial struggles
  • Work-related problems
  • Unemployment
  • Alcohol dependence or alcohol use disorder

What are the symptoms of alcohol use disorder?

How do I know if I have an alcohol use disorder (AUD)?

Clinicians diagnose alcohol use disorder using the criteria outlined in the DSM-5.(3) You may have an alcohol use disorder if you:

  • Drink greater quantities or for longer periods than you mean to
  • Try cutting back on or quitting drinking but find you aren’t able to
  • Spend a lot of time drinking or being sick because of your drinking
  • Experience cravings, or feeling like you need a drink so badly you can’t focus on anything else
  • Notice that your drinking interferes with work, school, or caring for your family
  • Continue drinking despite the trouble it causes with your friends or family
  • Cut back or give up on activities you enjoy so you can drink more
  • Find yourself in dangerous situations, such as driving, swimming, operating machinery, or having unsafe sex, because of your drinking
  • Continue drinking even if it makes you feel anxious or depressed, makes another health problem worse, or causes blackouts
  • Need to drink more to achieve the effect you want
  • Experience withdrawal symptoms when the effects of alcohol wear off

How common is alcohol use disorder?

Alcohol use disorder is surprisingly more common than you may realize. According to the National Survey on Drug Use and Health, 29.5 million people ages 12 and older, or 10.6% of the population, had an alcohol use disorder in the past year.(4)  

What are the risk factors for alcohol use disorder?

The greatest risk for developing alcohol use disorder depends on how much, how often, and how quickly a person drinks alcohol.(1) People who misuse alcohol, such as binge drinkers or heavy alcohol users, also have a higher likelihood of developing an AUD. Other factors that increase the risk of AUD are:

  • Genetics and family history. Research suggests that genetics are responsible for about 60% of the chances of having an alcohol use disorder. Observing parents’ drinking habits also plays a role.
  • Drinking from an early age. Studies show that among people ages 26 and older, individuals who started drinking before 15 years old were three times likelier to report having an AUD.
  • Mental health conditions. People with psychiatric conditions such as depression, post-traumatic stress disorder, or anxiety are associated with a higher risk of developing an AUD.

How can I prevent alcohol use disorder?

The most effective way to prevent alcohol use disorder is to avoid drinking alcohol. You can decrease your risk of an AUD by limiting the frequency and quantity of alcohol you consume. However, if you find you can’t control your drinking then you may need to ask for help.

What causes alcohol use disorder?

Alcohol use disorder is caused by numerous factors. Research indicates that a combination of genetics and environment is responsible for the development of AUD. However, not everyone who is at risk of alcohol use disorder develops a problem and not everyone who has a problem has past factors. Ultimately, prolonged excessive drinking is the largest cause of alcohol use disorder.

What Are the Types of Treatment for Alcohol Use Disorder?

There are three primary forms of treatment for alcohol use disorder: medications, behavioral treatments, and support groups.(3) The most effective approach involves a combination of at least medication and behavioral treatments, with support groups as needed.

Medications for Alcohol Use Disorder

Medications for alcohol use disorder help people reduce or stop their drinking and prevent relapse. The three medications currently approved for use for alcohol use disorder are acamprosate, disulfiram, and naltrexone.(6) Medications must be prescribed by and taken under the direction of a physician.

Alcohol Use Disorder Behavioral Treatments

Behavioral treatments are the other primary component of alcohol use disorder treatment. They aim to change behavior through counseling using modalities such as cognitive behavior therapy, dialectical behavior therapy, and more.

Alcohol Addiction Support Groups

Addiction support groups are another useful type of treatment for alcohol use disorder. These groups provide support from peers who understand what you’re going through. When combined with other forms of treatment, support groups are a great additional resource.

Enter a Recovery Program that Combines Detox and Rehab

Don’t travel from facility to facility to get help. Instead, work with a center that combines medical and clinical treatment. Specifically, detoxification is the process that breaks your body’s dependence on alcohol. Medical supervision ensures your safety and comfort.

There is pharmacological support that keeps the process pain-free. However, expect this phase of treatment to take five to seven days. It depends on the severity of your alcohol use disorder. In fact, some people might finish detox sooner.

Next, you transition to rehab. Your therapist customizes treatments with your specific needs in mind. For example, possible modalities include:

There Isn’t a Cure for An Alcohol Use Disorder

An alcohol addiction is a disease. It’s chronic, and there’s no cure. Instead, you learn to manage the condition. You recognize triggers and situations that would typically cause you to reach for a drink.

If you believe that you’ve developed an alcohol use disorder, it’s time to get help. In fact, you don’t have to continue suffering from a habit that you don’t want any longer. At Silver Pines Treatment Center, caring therapists welcome you into a home-like environment where you can heal. Call 267-719-8689 today to schedule an intake interview.



  1. National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. (2023). Understanding Alcohol Use Disorder.
  2. National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. (2021). Alcohol Use Disorder: A Comparison Between DSM-IV and DSM-5.
  3. National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. (2023). Treatment for Alcohol Problems: Finding and Getting Help.
  4. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. (2022). 2021 National Survey on Drug Use and Health.
  5. American Psychological Association. (2012). Understanding alcohol use disorders and their treatment.
  6. American Family Physician. (2016). Medications for Alcohol Use Disorder.

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