Drinking alcohol is a common and socially acceptable practice in our society. Many drink to celebrate, socialize, date, create new business, or unwind after a long week. So how do you know when your alcohol consumption is a problem? Recognizing the signs and symptoms of alcohol use disorder can help you succeed in addressing these issues and get help for a potential problem.
What Does Alcohol Use Disorder Look Like?
Alcohol use disorder affects people from all walks of life. According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, 15 million American adults have alcohol use disorders. This includes over 400,000 adolescents between the ages of 12 and 17. It is important to understand that problematic drinking is not an “all or nothing” problem. There is a spectrum of alcohol use disorder ranging from mild to severe, and problematic drinking can look different depending on the person.
Drinking in moderation
To reduce the risk of alcohol related harm, the CDC recommends drinking 2 or less drinks per day for men and 1 or less for women.
Some people with alcohol use disorder drink every day, however people do not need to drink every day to experience problems related to alcohol. Binge drinking occurs when large amounts of alcohol is consumed in a concentrated period of time. The CDC defines this as five or more drinks within two hours for men, and four or more drinks within two hours for women.
The DSM-5 outlines 11 criteria for alcohol use disorder, including drinking more or for longer periods than intended, failed attempts to stop or cut back, and drinking despite negative consequences in social life, school, work or at home.
- Mild use disorder includes the presence of 2-3 criteria
- Moderate use disorder includes the presence of 3-5 criteria
- Severe use disorder includes the presence of 6 or more criteria
Tolerance to alcohol means that a larger quantity of alcohol must be consumed in order to feel the same effects, or that over time the same amount of alcohol produces a diminished effect.
Dependence to alcohol occurs when the body is physically dependent on alcohol, so when alcohol is not consumed an individual experiences withdrawal symptoms, like delirium tremens in severe cases.
Any combination of criteria can qualify someone for an alcohol use disorder. You do not need to have physical dependence to meet criteria for a use disorder.
How to Tell If a Loved One Has a Problem with Alcohol
Because alcohol is so prevalent in today’s society, alcohol use disorder can take on many forms. Some red flags to look out for include:
- Drinking larger quantities of alcohol in order to achieve the same desired effects (tolerance)
- Decline in school or work performance
- DUI or legal trouble
- Giving up social or recreational activities due to alcohol use
- Withdrawal symptoms when not drinking alcohol
- Continuing to drink even when it puts you in danger or exacerbates other medical issues.
Dangers of Alcohol Misuse
Alcohol misuse can contribute to a number of significant health issues including multiple forms of cancer, diabetes and hepatitis. Even less severe drinking can contribute to problems relating to anxiety and memory loss.
Dangers of Quitting Drinking
Moderate withdrawal symptoms related to alcohol can include, insomnia, nausea, shakes, sweating, agitation and nervousness. However, alcohol withdrawal has the potential to be fatal, with severe withdrawal symptoms including seizures, delirium tremens and possible death.
No matter how long someone has been drinking, it is possible to experience severe withdrawal when there is physical dependence on alcohol. It is also not always clear who will experience severe withdrawal symptoms. Therefore, quitting drinking should not be done alone, and people should seek medical care and supervision from either their PCP, psychiatrist, a detox or rehab to monitor health.
Getting Sober & Rehab for Alcohol Use Disorder
Getting sober is possible and there are countless individuals who have found freedom from their alcohol addiction. The most important and life-changing step is reaching out for help. If you or a loved one is struggling with alcohol use or questioning your drinking habits, there are resources available to determine the best options for help.
Recovery Resources for Alcohol Addiction
Getting sober from alcohol addiction is a lifelong process. Along with rehab, there are many who have found likeminded people in support groups helpful to help learn how to live life without alcohol.
Read Sober Stories from those who have overcome alcohol addiction