If you are asking this question, you are probably not alone. In fact, 18 million Americans struggle with misusing alcohol or with the symptoms of Alcohol Use Disorders (AUD). If you feel as though your relationship with alcohol is a problem or could become a problem, it is important to know that you are not alone. There are resources that can provide help and guide you through a recovery journey. Arming yourself with information is a good first step.
What is Alcohol Use Disorder (alcohol addiction)?
There are hereditary and environmental factors to addiction, but many times the cause is not known. The following are some of the symptoms that characterize AUD.
- drinks more or longer than they initially intended to
- has tried to moderate or stop drinking in the past, but has been unable to
- spends a lot of time drinking or recovering from the effects of drinking
- experiences cravings, or strong desires to drink
- drinks even though it interferes with home, family, work, or school responsibilities
- drinks even though it causes trouble in their personal life
- gives up activities or obligations that were once important, in order to drink
- gets into situations while drinking that may be risky or cause harm
- continues to drink even if it causes depression, anxiety, or other health problems
- has to drink more to produce the desired effects
- has withdrawal symptoms when not drinking
NOTE: According to the DSM-5 Diagnostic and Statistical Manual for Mental Disorders, showing two-three of these symptoms in the last year may indicate a mild alcohol use disorder, while showing four-five symptoms indicates a moderate AUD. Displaying six or more symptoms signifies a severe alcohol use disorder.
Who is at risk for alcohol use disorders?
Drinking alcohol in moderation can be okay for some people. This means that while they may feel the effects of alcohol consumption, they do not feel compelled to keep drinking. Moderate drinking is classified as no more than one or two drinks per day for men and women.
Using alcohol when bored, stressed, lonely, depressed, or if there is a genetic predisposition to addiction (family members with AUD), can lead to further serious problems. If you or someone you care about is drinking to get through the day, it may be time to reach out for help.
How does alcohol affect physical health?
Like any substance consumed in excess, there will likely be side effects. Alcohol may also interact negatively with prescription medications and make it difficult to diagnose other health concerns.
When drinking to excess there can be problems with:
- Alcohol poisoning
- Sexual dysfunction
- Reduced inhibitions or risky behaviors
- Inability to focus, impaired memory
- Affected vision, reflexes, and coordination
Long-term effects of active addiction:
- Impaired learning and/or brain development
- Increased depression and anxiety
- Major organ damage; increased risk for heart disease
- Cirrhosis (chronic liver disease)
How does alcohol affect mental health?
Alcohol is a depressant. Therefore, it slows down your brain and alters its chemistry. There are many effects including changes to mood, energy levels, memory, concentration, and sleep patterns.
Alcohol may also impact decision making. While drinking, a person may “do things without thinking” or say or do things they would not do or say while sober such as pushing away or hurting the people who care most about them. It can give a person courage to engage in risky situations like unsafe sexual encounters, trouble with law enforcement or getting into fights. Alcohol can contribute to life falling apart, causing withdrawal from important relationships and social situations, and even self-harm. A combination of factors along with intoxication has led to many dying by suicide.
Where do I go for help with AUD?
Talk with your primary care practitioner. There are multiple treatment options ranging from hospitalization for detox if needed, to outpatient therapy with a counselor or group, to rehabilitation or participation in an intensive outpatient program (IOP). There is also residential treatment. There are even medications that can provide support for building a sober life.
Lastly, there are many recovery communities like AA, Smart Recovery, and Women for Sobriety that provide support and assistance in learning how to live a healthy, sober life.
sources: healthline.com, headspace.org, recoverycentersofamerica.com, cdc.org, apibhs.com