What are the Signs of Alcohol Use Disorder?
Despite all the information and warnings about alcohol, drinking continues to be a major public health issue in the U.S.. Not only do a majority of adults drink on a monthly basis, but nearly 27% of people 18 and older admitted to binge drinking within the past month, according to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism.1
Problematic alcohol use affects millions, but people who engage in excessive alcohol use may not realize they have an issue with the substance. People abusing alcohol and their loved ones would benefit from knowing the signs and symptoms of alcoholism, or an alcohol use disorder (AUD), so they can better identify the problem and respond appropriately.
What is Alcohol Use Disorder?
Alcohol use is normalized in our society, so people may drink to excess regularly without seeing it as being a problem. Over time, though, heavy drinking may begin to impair their lives in numerous ways. When a person continues to drink despite knowing how alcohol is harming their well-being, their careers, their relationships, and other areas of their lives, they may have an alcohol use disorder.
The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5) points to a set of criteria currently used by mental health and addiction professionals to indicate the presence of alcohol use disorder. This criteria includes the following:
- Drinking more than initially planned or for longer periods of time than expected
- Wanting to cut down or stop using alcohol but being unable to despite efforts to do so
- Spending an excessive amount of time acquiring, using, and recovering from alcohol use
- Cravings for alcohol
- No longer upholding responsibilities at work, home, or school due to alcohol use
- Continuing to use despite it causing problems in relationships
- Giving up important hobbies or activities because of alcohol use
- Continuing to use alcohol despite knowing that it is physically hazardous to do so
- Continuing to use alcohol despite knowing that it can cause or exacerbate a physical or psychological problem
- Requiring more alcohol to achieve the desired effects
- Experiencing withdrawal symptoms that can only be remedied by continuing to drink alcohol
While these criteria can help provide you with an idea of whether or not you may have alcohol use disorder, it is important to receive a proper diagnosis from a professional if you have concerns. Doing so can help connect you to the appropriate resources for further care if necessary.
Signs of Alcohol Use Disorder
In addition to the criteria above, there are also several other alcohol addiction signs that a person may exhibit. These signs can vary from person to person, as each individual experiencing this disorder has personal factors that shape what their alcohol use disorder may look like. Some of these signs can include, but are not limited to, the following:2,3
- Changes in eating habits, weight, or sleep
- Decline in grooming habits
- Secretive and/or suspicious behavior
- Getting into legal trouble as a result of alcohol-related issues
- Spending excessive amounts of money on alcohol or activities related to its use
Individuals who are frequently under the influence of alcohol can also exhibit symptoms such as slurred speech, poor coordination, lack of attention, and mood instability.3
Risks of Alcohol Use Disorder
Someone with an untreated alcohol use disorder can find themselves grappling with many unfavorable effects that range from physical and psychological. However, the continued use of alcohol can cause additional risks that can be more severe and potentially even deadly.
Some of the more serious risks that someone with alcohol use disorder can experience can include the following:4
- Problems with the immune system: Chronic drinkers may have an impaired immune system and subsequently be at higher risk of contracting infectious diseases such as tuberculosis and certain types of bacterial pneumonia.
- Brain problems: Alcohol disrupts the brain’s communication pathways, leading to problems with mood, behavior, thinking, and coordination.
- Cardiac complications: Too much drinking can cause weakening of the heart muscle, arrhythmias, hypertension, and stroke.
- Liver and pancreas problems: Heavy drinking over time is associated with the risk of fatty liver, alcoholic hepatitis, and cirrhosis of the liver. It can also cause the pancreas to produce toxins, resulting in painful and dangerous swelling that prevents normal digestion (pancreatitis).
- Increased risk of cancer: Chronic, excessive alcohol consumption can increase the risk of developing several types of cancer, including cancers of the head and neck, esophagus, liver, breast, and colon.
Sadly, some of the chronic physical health effects of alcohol are irreversible; however, others may gradually improve over time with proper treatment and alcohol abstinence, so getting into treatment as soon as possible is extremely important for your health if you are still drinking heavily.5
What Happens in Alcohol Rehab?
Alcohol rehab can offer a variety of different treatment approaches for patients depending on their own unique needs. For some patients who are struggling with alcohol addiction, the first step in their recovery is the process of medical detox. This is because withdrawing from alcohol can be challenging to endure and sometimes even life-threatening. In alcohol rehab, a team of mental health and medical professionals work together to provide each patient with the appropriate services so that they can safely and effectively detox from alcohol without being sidetracked by common withdrawal symptoms like nausea, anxiety, and problems sleeping.7
Since detox really focuses on mitigating the immediate medical risks of withdrawal, your treatment team can recommend a course of care that best fits your additional symptoms, level of outside supports, and lifestyle once you have completed detox.8 Behavioral therapeutic interventions are often needed to fully address the thoughts, feelings, and behaviors that contribute to excessive alcohol use.9 Therefore, therapy for alcohol issues is offered in in several inpatient alcohol rehab, residential, and outpatient settings.
The most effective treatments are ones that focus on each aspect of your life rather than your addiction alone. Therefore, your treatment may include:9
- Individual, group, and family therapy.
- Support groups.
- Drug education classes and skills-building exercises.
- Educational/vocational programs to help you receive schooling or job opportunities.
- Assistance with childcare or parenting skills.
- Medical care for health maintenance and treatment for any pertinent physical health needs.
Additionally, many programs also offer medication-assisted treatment to help you achieve lasting recovery if necessary. Some medications used in the treatment of alcohol addiction include:9
- Acamprosate (Campral) – Helps to prevent relapse by lessening cravings and urges to drink.
- Disulfiram (Antabuse) – A medication that triggers unpleasant symptoms like nausea and vomiting when the user drinks alcohol while taking it.
- Naltrexone – A drug that blocks the rewarding effects of alcohol to decrease continued drinking behavior.
Your need for detox, what levels of care are best for you, and if medication is something that can improve your recovery are all factors that are best discussed with your treatment team.
Alcohol Rehab in California
If you are struggling with an addiction to alcohol, know that you do not need to go through this alone. At our alcohol rehab in Orange County, we can help you start addiction treatment right away. We will connect you with one of our admissions navigators who can offer you compassionate, informed answers to all of your questions, including those regarding the levels of addiction rehab we offer, using insurance to pay for rehab, and other rehab payment options.
Get started on your recovery right now by having your insurance verified with us. Simply fill out our secure online and get results within minutes.
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