Alcohol Use Disorder
What Is an Alcohol Use Disorder?
When the problematic use of alcohol becomes severe and leads to a number of negative consequences and dysfunctional behaviors, the person is given the diagnosis of an alcohol use disorder. This is a formal diagnosis that describes a series of dysfunctional issues associated with alcohol use.
Because it is a formal diagnosis, there are symptoms that need to be met in order for a diagnosis to be made. The issues and symptoms that lead into a formal diagnosis include the following:
- The person often drinks larger amounts of alcohol, or drinks for a longer period of time, than intended.
- The person spends a great deal of time drinking alcohol, recovering from the effects of alcohol use, or seeking out alcoholic beverages.
- The person repeatedly has cravings for alcohol.
- The person unsuccessfully tries to control alcohol use.
- The person continues to use alcohol despite having personal, career, or financial issues related to its use.
- The person’s alcohol usage results in them not completing major obligations in their personal life, at work, at school, and so forth.
- The person repeatedly uses alcohol in situations where it is dangerous to do so.
- The person gives up or reduces participation in important activities in life as a result of alcohol use.
- The person develops symptoms of physical dependence on alcohol.
In order to qualify for diagnosis of an alcohol use disorder, the individual has to consistently display two or more of these formal diagnostic criteria over a period of one year. Of course, individuals can display more than two symptoms. The severity of the alcohol use disorder is defined by the number of symptoms that the person consistently displays over the course of a year. This combination of symptoms results in the designation of the severity associated with an alcohol use disorder:
- Someone with a mild alcohol use disorder displays 2-3 symptoms consistently over the course of one year. This is consistent with the older notion of a substance abuse or alcohol abuse problem.
- Someone with a moderate alcohol use disorder consistently displays 4-5 symptoms over the course of one year. This category is transitional between abuse and addiction, depending on the severity of the symptoms.
- Individuals displaying 6 or more of the symptoms consistently over the course of one year fall into the severe alcohol use disorder These individuals would fall into the older conceptualization of an actual formal addiction or alcoholism.
Signs of a Problem
A diagnosis of an alcohol use disorder can only be reliably given by a trained mental health professional. Because individuals with substance use disorders may try to hide their behaviors, deny their substance use, and justify for the ramifications of their substance use issues, many individuals are unable to even realize the extent of the problem. However, there are some qualitative and quantitative changes in behavior that may signify the need to engage in formal treatment.
- Moderate drinking consists of up to one drink a day for women and up to two drinks a day for men.
- Heavy drinking consists of having five or more drinks on the same occasion at least five days out of the month.
- Binge drinking refers to having five or more alcoholic drinks on the same occasion at least one day out of the month.
People who are engaging in binge drinking and heavy drinking are at high risk for symptoms associated with alcohol use disorders. In addition, even individuals who drink according to the above definition of moderate drinking may also experience issues related to an alcohol use disorder.
Some more practical symptoms that can signal a potential problem with alcohol use include:
- Changes in one’s overall disposition or personality, such as irritability, resentfulness, impatience, being overly sensitive to criticism, isolating oneself, and so forth.
- Repeated signs of the person being physically ill, such as flulike symptoms, headaches, nausea, vomiting, nervousness, lack of appetite, etc.
- Sudden change in peer relationships.
- Change in physical appearance, such as no longer attending to hygiene issues or dressing differently.
- Drinking alcohol in situations where it is prohibited or dangerous, such as drinking alcohol at work, during lunch, coming into work hungover, driving while intoxicated, etc.
- Cravings to drink.
- Using alcohol to cope with normal life pressures.
- Obvious signs, such as slurring words, difficulties with motor coordination, continually smelling alcohol the breath, and so forth.
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