While drinking alcohol is not necessarily a problem for some people, for others drinking too much can lead to a wide range of consequences. Alcohol-related problems have serious mental, physical and social effects.
People who experience problems from drinking may be diagnosed with an alcohol use disorder (AUD). A survey by the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism found that about 7.2 percent of people in the US, aged 18 and over, had an AUD in 2012. Split by gender, this added up to about 11 million men and close to 6 million women.1
Alcohol Use Disorder
To meet the criteria for an AUD diagnosis, a person must display any two of the 11 points outlined in the same twelve month time frame. Whether the AUD is mild, moderate or severe is based on the number of criteria met.
- Drinking more alcohol or for longer than anticipated
- Wanting to lessen or stop consuming alcohol, but failing
- Spending increasing periods of time drinking or recovering from the effects of alcohol
- Cravings develop for alcohol
- Drinking or suffering from hangovers causes family, job or school problems
- Despite family and friends expressing concern over drinking, it continues
- Pleasurable activities that used to be enjoyed are abandoned
- Entering into risky situations while being inebriated may cause harm or injury
- Having to drink increasingly larger quantities to gain previous effects (tolerance)
- Withdrawal symptoms develop when alcohol conusmption decreases or stops (insomnia, shakiness, irritability, anxiety, depression, nausea, excessive sweating, hallucinations)
There are two types of alcohol use that fall under the diagnosis of AUD:
- Alcohol abuse - Individuals who do not drink regularly, but once they drink, they can't control the amount or how long they drink.
- Alcohol addiction - Individuals who drink alcohol regularly and have developed a tolerance and are dependent on alcohol.
Alcohol Abuse and Alcohol Addiction
Alcohol abuse is a condition of excessive drinking but without physical dependency. Binge drinking, where someone drinks many alcoholic beverages to the point of inebriation in one sitting, is one type of alcohol abuse. Another example is excessive drinking leading to blackouts. A blackout is when an individual loses recall of events while under the influence of alcohol.
Alcohol addiction, commonly called alcoholism, is the condition of consuming alcohol regularly and includes symptoms of alcohol dependence. A sign people have an alcohol addiction is when they try to stop or decrease their alcohol intake, withdrawal symptoms develop.2
Signs of alcoholism include:
- Alcohol occupies the thoughts
- Physical cravings for alcohol occur
- No control over how often or how much alcohol is consumed
- Withdrawal symptoms appear when attempts to decrease or stop alcohol consumption are made
- More alcohol is needed to achieve the same effects
When individuals have an alcohol use disorder, it's important to seek professional treatment. Alcohol use disorder is a psychological as well as physical condition needing comprehensive treatment to address all issues. Alcohol addiction is a disease that needs special care, starting with a medical detox to wean someone off alcohol safely by preventing potentially serious and sometimes fatal withdrawal symptoms. Consult with a high-quality treatment center if you suspect you or someone you know has a serious problem with alcohol.