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Alcohol Addiction (AUD)

Alcohol Addiction or Alcohol Use Disorder (AUD) is referred to by many names. The intensity of the disorder dictates the name of the disorder with which the patient is diagnosed. When diagnosing severity it is important to understand the following terms:

Heavy drinking is defined as routine drinking in excess of 1 drink per day for women and more than 2 drinks a day for men. Binge drinking is 4 drinks or more per day for women and 5 drinks or more for men. These drinks are consumed one after another, or within a short period of time. Alcohol abuse is characterized by an inability to fulfill work, school, and family tasks, and an inability to function in social situations, sometimes accompanied by legal problems and drinking in risky situations (while driving or in other focused activities) Alcohol dependence, also known as alcoholism, is the most severe form of this disorder. It is characterized by compulsive drinking, and the absence of control over one’s drinking, a preoccupation with and increased tolerance to alcohol, and possibly symptoms of withdrawal.

Long-term effects include stomach and heart problems cancer, brain damage, memory loss, and liver cirrhosis. Men are more likely to develop alcoholism than women, but women suffer more health problems, even with lower consumption patterns. Alcohol addiction significantly affects families. 50% of Americans have at least one relative suffering from alcohol addiction. Families of AUD patients are more likely to experience violence and abuse, and children are more likely to suffer physical abuse, sexual abuse and neglect and typically develop psychological problems.

Pregnant women who drink can seriously damage the fetus. Social, genetic, physiological and psychological factors can all predispose a patient to Alcoholism. Some patients suffering from alcohol abuse exhibit psychological traits like impulsiveness, and low self-esteem.

Some people drink to cope with emotional problems, some because of peer pressure. Poverty, physical and sexual abuse all increase the odds of developing alcohol dependence. Genetic factors make a person vulnerable to alcohol dependence. Inherited alcoholism is between 40-60%. But family history doesn't guarantee alcohol problems nor does the absence of drinking problems in your family prevent you from developing a problem. Often others do not understand why alcoholics can’t just use will power to stop drinking. But, alcoholism has little to do with will. Alcoholics feel an uncontrollable need or craving to drink. This need can be as strong as the need for food or water.

What are the symptoms?

The primary symptoms of Alcohol Dependence or Alcoholism are:

  • Recurrent intoxication and craving for alcohol
  • Increased tolerance to alcohol requires more alcohol to become intoxicated
  • Drinking for longer periods in spite of your intent to stop at a certain time
  • Wanting to quit, unsuccessful efforts to cut down or control use
  • Symptoms of withdrawal like shaking, sweating and nausea
  • Significant time spent getting and drinking alcohol, or recovering from effects.
  • Giving up social appointments, work tasks, or pleasurable activities because of drinking
  • Using alcohol in spite of the problems caused by use

Secondary symptoms can include:

  • Mood swings, depression, insomnia, fatigue, anxiety, sexual dysfunction
  • Rapid heart beat, numbness
  • Blackouts, memory loss, Amnesiac episodes
  • Bloating, stomach problems, diarrhea or persistent upset stomach
  • Unexpected interaction with regular medication
  • Poor nutrition, neglect of appearance
  • Frequent falls, accidents
  • Seizures, hallucinations, tremors, unsteady when walking

How is it diagnosed and treated?

Alcohol addiction is a lifelong disease with alternating relapses and remission. Because of the seriousness of this disorder, a careful diagnostic assessment should be completed. Patients often hide their drinking, so it can be hard to diagnose alcoholism until the later stages when behaviors become hard to ignore.

Doctors perform blood work and use a screening instrument to identify the problem. Screening instruments include AUDIT (Alcohol Use Disorders Identification Test) considered the most accurate, the Quantity and Frequency Questionnaire, the CAGE questionnaire, 10-question Brief Michigan Alcoholism Screening Test (BMAST) and TWEAK (Tolerance, Worry about drinking, Eye-opener drinks, Amnesia, Cut down on drinking) consisting of 5 questions.

The type of treatment a patient receives depends on the severity of the condition. Treatment(s) can include:

  • Preoccupation with substance or activity
  • Significant consequences to family, job and lifestyle
  • Withdrawal symptoms when patient attempts to quit
  • Loss of willpower, inability to control behavior or use
  • Increased tolerance to and use of substance or activity

Treatment protocols vary, depending upon the addiction, but in general, medical, educational and social therapeutic modalities are required to address the addiction and the associated and secondary conditions that may exist. Treatments may include one or some of the following therapies:

  • Medications like Antabuse, ReVia, Naltrexone, Acomprostate (as of this date available in Europe only)
  • Family Therapy
  • Alcoholics Anonymous, Ala-Teen, and TSF (12 Step Facilitation)
  • Motivational Enhancement Therapy
  • Psychosocial and coping strategies to help patients understand, anticipate, and avoid relapse.
  • Detoxification in severe cases
  • Cognitive Behavioral Therapy
  • Psychotherapy

Index of Articles


Teenage and Adolescent Drinking: 44.9% of American high school students reported drinking alcohol once or more within a 30 day period. (45.8% of females, 43.8% of males)
Of those, 28.3% reported binge drinking in that period of time (29% male, 27.5% female). 3.7% of those who drank in the previous year were alcohol dependent in the following year.

Adult Drinking

7% to 14% of U.S. will suffer from Alcohol Use Disorder at some point in their lives. 5.9% of U.S. adults report heavy drinking (7.1% male, 4.5% female). About 1 in 3 adult drinkers report binge drinking. 70% of binge drinking episodes occurred in adults 26 and older. 54.9% of U.S adults report drinking at least one drink in the past month. (62.4% men, 47.9% female).

1 in 13 American adults is an alcohol abuser or alcoholic. During the period from 1991 to 2002 the number of people who abuse alcohol or are alcohol dependent rose from 13.8 million to 17.6 million. Alcoholism is one of the most common psychiatric disorders with a prevalence of 8%-14% in American adults.

100,000 Americans die from alcohol-related causes annually. Death from chronic liver disease and cirrhosis: is estimated at 27,257 annually.

Alcohol abuse is more common in Caucasians, than in Hispanics, Blacks, or Asians. Alcohol dependence is more common among Native Americans, Hispanics, and whites than among Asians.

If you are in a crisis please call:
1-800-SUICIDE (784-2433) or
1-800-273-TALK (8255)

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