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What Is Alcohol Use Disorder?

Alcohol addiction also known as alcohol use disorder (AUD) also referred to as alcohol abuse, is a chronic relapsing brain disease characterized by compulsive alcohol use, loss of control over alcohol intake, and a negative emotional state when not using. AUD embodies a broad spectrum that includes both alcoholism and alcohol abuse and is a condition that can vary in severity: mild, moderate, or severe.

The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 5th Edition (DSM-5) defines alcohol use disorder as a problematic pattern of alcohol use leading to clinically significant impairment or distress. This condition is identified by the presence of at least two of eleven specific criteria within a 12-month period.


These criteria include:

  1. Alcohol is often taken in larger amounts or over a longer period than was intended.
  2. There is a persistent desire or unsuccessful efforts to cut down or control alcohol use.
  3. A great deal of time is spent in activities necessary to obtain alcohol, use alcohol, or recover from its effects.
  4. Craving, or a strong desire or urge to use alcohol.
  5. Recurrent alcohol use resulting in a failure to fulfill major role obligations at work, school, or home.
  6. Continued alcohol use despite having persistent or recurrent social or interpersonal problems caused or exacerbated by the effects of alcohol.
  7. Important social, occupational, or recreational activities are given up or reduced because of alcohol use.
  8. Recurrent alcohol use in situations in which it is physically hazardous.
  9. Alcohol use is continued despite knowledge of having a persistent or recurrent physical or psychological problem that is likely to have been caused or exacerbated by alcohol.
  10. Tolerance, as defined by either of the following: a) A need for markedly increased amounts of alcohol to achieve intoxication or desired effect, b) A markedly diminished effect with continued use of the same amount of alcohol.
  11. Withdrawal, as manifested by either of the following: a) The characteristic withdrawal syndrome for alcohol, b) Alcohol (or a closely related substance, such as a benzodiazepine) is taken to relieve or avoid withdrawal symptoms.

Furthermore, Alcohol Use Disorder results in significant distress and/or impairment in social, occupational, or other important areas of functioning. It is also associated with increased mortality, high healthcare costs, and significant societal burden. Notably, the pathophysiology of AUD involves alterations in many neurotransmitter systems, but the exact mechanisms are complex and not fully understood. The disease course is influenced by a combination of genetic, environmental, and developmental factors.

Despite its severity, AUD is treatable with a comprehensive approach that includes pharmacotherapy, behavioral interventions, and mutual support groups.

How Can You Tell If You Have A Problem With Alcohol? (Self Assessment)

To determine whether you meet diagnostic criteria for mild, moderate, or severe AUD, consider the following questions about your alcohol use over the past year:

  1. Were there times when you drank more, or for a longer period, than you planned?
  2. Did you try – unsuccessfully – to cut down or quit drinking?
  3. Did you spend time managing the effects of drinking, such as hangovers or feeling sick?
  4. Have you experienced strong cravings for alcohol?
  5. Has drinking had a negative impact on your home, work, or education?
  6. If you answered yes to question (5), did you keep drinking anyway?
  7. Have you stopped activities you used to love, in order to drink – or manage hangovers – instead?
  8. Have you engaged in risky behavior, such as driving under the influence?
  9. Have you kept drinking even though it causes physical, psychological, and emotional discomfort?
  10. Have you had to drink more to get the same effect?
  11. Have you had a drink to avoid symptoms such as trouble sleeping, shakiness, anxiety, irritability, or depression?

How to score yourself:

  • If you answer yes to 2-3 questions, you meet the criteria for mild AUD.
  • If you answer yes to 4-5 questions, you meet the criteria for moderate AUD.
  • If you answer yes to 6 or more questions, you meet the criteria for severe AUD.

We share this here to help you understand your level of risk, understand how addiction professionals arrive at a diagnosis for AUD, and help you decide if you need to seek treatment for your alcohol use.

What Is Evidence-Based Treatment & Rehab for Alcohol Use Disorder?

Research shows the most effective way to treat problem drinking is with an integrated, individualized plan that includes lifestyle changes, therapy, counseling, community support programs, and in some cases, medication. All aspects of the disordered alcohol use must be addressed: the biological, the psychological, and the social.

At The Ridge, we treat the entire person. That’s what we mean when we say our approach is holistic for alcohol rehab. We welcome you to our treatment community with open arms. We administer a full medical and psychiatric evaluation. We get to know who you are, learn about your goals for treatment, and identify your strengths and challenge areas. Then we collaborate with you to create a treatment plan that addresses your immediate needs and gives you the tools you need to begin your path to lifelong recovery.

Length of Alcohol Rehabilitation Center Treatment

The pace of recovery from drug addiction varies between individuals, so there is no set length of treatment. Nevertheless, research has shown that positive outcomes are dependent on sufficient treatment duration.

Typically, treatment programs lasting less than 90 days are not very effective for residential or outpatient treatment, and treatment of longer duration is recommended for better outcomes.

The key factor to keep in mind is that positive outcomes are contingent on adequate treatment length. Treatment dropout is a common challenge for treatment programs, so motivational techniques that help keep clients engaged will also improve outcomes.

Factors Affecting Rehabilitation Timeline

The duration of stay at an alcohol addiction rehab center is influenced by several factors, including:

  • Length of addiction period – Clients who have had alcohol use disorders for an extended period of time typically require longer stays at the alcohol rehabilitation center.
  • Client’s age – Age also plays a role, although this factor is largely dependent on other factors such as the length of addiction and the use of other drugs.
  • Use of other drugs with alcohol – Individuals with co-addictions typically require longer stays in alcohol addiction rehab as addiction becomes stronger and more difficult to address when multiple drugs are abused.
  • Mental health disorders – When both mental health disorders and alcoholism are present, it usually results in a longer stay in an alcohol treatment center as different therapy is required.

How Does Alcoholism Develop?

Alcohol use is so widespread that it’s easy to develop an addiction without seeing it coming. There are many different types of drinkers, including millions of Americans socialize with alcohol, drinking at parties, dinners, and at events. Binge drinking is often the center of the culture at some colleges and high schools.  For many people, drinking alcohol responsibly is possible. However, some people are genetically predisposed to alcoholism.

Alcoholism and Age

The effects of alcohol use and the risks associated with it change throughout a person’s lifespan and vary between different age groups. Age is one of many factors that can impact intervention and treatment through alcohol rehab facilities and alcoholism treatment programs.

College students and young adults who engage in binge drinking are more prone to alcohol poisoning, drunk-driving incidents, and assaults. On the other hand, older individuals who consume alcohol, even in moderation, while taking certain medications, risk harmful drug interactions.

The patterns of alcohol use may also vary throughout a person’s life. For instance, adolescents who start drinking before the age of fourteen are more likely to develop a severe alcohol problem later in life.

It’s crucial to comprehend the impact of alcohol on individuals across different life stages when developing strategies for diagnosing, treating, and preventing alcohol abuse and related problems.

Alcohol use disorders are the most widespread substance use disorders in the United States among all age groups, highlighting the severity of the issue and the ongoing need for alcohol addiction rehab facilities and alcoholism treatment programs.

  • In 2020, 40.3 million people aged twelve or older (14.5% of the population) had a substance use disorder in the past year, including 28.3 million with alcohol use disorder and 18.4 million with an illicit drug use disorder. Respondents who used alcohol for six or more days in the past twelve months and met two or more of the DSM-5 criteria for alcohol use disorder were classified as having alcohol use disorder.
  • In 2020, 10.2% of people aged twelve or older (28.3 million people) had a past-year alcohol use disorder. The highest percentage of people with past-year alcohol use disorder was among young adults aged eighteen to twenty-five (15.6% or 5.2 million people), followed by adults aged twenty-six or older (10.3% or 22.4 million people), and then by adolescents aged twelve to seventeen (2.8% or 712,000 people).

Do Genetics Play A Role In The Development Of Alcoholism?

Genetics plays a significant role in the development of alcoholism, which is a chronic disease characterized by an intense craving for alcohol, difficulty controlling alcohol consumption, and negative consequences resulting from drinking. Studies have found that certain genetic variations can increase an individual’s risk for alcohol addiction by influencing their sensitivity to the effects of alcohol and regulating the brain’s reward and stress pathways. While genetics is just one piece of the puzzle regarding alcoholism, understanding its interplay with other risk factors can inform prevention and treatment efforts, including targeted approaches that consider an individual’s genetic profile. Recent advances in genomics may lead to gene therapies that reduce the risk of alcohol use disorder.

What Are The Long-Term Effects of Alcoholism?

Long-term alcohol use can have a serious impact on the brain and body. This is especially true with heavy drinking habits. In general, the more heavily a person drinks over the long term, the greater the risk of negative side effects increases.

Over the long term, heavy drinking can cause serious physical complications like:

  • Damage to brain cells, lowering brain mass.
  • Liver damage.
  • Stomach and intestinal ulcers.
  • High blood pressure.
  • Decrease in male sperm production.
  • Low levels of vitamins and minerals like iron and vitamin B.
  • A higher risk of some cancers.

How Many People Abuse Alcohol?

Alcohol is the most commonly abused substance in the United States.  Alcohol causes the brain to release unnaturally large amounts of the pleasure-causing chemical dopamine. After prolonged alcohol abuse, the brain begins to cease natural dopamine production.  Soon, the only way an individual who abuses alcohol can feel any sense of pleasure is by drinking.

Alcohol Abuse

What Are The Symptoms Of Alcohol Abuse?

Alcohol abuse can lead to a number of different problems. It can damage your liver, cause problems with your digestion, and make you more susceptible to infection. It can also lead to weight gain, high blood pressure, and an increased risk for certain types of cancer. In addition, alcohol abuse can impact your mental health, causing anxiety, depression, and memory problems. If you or someone you know is struggling with alcohol abuse, it is important to seek help. There are a variety of treatment options available, and with the right support, recovery is possible.

What Are The Withdrawal Symptoms Like For Alcohol Abuse?

Alcohol withdrawal can be difficult to overcome and in some cases, it can result in seizures and even be fatal. It’s crucial to receive medical support from trained professionals during alcohol withdrawal to ensure a safe and comfortable detox experience and manage withdrawal symptoms with necessary medications. Rehabilitation facilities and behavioral therapies also play a vital role in the treatment of alcohol use disorder, helping individuals develop healthy habits and coping strategies for maintaining sobriety.

Alcohol Abuse And Violence

Although the link between alcohol abuse and violence is well established, it is important to remember that the vast majority of people who drink alcohol do not become violent. However, alcohol does lower inhibitions and increase impulsive behavior, which can lead to arguments and fights. In addition, alcohol abuse is often associated with other factors that can increase the risk of violence, such as poverty, mental illness, and exposure to violence in the home. Therefore, it is important to address all of these factors when working to prevent violence. By reducing alcohol abuse and addressing the underlying causes of violence, we can create a safer world for everyone.

Alcohol Abuse And Mental Illness

Alcohol abuse and mental illness are often interconnected. People who suffer from conditions like anxiety and depression may turn to alcohol as a way to self-medicate, numbing the symptoms of their mental illness. In turn, chronic drinking can worsen the symptoms of mental illness, leading to a spiral of abuse that becomes increasingly difficult to break free from. It’s estimated that nearly 30% of people with Alcohol Use Disorder also suffer from some form of mental illness. This high rate of co-occurrence is likely due to the fact that both alcohol abuse and mental illness are stress-related disorders. People who suffer from either condition are often under a great deal of stress, which can trigger episodes of abuse or exacerbation of symptoms. The link between alcohol abuse and mental illness is complex, but it’s clear that they often occur together. Treatment for both conditions is essential for a person to recover fully.

Alcohol Abuse and Pregnancy

It is well-known that alcohol abuse can have serious negative consequences, both for the individual and for society as a whole. However, many people are unaware of the dangers of alcohol abuse during pregnancy. Alcohol is a teratogen, which means that it can cause birth defects and other problems in developing fetuses. Fetal alcohol syndrome is a condition that can cause intellectual disability, physical deformities, and behavioral problems. Women who abuse alcohol during pregnancy are also at increased risk for miscarrying or delivering a baby prematurely. In addition, maternal alcohol abuse can lead to neonatal abstinence syndrome, a condition in which newborns experience withdrawal symptoms due to their exposure to alcohol in the womb. Because of the potential risks, it is important for women to abstain from alcohol completely if they are pregnant or trying to become pregnant.

Alcohol Abuse In The United States

According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, alcohol consumption is associated with a range of short- and long-term health effects. In the United States, alcohol use is a significant contributor to premature death and disability. Excessive drinking is responsible for approximately 88,000 deaths each year and is a factor in more than 200 diseases and injury conditions. Alcohol abuse also increases the risk of developing cardiovascular disease, high blood pressure, and stroke. The economic cost of excessive drinking in the United States is estimated to be $223 billion per year. These costs are attributable to lost productivity, healthcare expenses, criminal justice system costs, and property damage. Excessive alcohol consumption is a major public health problem in the United States.

The NSDUH reports that of the 140 million people in the U.S. who drink regularly, almost 15 million meet the criteria for alcohol use disorder. Of those 15 million, less than 10 percent receive treatment for their disorder. Mental health and addiction professionals call this the treatment gap. At The Ridge, we commit to closing the treatment gap. We can’t wave a magic wand and help millions of people overnight. We can help one person at a time, one day at a time – and that includes you.

What Does Alcohol Use Disorder Affect?

Alcohol use disorder (AUD) affects numerous aspects of an individual’s life, as well as the lives of those around them. Here are some of the primary areas impacted:

  1. Physical Health: Chronic alcohol use can lead to severe health complications, including:
    1. liver diseases (such as cirrhosis and alcoholic hepatitis)
    2. cardiovascular problems and blood sugar (DIABETES)
    3. digestive issues
    4. neurological and brain complications
    5. It can also weaken the immune system, making the body more susceptible to diseases.
  2. Mental Health: AUD is frequently comorbid with mental health disorders like depression, anxiety, and bipolar disorder. Alcohol can exacerbate these mental health conditions, making them more difficult to manage. Furthermore, alcohol abuse can lead to cognitive impairment and is associated with an increased risk of suicide.
  3. Brain Function: Alcohol affects the brain’s structure and function, leading to changes in behavior, mood, and cognitive faculties. Long-term abuse can lead to permanent brain damage.
  4. Relationships: AUD can strain relationships with family members, friends, and colleagues. It can lead to domestic violence, marital conflicts, isolation, and divorce.
  5. Work or School: Alcohol abuse can affect job performance and academic achievement. It can lead to decreased productivity, missed work or school, and job loss or expulsion.
  6. Legal Issues: Alcohol impairs judgment and increases risk-taking behaviors, which can result in legal problems such as driving under the influence (DUI), public disorderliness, or criminal activities.
  7. Financial Strain: The cost of purchasing alcohol, coupled with the potential loss of employment, medical expenses, and potential legal fees, can lead to financial instability.
  8. Risk of Addiction to Other Substances: Those with AUD are at a higher risk of developing other substance use disorders, including addiction to illicit drugs or prescription medication.
  9. Overall Quality of Life: AUD can negatively impact overall life satisfaction and well-being. It can lead to a loss of interest in activities once enjoyed, problems with housing, and a decrease in life expectancy.

It’s important to note that the severity and range of effects will vary depending on individual circumstances, including the severity of the AUD, the individual’s overall health, and their social support system.

You Don’t Have to Face Addiction Alone

If you have a problem with drinking, The Ridge can help. We have several treatment programs for alcohol abuse disorder, including residential treatment, outpatient treatment programs, and treatment programs for licensed professionals. Learn more about our treatment options for alcohol abuse here.

This questionnaire is not a formal assessment and does not take the place of an evaluation for AUD administered by a medical professional.






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