Alcohol Use Disorder is a term that covers a range of symptoms and diagnoses. It includes alcoholism, but the two are not synonymous. However, if you find that you have some of the signs of AUD, it might be time to fully assess your relationship with alcohol, including seeking a counselor.
AUD is characterized by drinking that is disruptive to your life and relationships. Those with the disorder often drink to excess, take risks while drinking, and engage in binge drinking. Binge drinkers are males who drink more than five drinks in a two-hour session and achieve a blood alcohol content of .08 or greater. Female drinkers often reach .08 with four drinks in the same amount of time. However, individuals may reach drunkenness faster or slower based on their physical size, how much food they've consumed, and their overall tolerance for alcohol.
AUD sufferers frequently find that their relationships are impacted as a direct result of drink-related behaviors. These drinkers also run tend to have legal troubles, have problems at work, and are in a near-constant state of distress as they seek to keep their lives together.
AUD shares symptoms with many disorders across the spectrum of alcoholism and addiction. If you find that multiple symptoms feel familiar, please discuss the matter with a counselor or a trusted member of the clergy. Symptoms of Alcohol Use Disorder include, but are not limited to:
- You can't stop with one drink: AUD sufferers have a difficult time limiting their alcohol intake. They often must continue drinking until they are inebriated.
- Cutting down your intake doesn't work. AUD sufferers often try to cut back on their drinking, yet are unable. If they are somehow able to "white knuckle" a few nights of limited drinking, they often let loose with a binge that outstrips their normal drinking.
- Your feelings are contingent on drinking. Often, heavy drinkers don't feel very well during times without drink. You might stay dry during the workweek and have difficulty with stress and well-being during that time. Your only relief comes after your minimum number of drinks.
- Your social activities center around drinking. AUD sufferers include drinking as a part of every social interaction. If they play a sport, they have a cooler of beer ready for after the game. If they attend a wedding, they can't wait to drink at the reception.
- You resist social occasions where alcohol is not present. If you know a party will be alcohol-free, you turn down the invitation.
- You use alcohol in situations where it is not safe. AUD sufferers often will drink while driving, playing sports, and swimming.
- You experience withdrawal symptoms. Problem drinkers often experience night sweats and are nauseated on the morning after drinking.
- Problem drinkers drink despite being aware of the damage they are causing. If you know that your drinking will harm your health, or that it will harm a relationship, yet continue to drink anyway, you may have a real problem.
There are many factors that can contribute to a drinking problem. Sometimes, a single issue can trigger AUD. For other people, a conjunction of influences can overwhelm them, resulting in problems that may persist for years, if not decades. If you are aware of what triggers your problem drinking, you will be better able to prevent disastrous outcomes.
Risk factors for Alcohol Use Disorder include:
- Family history of alcoholism or abuse. Among children of alcoholics, half will develop drinking problems, or other substance abuse issues. Though your parents may not have been diagnosed, consider their intake when assessing your risk for AUD.
- Mental health problems can play a role in AUD. If you suffer from depression, whether chronic or acute, be careful with your alcohol intake. Those with anxiety disorders also attempt to medicate their problem with alcohol, in the mistaken belief that it will relax them. To the contrary, any amount of alcohol exacerbates anxiety.
- Steady, heavy drinking may lead to more drinking later. For instance, if you are a male who regularly drinks four drinks in a two-hour session, you might be under the diagnostic criteria, but if you experience a major life stress, your drinking could become a problem.
- Sudden life crises may be a risk factor for AUD. If you lose a loved one, experience a sudden job loss, or go through a divorce, you might turn to alcohol for solace. Such periods of emotional upheaval, if not managed properly, can trigger long-term drinking problems.
- Secrets are risk factors for AUD. If you have a hidden shame, you might turn to alcohol to medicate the intense sense of unease that comes from holding a secret. Chances are that your shameful secret will be accepted by the many who have been paralyzed by the same, or similar, problems. If you have harmed someone, try to make amends to him or her. This includes any harm you have done to yourself.
- If you are male, you have three times the risk as your female counterparts. Men tend to use alcohol as a rite of passage, and measure manliness according to how much they can drink.
- Your culture may also play a role in your drinking. That can include an ethnic background that includes drinking or even your particular region of the United States. Chicagoans, for instance, tend to drink more than most any other city.
Many complications can arise as a result of an alcohol use disorder. If you are a heavy drinker, your drinking, your safety and health are at risk during every binge. When you have had too much, your motor skills, cognition, and judgment are increasingly impaired with every drink. This can be a deadly combination if you get behind the wheel of a car, but also if you are walking down a flight of stairs, or engaging in even the simplest activities.
You may notice that your reflexes are muted and that even simple acts of coordination, such as speaking, are impaired. What you often cannot detect is that your liver, heart, and other organs are incurring damage as a direct result of your drinking. Over time your risk of many health issues increases.
The following complications of drinking include, but are not limited to:
- Problems at school or work. Alcohol often impairs your ability to meet your responsibilities, resulting in poor grades, low performance evaluations, and possible failure or firing.
- Relationships suffer as a result of heavy drinking. Whether your partner drinks or not, alcohol is often a toxin for healthy relationships.
- Sex becomes complicated by excessive drinking. If you are drinking, you are more likely to ignore safety precautions. This can result in STD transmission or pregnancy.
- Depressed drinkers run a higher risk of suicide.
- Drinking interferes with normal sexual function. For men, this can mean erectile dysfunction. Women find that their menstrual cycle is interrupted by drinking.
- Your bones are at risk from heavy drinking. Drinkers tend to have thinner bones as a result of low platelet counts that are attributed to alcohol.
- Birth defects are more likely for heavy drinkers. Fetal alcohol syndrome is also a complication for mothers who do not stop drinking during pregnancy.
- Heavy alcohol use can lead to heart problems. If you are drinking too much, you may experience high blood pressure, risk an enlarged heart, and have a heightened risk of stroke.
Alcohol Use Disorder can be prevented in some cases. Since alcohol problems often begin to manifest in teenage behaviors, pay special attention to the teens in your life. Here is a general run-down of some red flags that may signal a deeper problem:
- Loss of interest in once-loved activities. Teens are known to be capricious and to take up new activities, so make sure to find out why your teen has lost interest. It may be that they have a new passion, but if they are simply listless, find out what you can do to get them re-energized.
- Bloodshot eyes and slurred speech. Even when they aren't drinking, problem drinkers might express these symptoms.
- Sudden change of friends. Teens are often experimenting with different social groups and identities. If you see a new stream of friends, ask your teen why they have chosen new pals.
- Teenage drinkers often suffer in school. If you notice your teen's grades plummeting, intervene to find out the root of the problem.
What you can do:
- Discuss drinking with your teenager. Rather than attempting to scold or prohibit their use, discuss alcohol in an objective, matter-of-fact fashion. After all, it is a large part of our culture. Give them the factual, scientific information they need to form a healthy relationship with alcohol.
- Model positive drinking behavior. Having one glass of wine with an end-of-week meal or otherwise treating alcohol as a special treat can send a healthy message.
- Understand that they may experiment in unhealthy ways. Your teen may still wish to test the boundaries with alcohol. However, if they are armed with sound information and accepting, understanding parents, they are less likely to turn these experiments into colossal disasters.
Alcohol Use Disorder does not have to become a life sentence. If you are armed with the facts about alcohol and drinking, you can make sound choices and avoid negative consequences. Drinking can be enjoyable and fun, but only when used in moderation and with wisdom and discernment for what constitutes proper use. If you are on the end of the spectrum where you can no longer manage your alcohol consumption and it has become a real problem, you can get help.