Alcohol use disorder
What is alcohol use disorder?
Alcohol use disorder is also known as alcohol abuse or alcohol dependence. It is a condition where your body becomes so used to alcohol that you can’t go a day without having a drink. Your body literally becomes addicted to alcohol. Alcohol becomes more important to you than any other thing in life. To show you how serious alcohol use disorder is; you will drink it despite the obvious dangers of alcoholism. A good example is losing your job. It can also bring about a severe in your relationships with people that mean so much to you.
Alcohol abuse is different from alcoholism. You can drink alcohol without becoming used to it. That’s alcohol abuse. But when you use alcohol and you both get used to each other, it’s called alcohol use disorder.
What causes alcohol use disorder?
Alcohol use disorder develops when you drink so much to the extent that it eventually alters the chemical functions in your brain. These chemical changes begin to make you feel pleasure whenever you drink alcohol. Before you know it, one drink is no longer enough. Two still can’t get you to feel satisfied. Three drinks and it’s like you’ve not started drinking. And then it’s four drinks per day. It keeps increasing and you will never seem to get the most satisfaction. That is how alcohol use disorder develops. The thought of staying a day without becomes a horror for you. That’s why alcohol use disorder can be difficult to stop. But it is possible! Alcohol use disorder can run in families.
Risk factors for alcohol use disorder
The following are common risk factors for having alcohol use disorder:
- Having more than 15 drinks every week as a male
- Having more than 12 drinks every week as a female
- Having not less than 5 drinks every day not less than once a week (binge drinking)
- Either parent suffering from alcohol use disorder
- a mental health problem i.e. anxiety, depression, or anxiety
You will be at a huge risk for alcoholism if you:
- are a young adult and have serious peer pressure
- are suffering from low self-esteem
- are experiencing chronic stress
- you are from a family or culture that encourages alcohol use
- have a loved one with an alcohol use disorder
What are the symptoms of alcohol use disorder?
Symptoms of alcohol use disorder are determined by the behaviors and physical outcomes of alcohol addiction.
If you have alcohol use disorder, you are likely to engage in these behaviors:
- drinking more to experience the effects of alcohol
- violent behaviors
- poor nutrition
- poor personal hygiene
- absenteeism from work or school due to drinking
- drinking alone
- being unable to control alcohol intake
- having excuses that supports drinking
- irresistible drinking when social, legal, or economic problems are obvious
- giving up vital occupational, social or recreational activities for alcohol use
If you have alcohol use disorder, you may have these physical symptoms:
- alcohol cravings
- withdrawal symptoms
- morning tremors after drinking in the morning
- blacking out after drinking at night
- illnesses e.g. alcoholic ketoacidosis, cirrhosis
Self-testing: Do I misuse alcohol?
Safe alcohol use or alcohol misuse can sometimes be quite difficult to distinguish. But the Mayo Clinic has recommended some questions that can be used to distinguish both.
- Do you have the urge to drink more for you to feel those alcoholic effects?
- Do you experience guilt after drinking?
- Do you get irritated or aggressive any time you drink?
- Have you ever had problems at work or school due to drinking?
- Do you think that if you reduce your drinking, it will be fine?
If you answered more “yes” these questions, you are likely to be misusing alcohol.
The National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence and AlcoholScreening.org have more self-tests that are comprehensive and can be employed to find out if you are actually misusing alcohol or not.
Your doctor is responsible for diagnosing you of alcohol use disorder. Questions about your medical history and alcoholic habits will be employed. A physical exam might also be included.
Your doctor may ask you these questions:
- Do you drink-drive?
- Have you lost a job or missed work at any point in time because of drinking?
- Do you want to get more drink even when you’re obviously drunk?
- Have you ever experienced a series of blackouts because of your drinking?
- Have you tried cutting back on your alcohol drinking but failed to?
Other diagnostic questionnaires can also be used on you by your doctor. A blood test will only be conducted on you in order to see how your liver has been affected by alcoholism.
Alcohol use disorder comes with serious and lasting negative impact on your liver. Too much alcohol in the blood gives the liver very hard time getting rid of it and other toxins present in the blood.
This is what will make the liver get damaged.
Treatment for alcohol use disorder
Treatment for alcoholism varies. Each treatment approach is aimed at helping you to stop drinking – abstinence. Treatment occurs in phases:
- detoxification (withdrawal) – the aim is to clear alcohol from your body
- rehabilitation – the aim is to acquire coping behaviors and skills
- counseling – the aim is to deal with any emotional problems associated with drinking
- support groups e.g. Alcoholics Anonymous (AA)
- medical treatment – to deal with health problems caused by the disorder
- medications – to control your addiction
The following medications have been very useful for the treatment of alcohol use disorder:
- Naltrexone (ReVia) – only used after an alcohol detox. It blocks receptors that are connected to creating alcoholic “high” in the brain. When combined with counseling, it can be effective in decreasing your craving for alcohol.
- Acamprosate – used to restore the chemical state of the brain before addiction to alcohol was developed. It is normally combined with therapy.
- Disulfiram (Antabuse) – it will make you experience physical discomfort like a
headache, nausea, or vomiting whenever you drink alcohol.
Severe addiction may require that you get an inpatient facility for your treatment. With this facility, you can have access to 24-hour care while undergoing treatment. When you are strong enough to leave the hospital, you will still be instructed by your doctor to come back for subsequent follow up treatments.
What’s the outlook for a person with alcohol use disorder?
Recovering from alcoholism can be difficult. Your outlook has a whole lot to do with your decision to stop drinking. Most of the people who go for treatment will eventually overcome the addiction especially when combined with a solid support system.
The outlook of your condition also will be affected by the complications that have developed. The following complications can develop from alcoholism:
- Liver damage
- nerve damage
- brain cells damage
- cancer in the GI tract
- high blood pressure
- gastrointestinal bleeding
- Wernicke-Korsakoff syndrome – a brain disorder characterized by memory loss, confusion, and vision changes
How can you prevent alcohol use disorder?
One timeless way of preventing alcoholism is restricting its consumption.
The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism suggests that one way this can be done is that women should have no more than a drink per day while men should have two drinks a day.
When you begin to have symptoms that look like alcoholic disorder, do well to contact your doctor immediately.
Tonika Bruce, MSN, RN, MBA. is an accomplished nurse leader, published author, and personal development expert passionate about advancing healthcare management and quality patient outcomes.
She taps into the years of experience in healthcare management to produce credible and easy-to-understand health and leadership content. Her exceptional work has been featured in reputable publications, including Forbes, Recruiter, Inc, and the Color of Wellness magazine.