Alcohol Use Disorder
(AUD; Alcohol Dependence; Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism)
Alcohol use disorder (AUD) is a range of unhealthy drinking behaviors. These include risky drinking, alcohol abuse, and alcohol dependence.
The exact cause is not known. It is thought to be a combination of genetics and the environment.
Things that may raise the risk of this problem are:
- Early alcohol use
- Having parents, siblings, or children who have AUD
- Genetics can affect how the body uses alcohol
- Teens who have parents with an approving attitude towards alcohol
Some people may not have symptoms or may try to hide them from others. People who do have symptoms may have:
- Problems with relationships
- Missing work or school
- Loss of control over drinking
- Craving alcohol
- Needing larger amounts of alcohol to have the same effects
- Physical symptoms when alcohol is stopped, such as:
- Problems sleeping
- Rapid heartbeat
- Perceiving something that is not real
You will be asked about your symptoms and past health. You will also be asked about your alcohol use and the impact it may be having your life. A family member may also be asked these questions. A physical exam will be done. This is often enough to make the diagnosis.
There are no tests to diagnose AUD. More tests may be needed if there are signs of damage from AUD.
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There is no cure for AUD. The goal of treatment is to manage the disorder. This can be done with a combination of counseling, medicine, and social support.
People who quit alcohol can have withdrawal symptoms. This is a set of physical and mental symptoms that can worsen 2 to 3 days after stopping. They tend to be more severe in those who have been drinking heavily. Severe withdrawal may need medical help. A detox center can help people safely withdraw from alcohol. They can also provide support for symptoms.
It can take a long time to recover. Many people need to be treated several times. Treatment may include:
- Therapy to improve coping skills and teach healthier ways to deal with problems
- Group therapy from organizations like Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) to get support from others recovering from AUD
- Medicines to decrease the desire to drink alcohol
The risk of AUD is higher in people who used alcohol when they were children and teens. It may be possible to lower the risk. This may be done by increasing family meals. Mentoring teens may also lower the risk.
Canadian Centre on Substance Abuse
Mental Health Canada
Alcohol use disorder. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at:https://www.dynamed.com/condition/alcohol-use-disorder. Accessed September 3, 2020.
Alcohol withdrawal syndrome. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at:https://www.dynamed.com/condition/alcohol-withdrawal-syndrome. Accessed September 3, 2020.
Day E, Copello A, et al. Assessment and management of alcohol use disorders. BMJ. 2015 Feb 19;350:h715.
Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5). American Psychiatric Association; 2013.
Last reviewed March 2021 by EBSCO Medical Review Board Shawna Grubb, RN Last Updated: 3/19/2021