Alcohol Use Disorder

Medically Reviewed by Dr. K on 15 March 2021

Alcohol Use Disorder

Alcohol use disorder (AUD) is a long-term neurological condition in which you can not suppress or regulate your drinking, despite the fact that it’s affecting your social life, work, and wellbeing.

It’s a spectrum that involves alcohol abuse, which is described as drinking with severe effects on a regular basis. That also involves alcoholism or alcohol dependency, which occurs when you lose control of your drinking. Find out all about the signs and symptoms of alcoholism.

How much alcohol is too much?

All are affected differently by alcohol. However, if you drink too often and too frequently, you increase the risk of illness or accident. Heavy drinking will also damage the liver and cause other health complications, as well as lead to more severe alcohol addiction.

Alcohol should be limited to 14 units a week for both men and women.

Standard drinks and how many units of alcohol they contain are listed below:

  • 1 unit: 25ml of 40% spirit, equivalent to one standard shot of hard liquor
  • 1.5 units: 125ml (one small glass) of 12% red/white/rose/sparkling wine
  • 2.1 units: 175ml (one standard glass) of 12% red/white/rose/sparkling wine
  • 3 units: 250ml (one large glass) of 12% red/white/rose/sparkling wine
  • 2 units: 440ml of 5.5% of beer, ale, lager, or cider
  • 3 units: 568ml of 5.2% (roughly one pint) of beer ale, lager, or cider
  • 9 units: 750ml (one bottle) of 12% red/white/rose/sparkling wine

An uncontrollable need to drink is one of the symptoms of AUD.

  • Having an uncontrollable urge to drink.
  • Having negative feelings whenever you do not drink alcohol.
  • Engaging in high-risk situations.
  • Drinking makes it difficult to do activities you love.
  • Continuing to drink despite the fact that it induces or exacerbates complications.
  • Stop doing important things or do them less frequently.

There are three types of AUD: mild, moderate, and extreme, depending on how many symptoms you have. If one or more of the following claims are valid, you might have AUD:

  • You can’t rest or sleep until you drink.
  • To get going in the morning, you’ll need a drink.
  • You have to drink to be social.
  • Alcohol is a way for you to forget about your emotions.
  • You drive after you’ve had a few drinks.
  • You combine alcohol with prescription drugs.
  • You drink even when you’re pregnant or care for young ones.
  • You don’t tell the truth when loved ones ask how much you drink.
  • You harm people or lose your temper when you drink.
  • It’s difficult for you to recall what you did while intoxicated.
  • You are unable to fulfill your responsibilities because of your drinking.
  • You’ve had disciplinary trouble as a part of your drinking.
  • You tried but failed to stop drinking.
  • You can’t seem to get your mind off of alcohol.
  • You have to drink more and more to feel the effects of alcohol.
  • When you quit drinking for an extended period of time, withdrawal symptoms such as shakiness, fatigue, and difficulty sleeping or suffer seizures

Short and Long Term Effects

And even if the condition is mild, it may have a significant impact on your physical and emotional well-being. AUD also leads to other issues that you try to avoid by drinking. This causes a vicious cycle.

AUD can cause the following symptoms in the short term:

  • Memory loss
  • Hangovers
  • Blackouts

Long-term effects include:

  • Cancer
  • Brain damage
  • Digestive issues
  • Pancreatitis
  • High blood pressure
  • Heart problems
  • Permanent memory loss
  • Cirrhosis – scarring on your liver

You’re also more likely to engage in risky behaviour such as:

  • gambling
  • acts of violence
  • abuse
  • theft
  • risky sexual behaviour
  • abuse of other substances

AUD has an effect on those around you as well. Because of anger issues, aggression, negligence, and addiction, your alcohol can harm your relationships with loved ones. People who are pregnant are at risk of miscarriage. Their babies are more likely to develop foetal alcohol syndrome and have a greater risk of sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS).

Causes and Risk Factors

Risk factors may increase the likelihood of developing an alcohol use disorder in different individuals. These include:

  • Low socioeconomic status
  • Physical abuse
  • Sexual abuse
  • A family history of alcohol problems
  • Regular binge drinking
  • Drinking at an early age
  • Impulsive behaviour
  • Low self-esteem
  • A need for approval
  • Trying to cope with emotional problems
  • Underlying mental health issues
  • Peer pressure
  • Easy access to alcohol

Your doctor will inquire about your drinking habits and request information from your family and friends. They can also administer a physical examination and order blood testing to assess if your alcohol intake is impacting your health.

According to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders of the American Psychiatric Association, someone has alcohol use disorder whether they meet two or three of 11 conditions in a 12-month span. Depending on how many of the criteria are met, AUD may be classified as mild, moderate, or severe.

The criteria are:

  • Usage of alcohol in greater quantities or for longer periods of time than expected
  • A persistent tendency to reduce or regulate alcohol consumption, or an ineffective attempt to do so.
  • A significant amount of time is spent obtaining alcohol, consuming it, or suffering from its effects.
  • An urge to drink alcohol
  • Failure to fulfil responsibilities at work, school, or home as a result of alcohol use
  • Alcohol use that persists despite causing long-term or recurring personal issues
  • Giving up or avoiding important activities because of alcohol…
  • Using alcohol in potentially risky circumstances on a regular basis
  • Using alcohol while knowing that it induces or exacerbates physical or psychiatric disorders
  • Building a tolerance to alcohol – needing more alcohol to get the same result.
  • Alcohol withdrawal
Alcohol Use Disorder Treatment

You may get one or more forms of treatment for alcohol use disorder, depending on the situation. The primary aim is to abstain from drinking and improve one’s quality of life.

It’s likely that you’ll have to go through withdrawal first. Most patients should not have serious symptoms as a result of this, although they are common in more severe cases.

Counselling support

Therapy, whether one-on-one or in a group setting, may help you understand the condition and the factors that could have contributed to it. You’ll get support in abstaining from drinking and sticking to the recovery schedule. Since your loved ones’ involvement is crucial, they will need or want to be involved as well.


Your doctor can recommend one or more of the following medications if you have moderate or severe AUD:

  • Acamprosate
  • Disulfiram
  • Naltrexone
  • Topiramate
Residential treatment

People with severe AUD will need to remain in a rehab centre staffed by medical providers who are familiar with the disorder’s care. Therapy, community groups, schooling, and other events are common in most services.


Referenced on 2.3.2021:

  1. Mayo Clinic: “Nutrition and healthy eating: Alcohol: If you drink, keep it moderate," “Alcohol use disorder.”
  2. American Psychological Association: “Understanding alcohol use disorders and their treatment.”
  3. American Family Physician: “Alcohol Abuse: How to Recognize Problem Drinking.”
  4. National Institute of Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism: “Alcohol Use Disorder,” “Alcohol Use Disorder: A Comparison Between DSM–IV and DSM–5.”
  5. University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill Bowles Center for Alcohol Studies: “Alcoholism and Alcohol Abuse.”
  6. CDC: “Alcohol and Public Health.”
  7. American Academy of Family Physicians: “Alcohol Abuse.”
  8. Medscape: “What are the DSM-5 criteria for Alcohol Use Disorder?”
  9. UpToDate: “Alcohol withdrawal: Epidemiology, clinical manifestations, course, assessment, and diagnosis,” “Approach to treating alcohol use disorder.”

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