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Conditions InDepth: Alcohol Use Disorder (AUD)

AUD is a spectrum of alcohol-related issues that include alcohol misuse, abuse, and dependency. It is not solely characterized by the amount of alcohol that is consumed, but rather the effects drinking habits have on social, physical, and mental health.

AUD includes:

  • Binge drinking—The most common pattern of misuse in the US. Personal harm, and unintended injury and death are the most common problems associated with binge drinking. Despite its dangers, binge drinking typically does not lead to abuse or dependence.
  • Alcohol abuse—A pattern of drinking that continues even though it affects relationships, jobs, or family life.
  • Alcohol dependence—Marked by cravings to drink. These cravings may be accompanied by withdrawal symptoms when drinking is stopped.

AUD can have lasting effects on individuals, families, and society. Uncontrolled, AUD can also lead to legal troubles and serious health complications.


The specific cause of AUD is unknown. It often develops because of a complex combination of factors such as:

  • Genetics
  • Family history
  • Altered brain chemistry that affects how alcohol is processed by the body
  • Problem drinking behaviors learned from family and friends
  • Mood and anxiety disorders
  • Peer and social pressures
  • Emotional stress
  • Pain

Alcohol use disorder. EBSCO DynaMed Plus website. Available at:http://www.dynamed.com/topics/dmp~AN~T115540/Alcohol-use-disorder. Updated April 17, 2018. Accessed April 18, 2018.

Alcohol use disorder. National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism website. Available at: https://www.niaaa.nih.gov/alcohol-health/overview-alcohol-consumption/alcohol-use-disorders. Accessed April 18, 2018.

Alcoholism and alcohol abuse. Helpguide website. Available at: https://www.helpguide.org/articles/addictions/alcoholism-and-alcohol-abuse.htm. Updated April 2018. Accessed April 18, 2018.

Binge drinking. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website. Available at: https://www.cdc.gov/vitalsigns/BingeDrinking/index.html. Updated October 10, 2013. Accessed April 18, 2018.

Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5). American Psychiatric Association; 2013.

Last reviewed March 2018 by EBSCO Medical Review Board Adrian Preda, MD  Last Updated: 4/9/2015