Alcohol Use Disorder

Updated on October 29, 2019
LeahsKosherFix profile image

Leah is a mental health counselor and specializes in substance use disorders and dual diagnosis.

Alcohol Use Disorder

Many people use alcohol socially or to help them relax and unwind. For some people, drinking crosses a line and develops into alcohol use disorder, commonly known as alcoholism or addiction. According to a survey taken in 2017, over 14 million Americans aged 18 or over (5.7% of the population) were diagnosed with alcohol use disorder. This page will provide some basic information about alcohol use disorder and how it is treated.

Symptoms Of Alcohol Use Disorder

Alcohol use disorder involves more than just drinking a little too much. It creates a pattern of issues that interfere with a person’s functioning over time, and includes at least two of the following symptoms over a one-year period:

  • Alcohol getting in the way of your responsibilities at home, work, or school
  • Drinking even after it has caused or worsened issues in relationships with others
  • Drinking even after it has caused or worsened a physical or mental health condition
  • Drinking for a longer period of time than you meant to
  • Drinking more than you meant to
  • Experiencing strong cravings to drink
  • Experiencing withdrawal symptoms if you cut back or stop drinking
  • Frequently drinking in situations where it is dangerous, such as just before driving
  • Needing more alcohol to get the desired effect (tolerance)
  • Quitting or cutting back on social events or hobbies due to drinking
  • Spending a lot of time getting, drinking, or recovering from the effects of alcohol
  • Trying to cut down or stop but not being able to

If you experience 2-3 of these symptoms, alcohol use disorder can be classified as mild. If you meet 4-5 of these symptoms, alcohol use disorder can be diagnosed as moderate. If you meet 6 or more symptoms, your alcohol use disorder would be diagnosed as severe.

What Causes Alcohol Use Disorder?

There is no specific factor that causes alcohol use disorder. It results as a complex interaction between factors, and it is a field that continues to be studied. So far, researchers have identified that the following factors influence the development of alcohol use disorder:

  • Genetic – how you react to alcohol can play a role in whether you are more likely to develop alcohol use disorder. If you experience unpleasant effects when drinking alcohol, such as flushed skin, nausea, headaches, and a racing heartbeat, you may be less likely to want to drink. If you have a parent with an addiction, you are 2-6 times more likely to develop an addiction than people in the rest of the population.
  • Environmental – having easy access to alcohol can influence whether or not you may develop a problem. Being around others who drink alcohol and starting to drink early in life can also play a role in developing an alcohol use disorder.
  • Lifestyle – people with other mental health disorders, such as anxiety, depression, bipolar disorder, or post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), having low self-esteem, being impulsive, and being under a lot of stress can all increase your risk of developing an alcohol use disorder.

What Are The Risks Of Alcohol Consumption?

Alcohol can have a toxic effect on many of the organs and systems in the body. These can include:

  • The brain – alcohol affects how the brain functions, appears, and communicates. It can make it difficult to think properly and negatively impacts your coordination. Over time, vitamin deficiencies due to alcohol use disorder can lead to irreversible brain damage.
  • The heart – over time, drinking can cause damage to the heart, but this can also happen even in one episode of binge drinking (consuming 4 or more drinks for women, or 5 or more drinks for men in a period of 2 hours). It can cause cardiomyopathy (when your heart muscle stretches and droops), irregular heart beats (arrhythmias), and increase your risk of stroke or high blood pressure.
  • The liver – since alcohol is processed through the liver, it has a strong effect on this organ. Over time, alcohol use can lead to development of liver problems like fatty liver, alcoholic hepatitis (inflammation of the liver), fibrosis (scarring of the liver), and cirrhosis.
  • The pancreas – when you drink alcohol, your pancreas produces substances that are toxic. This can lead to pancreatitis, which involves inflammation and swelling of blood vessels. This condition interferes with digestion, can be dangerous, and is very painful.
  • Cancer – alcohol is a known carcinogen that can increase your risk for various types of cancer, including mouth, throat, larynx, esophagus, liver, breast, and colorectal cancer.
  • The immune system – alcohol lowers your ability to fight off infection, making it easier for people who drink alcohol frequently to get sick. Binge drinking can lower your ability to fight infection for up to 24 hours after an episode.
  • The nerves – alcohol use can cause nerve damage, known as neuropathy. Neuropathy can make the affected area feel weak, numb, tingly, sensitive to touch, or as if the area is burning. It can be a very painful condition, and often affects the hands or feet.
  • Birth defects – drinking alcohol during pregnancy is especially dangerous. Babies who are born to women that drank during pregnancy are more likely to have birth defects and fetal alcohol spectrum disorder, which can create lasting issues for the baby.
  • Withdrawal – while withdrawal from many substances can be uncomfortable, withdrawal from alcohol can be dangerous and even life threatening without medical supervision. Since alcohol withdrawal can involve hallucinations and seizures, it should not be attempted without proper medical oversight and care.


Alcohol use disorder is treatable. There are facilities available to provide care for every step of the way. These include:

  • Detox – this is a facility where medical staff provides medication and supervision to make sure that you are safe as your body clears itself of alcohol and any other substances you may have been taking. Counseling staff will be available to provide education about alcohol use disorder, and you will be there for about a week. Staff will work with you to prepare a plan, and figure out your next step in the treatment process. Detox is just the first step on your journey, and isn’t considered treatment.
  • Inpatient – this is a facility where you will stay for between 1-3 months, with medical and counseling staff to oversee your care. You will receive counseling in group and individual sessions, and work on understanding your triggers, and learning about effective coping skills and relapse prevention. While you are in treatment, your family and loved ones may be invited (with your permission only) to participate in family sessions, where they learn how to resolve conflicts and support you in your recovery. If needed, a psychiatrist can provide medication to help you manage cravings and any underlying psychiatric conditions. Self-help meetings are encouraged. When it is close to your discharge date, staff will work with you to develop a discharge plan.
  • Outpatient – this is less intensive care, where you will still receive group and individual counseling sessions, but you’ll live at home. This allows you to work, attend school, and manage duties at home while still getting treatment, and works best if you have a stable living environment and a strong support group. You can still have family sessions and psychiatric care as needed, if you’d like. Staff will work with you to develop a discharge plan once you are close to completing your program. Self-help meeting attendance is encouraged as well, to promote ongoing sobriety.

For More Information

If you think you may have a problem with alcohol, here are some sites that you can visit. They can give you some assistance in getting sober if you want. If you prefer a more personal approach, you can always talk to your doctor. They can also steer you in the right direction.

Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) has a Behavioral Health Treatment Services Locator to help link you to a treatment provider.

National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism has an Alcohol Treatment Navigator to help direct you to alcohol disorder use treatment.

Alcoholics Anonymous is one of the oldest and best-known self-help groups in the world.


National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. (2019). Alcohol facts and statistics.

American Psychiatric Association. (2013). Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders (5th ed.). Arlington, VA: American Psychiatric Publishing.

U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. (2019). Alcohol use disorder.

National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. Drinking levels defined.

National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. Alcohol's effects on the body.

U.S. National Library of Medicine. (2019). Wernicke-Korsakoff syndrome.

U.S. National Library of Medicine. (2019). Alcohol use disorder (AUD) treatment.

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and does not substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, and/or dietary advice from a licensed health professional. Drugs, supplements, and natural remedies may have dangerous side effects. If pregnant or nursing, consult with a qualified provider on an individual basis. Seek immediate help if you are experiencing a medical emergency.

© 2019 Leah


    0 of 8192 characters used
    Post Comment

    No comments yet.


    This website uses cookies

    As a user in the EEA, your approval is needed on a few things. To provide a better website experience, uses cookies (and other similar technologies) and may collect, process, and share personal data. Please choose which areas of our service you consent to our doing so.

    For more information on managing or withdrawing consents and how we handle data, visit our Privacy Policy at:

    Show Details
    HubPages Device IDThis is used to identify particular browsers or devices when the access the service, and is used for security reasons.
    LoginThis is necessary to sign in to the HubPages Service.
    Google RecaptchaThis is used to prevent bots and spam. (Privacy Policy)
    AkismetThis is used to detect comment spam. (Privacy Policy)
    HubPages Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide data on traffic to our website, all personally identifyable data is anonymized. (Privacy Policy)
    HubPages Traffic PixelThis is used to collect data on traffic to articles and other pages on our site. Unless you are signed in to a HubPages account, all personally identifiable information is anonymized.
    Amazon Web ServicesThis is a cloud services platform that we used to host our service. (Privacy Policy)
    CloudflareThis is a cloud CDN service that we use to efficiently deliver files required for our service to operate such as javascript, cascading style sheets, images, and videos. (Privacy Policy)
    Google Hosted LibrariesJavascript software libraries such as jQuery are loaded at endpoints on the or domains, for performance and efficiency reasons. (Privacy Policy)
    Google Custom SearchThis is feature allows you to search the site. (Privacy Policy)
    Google MapsSome articles have Google Maps embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    Google ChartsThis is used to display charts and graphs on articles and the author center. (Privacy Policy)
    Google AdSense Host APIThis service allows you to sign up for or associate a Google AdSense account with HubPages, so that you can earn money from ads on your articles. No data is shared unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    Google YouTubeSome articles have YouTube videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    VimeoSome articles have Vimeo videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    PaypalThis is used for a registered author who enrolls in the HubPages Earnings program and requests to be paid via PayPal. No data is shared with Paypal unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    Facebook LoginYou can use this to streamline signing up for, or signing in to your Hubpages account. No data is shared with Facebook unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    MavenThis supports the Maven widget and search functionality. (Privacy Policy)
    Google AdSenseThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Google DoubleClickGoogle provides ad serving technology and runs an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Index ExchangeThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    SovrnThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Facebook AdsThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Amazon Unified Ad MarketplaceThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    AppNexusThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    OpenxThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Rubicon ProjectThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    TripleLiftThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Say MediaWe partner with Say Media to deliver ad campaigns on our sites. (Privacy Policy)
    Remarketing PixelsWe may use remarketing pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to advertise the HubPages Service to people that have visited our sites.
    Conversion Tracking PixelsWe may use conversion tracking pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to identify when an advertisement has successfully resulted in the desired action, such as signing up for the HubPages Service or publishing an article on the HubPages Service.
    Author Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide traffic data and reports to the authors of articles on the HubPages Service. (Privacy Policy)
    ComscoreComScore is a media measurement and analytics company providing marketing data and analytics to enterprises, media and advertising agencies, and publishers. Non-consent will result in ComScore only processing obfuscated personal data. (Privacy Policy)
    Amazon Tracking PixelSome articles display amazon products as part of the Amazon Affiliate program, this pixel provides traffic statistics for those products (Privacy Policy)
    ClickscoThis is a data management platform studying reader behavior (Privacy Policy)