understanding alcohol use disorder

I honestly can’t remember when it started, but it had to have started sometime in college. My friends and I would go out to the bars or a party multiple times a week.

I kept telling myself it was normal. I was convinced everyone who went away to college drank as much as me. While that might have been true, I found myself getting into trouble because of my drinking.

After a couple of DUIs, a bunch of fights, and many nights passing out in the most random places, I started to realize I had a problem. It took me until the last month of my senior year of college to realize just how bad it had gotten.

Thankfully, I had a solid support system of friends and family to push me in the right direction. I was able to seek professional treatment for my addiction. If you’re reading this, I want you to know that even if you don’t have that support system, or if you feel hopeless, recovery is still possible.

There were plenty of signs in my life that pointed toward alcohol use disorder (AUD). I’m going to share with you the telltale signs of AUD so you can seek treatment as soon as possible. The quicker you address your disorder, the better.

So, for the purposes of this blog post, we’re going to take a look at AUD, how it affects your health, and what you can do to get sober.

What Is AUD?

Right now, around 18 million Americans in the United States have alcohol use disorder (AUD). The U.S. National Library of Medicine (NLM) says, “This (AUD) means that their drinking causes distress and harm. AUD can range from mild to severe, depending on the symptoms. Severe AUD is sometimes called alcoholism or alcohol dependence.”

Signs of AUD are:

  • Craving — a strong need to drink
  • Loss of control — not being able to stop drinking once you’ve started
  • Negative emotional state — feeling anxious and irritable when you are not drinking

If you think you have AUD, you should look for the following symptoms:

  • Spending lots of time recovering from drinking
  • Wanting to stop drinking but being unable to
  • You continue drinking despite the problems it’s causing you with family and friends
  • Not participating in activities you once enjoyed because of alcohol
  • Drinking more than you intended
  • Drinking longer than you intended
  • Finding yourself in dangerous situations because of alcohol
  • Feeling strong cravings to drink
  • Drinking is causing problems with your work life
  • Drinking despite feeling depressed or anxious
  • Drinking more to feel the effects of alcohol
  • Experiencing withdrawal symptoms when you stop drinking

The more symptoms you’re having, the more severe your AUD may be.

How Does Alcohol Affect Your Health

It’s widely known that alcohol can have negative effects on your health.

An article published by Harvard Medical School lists a variety of health effects associated with drinking too much. Per the article, “Here are some of the more common negative health consequences of excessive alcohol consumption — and good reasons to moderate your intake of alcohol:

  • liver disease, including cirrhosis and life-threatening liver failure requiring a liver transplant
  • a higher risk of high blood pressure, heart failure, and dementia
  • a higher risk of certain cancers, including those of the digestive tract (including colon cancer), breast, and liver
  • a higher risk of injury, especially from drunk driving and falls — homicides and suicides are also often alcohol-related
  • lapses in judgment — for example, people who are drunk may engage in risky sexual behavior or use other drugs
  • a higher risk of depression, anxiety, and addiction, which may, in turn, affect one’s ability to establish and maintain social relationships and employment
  • alcohol poisoning — many people don’t realize that if you drink enough alcohol over a short period of time, it can be fatal
  • fetal alcohol syndrome — alcohol can damage a baby’s developing brain and cause other developmental abnormalities.”

Overall, high-risk drinking for women means having four or more drinks in a day or eight or more drinks in a week. For men, high-risk drinking means having five or more drinks in a day or 15 or more drinks in a week.

In addition to the side effects listed above, AUD can even affect your personal and professional life, which, in turn, can have negative effects on things like mental health.

While the best approach to preventing AUD is not drinking at all, moderate drinking is always recommended. However, it should be noted that if you have AUD, you should stay away from alcohol altogether.

What Is Moderate Drinking?

Moderate drinking is just that—drinking in moderation, otherwise known as limiting your alcohol intake to levels that are as safe as possible if you do decide to drink.

According to Harvard Medical School, “A new study analyzed data from nearly 600,000 people who drank at least some alcohol, and monitored their health over time. They found that regardless of gender, higher alcohol consumption was associated with a higher rate of stroke, fatal aneurysms, heart failure, and death.”

The study reports that adults who drink seven to 14 drinks a week could expect a six-month shorter life expectancy as of age 40, on average. Additionally, those who drink 14 to 25 alcoholic beverages a week can expect a one- to two-year shorter life expectancy. Those who drink more than 25 alcoholic beverages a week could expect a shorter life expectancy by four or five years.

In regard to moderate drinking, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says, “To reduce the risk of alcohol-related harms, the 2020-2025 Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommends that adults of legal drinking age can choose not to drink, or to drink in moderation by limiting intake to two drinks or less in a day for men or one drink or less in a day for women, on days when alcohol is consumed. The Guidelines also do not recommend that individuals who do not drink alcohol start drinking for any reason, and that if adults of legal drinking age choose to drink alcoholic beverages, drinking less is better for health than drinking more.”

You should not drink at all if you:

  • Have AUD
  • Are under the age of 21
  • Have certain medical conditions
  • Are taking certain medications
  • Are unable to control your alcohol intake

Signs of Alcohol Withdrawal

According to the NLM, “Alcohol withdrawal refers to symptoms that may occur when a person who has been drinking too much alcohol on a regular basis suddenly stops drinking alcohol.”

Alcohol withdrawal typically occurs for adults, but it can also affect teenagers and children. The more you drink, the better the chances are of you having withdrawal symptoms. Withdrawal symptoms can be severe if you have other medical issues.

Usually, withdrawal symptoms will begin around eight hours after your last drink. Typically, symptoms peak within 24-72 hours, the NLM says.

Symptoms of alcohol withdrawal can include:

  • Anxiety
  • Irritability
  • Fatigue
  • Nightmares
  • Problems thinking
  • Mood swings
  • Depression
  • Headache
  • Problems sleeping
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Rapid heartbeat
  • Tremors
  • Loss of appetite
  • Sweating

In order to address symptoms of alcohol withdrawal, a professional detox is recommended. Withdrawal symptoms can be significantly reduced in a medically supervised detox center.

Delirium tremens, which is a severe form of alcohol withdrawal, can cause changes in the mental or nervous system. The NLM explains, “It occurs most often in people who have a history of alcohol withdrawal. It is especially common in those who drink 4 to 5 pints (1.8 to 2.4 liters) of wine, 7 to 8 pints (3.3 to 3.8 liters) of beer, or 1 pint (1/2 liter) of ‘hard’ alcohol every day for several months. Delirium tremens also commonly affects people who have used alcohol for more than 10 years.”

Symptoms of delirium tremens can include:

  • Fever
  • Seizures
  • Agitation
  • Hallucinations (seeing or hearing things that aren’t real)
  • Severe confusion

Delirium tremens is a medical emergency that requires immediate treatment.

What Are Co-Occurring Disorders?

Co-occurring disorders are common for people that suffer from addiction. Having co-occurring disorders means having both a substance use disorder and a mental health disorder at the same time.

According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, around 9.2 million Americans are living with co-occurring disorders. However, many of them aren’t diagnosed until they enter a treatment program.

Common mental health disorders associated with substance use disorders include:

  • Schizophrenia
  • Anxiety
  • Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
  • Depression
  • Bipolar disorder
  • Attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD)
  • Conduct disorders

As for substance use disorders associated with mental health disorders, they include addiction to:

  • Cocaine
  • Crack cocaine
  • Alcohol
  • Meth
  • Heroin
  • Fentanyl
  • Tobacco
  • Stimulants
  • Prescription painkillers
  • Marijuana
  • Hallucinogens (such as LSD or PCP)

Many experts agree that co-occurring disorders should be treated to give the best possible chance of living a full life in recovery. Again, it’s important to note that this condition is diagnosed by a medical professional, which shows just how important seeking proper treatment can be.

Take the First Step Toward Recovery Today

The truth is, you’re never alone. Even if you’re consumed by feelings of hopelessness and fear, there is a path to a better life — a path to recovery.

You deserve to live a life free from alcohol. You also deserve a life of joy and fulfillment. By seeking professional treatment, you can take your life back. There is no shame in asking for help. We all need someone to walk with us, or to guide us, at some point in our lives.

One thing we all forget as we get older is that asking questions and admitting we don’t have all the answers is perfectly fine. Remember, if you were at work or school and needed help solving a problem, you’d ask for assistance. We should all remember to apply that to other aspects of life.

Even on our darkest days, a new day lies ahead, one that could be filled with light and hope. The first step on the path to recovery can be made today. While it might be difficult, it’s more than worth it.

Call Pinnacle Peak Recovery Today

Pinnacle Peak Recovery’s alcoholism rehab program, located in Scottsdale, Arizona, typically begins with alcohol detox that lasts around five to 10 days to provide you with the safest and most comfortable withdrawal experience possible.

You will then receive personalized alcohol addiction treatment tailored to your unique needs. We have effective programs led by experienced professionals to help you learn new life skills that will benefit you on the road to recovery. You’ll also learn what contributes to your alcohol use disorder and how to manage it.

Last, but certainly not least, you will be taught the coping skills you need to prevent relapse and live a sober life.

At Pinnacle Peak Recovery, our passionate team of care providers uses cutting-edge treatment methods and therapies. Call us today at (866) 377-4761.

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Frequently Asked Questions

What is moderate drinking?

While not drinking is probably the safest route to take, if you do drink, you should do so in moderation. According to the CDC, ”… adults of legal drinking age can choose not to drink, or to drink in moderation by limiting intake to two drinks or less in a day for men or one drink or less in a day for women, on days when alcohol is consumed. The Guidelines also do not recommend that individuals who do not drink alcohol start drinking for any reason, and that if adults of legal drinking age choose to drink alcoholic beverages, drinking less is better for health than drinking more.”

What is delirium tremens?

Delirium tremens is a serious form of alcohol withdrawal that typically affects people who drink 4 to 5 pints (1.8 to 2.4 liters) of wine, 7 to 8 pints (3.3 to 3.8 liters) of beer, or 1 pint (1/2 liter) of “hard” liquor every day for several months, according to the NLM. This commonly affects people who have been drinking for more than 10 years. Symptoms of delirium tremens can include:

  • Fever
  • Seizures
  • Agitation
  • Hallucinations (seeing or hearing things that aren’t real)
  • Severe confusion

What are co-occurring disorders?

Co-occurring disorders are the combination of a mental health disorder and a substance use disorder. While this condition is common, in a lot of cases, it goes undiagnosed until an individual enters a treatment program.

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