Alcohol Use Disorder

Alcohol Use Disorder

Last update: 27 April, 2020

Alcohol is a psychoactive substance that causes dependency and that many cultures have used for centuries. However, the harmful consumption of this substance carries a social and economic burden for societies. Several mental pathologies associate with its consumption. One of them is alcohol use disorder.

Researchers recently established a link between a harmful consumption of alcohol and infectious diseases such as tuberculosis and HIV. On the other hand, if a pregnant woman consumes alcohol, it can lead to fetal alcohol syndrome and prenatal complications. As you can see, alcohol can cause huge problems in the person who consumes it uncontrollably. 

The problem of consuming alcohol irresponsibly

Alcohol consumption is a causative factor in more than 200 diseases and disorders. It’s related to the risk of developing mental health problems such as alcoholism.

Likewise, there are other important untransmittable diseases such as liver cirrhosis, some types of cancer, cardiovascular diseases related to its uncontrolled consumption, injuries, and traffic accidents. Additionally, alcohol plays a big part in the evolution of disorders that many people suffer from.

A woman with a glass full of alcohol.

Alcohol use disorder

This disorder is defined as a group of behavioral and physical symptoms like abstinence, tolerance, and an intense desire for consumption.

Symptoms that appear from 4 to 12 hours after not consuming following a prolonged and intense alcohol intake characterize alcohol abstinence. Since abstinence can be very unpleasant, people might keep consuming to avoid or alleviate withdrawal.

Some of the symptoms can last for months and might lead to a relapse. Once there’s a repetitive and intense pattern of consumption, people with alcohol use disorder could end up spending a lot of time trying to get alcohol and consuming it.

On the other hand, after consuming similar amounts of alcohol in a continuous way, its effects decrease. So, as a consequence, the person must consume more in order to experience the effect they used to get. This loss of sensibility and the need to increase the amount of alcohol characterize tolerance.

When drinking alcohol becomes an unstoppable desire

It’s easy to evidence a person’s intense desire to consume alcohol when their severe need to drink alcoholic beverages keeps them from thinking about anything else. In other words, alcoholics start to focus only on drinking.

Consequently, their academic and work performances begin to deteriorate, either due to the effects of alcohol or by being intoxicated at school or work. Other consequences include neglecting their children (if they have any), their relatives or friends, and their domestic responsibilities. In addition, they tend to drop out of school and quit their jobs.

The person might start consuming alcohol in dangerous circumstances (while driving or operating machinery). They know what they’re doing is risky. They’re aware that it could cause significant problems on a physical, psychological, and social level. However, they just don’t care and continue on with their actions.

A sad man holding a bottle of alcohol.

How is alcohol use disorder diagnosed?

The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-V) establishes a series of criteria to diagnose this disorder. Let’s see what they are:

A. A problematic pattern of alcohol consumption that causes a clinically significant deterioration or discomfort and that manifests itself in at least two of the following criteria for a period of 12 months:

  • Alcohol is often taken in larger amounts or over a longer period of time than intended.
  • There is a persistent desire or unsuccessful effort to cut down or control alcohol use.
  • A great deal of time is spent in activities necessary to obtain alcohol, use alcohol, or recover from its effects.
  • Craving, or a strong desire or urge to use alcohol.
  • Recurrent alcohol use resulting in a failure to fulfill major role obligations at work, school, or home.
  • Continued alcohol use despite having persistent or recurrent social or interpersonal problems caused or exacerbated by the effects of alcohol.
  • Important social, occupational, or recreational activities are given up or reduced because of alcohol use.
  • Recurrent alcohol use in situations where it is physically dangerous.
  • Alcohol use is continued despite knowledge of having a persistent or recurrent physical or psychological problem that is likely to have been caused or exacerbated by alcohol.
  • Tolerance, as defined by either of the following: a) a need for markedly increased amounts of alcohol to achieve intoxication or desired effect, b) a markedly diminished effect with continued use of the same amount of alcohol.
  • Withdrawalas manifested by either of the following: a) the characteristic withdrawal syndrome for alcohol,  b) alcohol (or a closely related substance, such as a benzodiazepine) is taken to relieve or avoid withdrawal symptoms.
A man surrounded by bottles of alcohol.

A problem with a solution

Alcohol use disorder is usually associated with the same problems that result from the consumption of other substances (like cannabis, cocaine, heroin, amphetamines, sedatives, hypnotics, or anxiolytics). These are the risk factors:

  • Constant consumption: Drinking alcohol regularly or in big quantities can cause dependency or any other issue related to this substance.
  • Age: People who consume alcohol in high doses at an early age are more at risk of suffering from alcohol use disorder.
  • Family history: The risk of suffering from alcohol use disorder is greater in those people whose relatives or parents also have problems with alcohol.
  • Depression and mental health problems: Some mental disorders such as depression and anxiety are related to issues with alcohol or another substance.
  • Social and cultural factors: Social relations, along with the person’s environment and culture, may increase the risk of suffering from alcohol use disorder.

On the other hand, some people might also consume alcohol to alleviate the unwanted effects of other substances. If they can’t consume the substance they always consume because it’s unavailable at that moment, the person may use alcohol as a substitute.

Consuming alcohol excessively is a great problem that can become a disorder if the consumer meets a series of criteria. However, this disorder has a solution. The best recommendation is to go see a specialist. Professionals are able to explain the different types of treatments available and which one best suits each person’s circumstances.

This text is provided for informational purposes only and does not replace consultation with a professional. If in doubt, consult your specialist.