Alcohol Use Disorder

Alcohol use disorder is a medical condition often used to describe frequent or heavy alcohol consumption. Like other forms of substance abuse, alcoholism is not irreversible. With the proper treatment and support, those struggling with alcohol use disorder can recover.

Defining Substance Use Disorder

Substance use disorder, commonly referred to as addiction, is often stigmatized. Such stigmas about people with substance use disorder can include:

  • They are dangerous or hazardous
  • At the fault for their medical condition 
  • Too lazy or careless to seek treatment

These misconceptions can be incredibly harmful to those seeking treatment and may even prevent the desire to receive treatment. The reality is, substance use disorder can be caused by a multitude of different factors. Many of these factors are outside of one’s control and, before they know it, use of the substance becomes uncontrollable. 

Substance use disorders of all kinds affect a person's brain chemistry and behavior. These significant changes are what lead to the condition’s severity. Such individuals are then challenged by their own minds to quit misusing substances— even when they recognize the harmful effects taking place.

These misconceptions [about those with substance use disorder] can be incredibly harmful to those seeking help and may even prevent the desire to receive treatment.

Many negative effects follow the occurrence of substance use disorder. Problems at work, school, and in social lives are created by the clutch of these dangerous substances. Additionally, one’s physical and mental health are oftentimes at the expense of the substances being misused

Alcohol Abuse vs. Alcohol Dependence

The two terms, alcohol dependence and alcohol abuse are mistakenly used interchangeably. In simplest terms, alcohol abuse is when alcohol is consumed too much and too frequently. Whereas, alcohol dependence directs users into some very dangerous territory. Those with alcohol dependence face the inability to quit. Alcohol dependence typically increases a drinker’s alcohol tolerance, causes withdrawals, loss of ability to quit, and the frequent compulsion to drink, even when it may be inappropriate. 

Alcohol abuse is more common and abusers do not typically suffer the same physical symptoms of withdrawal and compulsivity if they abstain. When an individual suffers from alcohol dependence, the frequency and quantity of alcoholic beverages consumed can lead to some very serious conditions such as liver failure, heart disease, and cancer.

Is Addiction Genetic? 

According to studies, around 45-65% of the likelihood that a person will develop a substance use disorder is hereditary. Genetic makeup greatly affects how one’s nervous system will react to drug and alcohol consumption. According to the National Institute of Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, heredity of addiction presents itself as one of the greatest risk factors of alcohol addiction. 

According to studies by JAMA, genetics contribute to around 45-65% of the likelihood that a person will develop a substance use disorder.

For those who intend on using substances, it is wise to be aware of any family history of substance use disorder. Knowledge of this can encourage moderation and prevention of substance misuse. In addition to genetics, factors surrounding nature and nurture can greatly influence one’s predisposition to substance use disorder.

Some of these nature and nurture factors can include: 

  • Recurrent occurrences of unmet needs from parents or caregivers
  • The absence of attachment and genuine connection 
  • A parent or caregiver experiencing substance use disorder

Though genetics and family history are typically outside of one’s control, the proper support and education can prevent the occurrence of substance use disorder. Some productive ways to prevent substance abuse include awareness of substance abuse triggers, moderation of consumption, and frequent assessment of stress levels.

Alcoholism Symptoms 

Alcohol use disorder can range in severity. The amount of symptoms one experiences is a good indicator of the severity and type of treatment needed. Some symptoms include: 

  • Being incapable of controlling the amount of alcohol consumed
  • Wanting to consume less alcohol but being unable to do so 
  • Experiencing frequent cravings for alcohol 
  • Needing to consume more alcohol to receive the same effects
  • Encountering feelings of withdrawal when alcohol is not consumed (i.e. nausea, tremors, headache, shaking, irritability, insomnia, etc.)

Symptoms of alcohol abuse can be physical and psychological. If you or a loved one is experiencing any of these symptoms, know that help is within reach. 

Receiving Treatment for Alcoholism

Alcohol use disorder is more common than most people may think. Though alcohol consumption is very normalized in most societies, many individuals currently suffer from a poor relationship with alcohol. Every year in the US, around 88,000 people die of alcohol-related causes.

How to Know if Treatment is Necessary 

There can be some confusion surrounding when alcohol becomes a problem. Because of the normalcy surrounding alcohol consumption, there are far less taboos surrounding frequent or heavy drinking.

In fact, alcohol consumption is so prevalent in the US that we see it across all forms of media on a regular basis—in movies, commercials, discussed in music, etc. The casual connotation surrounding alcohol can lead individuals to believe that they do not abuse or depend on alcohol.

Though alcohol consumption is very normalized in most societies, many individuals currently suffer from a poor relationship with alcohol. Every year in the US, around 88,000 people die of alcohol-related causes.

A simple way to determine the line between alcohol use and alcoholism is to determine, is alcohol causing problems in your life? These include physical or psychological problems. Do you find yourself: 

  • Thinking about the next drink you will have when you are drinking? 
  • Experiencing negative physical symptoms when you do not drink? 
  • Canceling plans or commitments so that you may drink?
  • Consistently doing a poor job at work or school because of your drinking habits?

If you can say yes to any amount of those questions, it may be a good time to seek some guidance surrounding your drinking.

Types of Treatment 

There are several common treatment types that are used by health professionals to help treat alcohol use disorder. Individuals are always encouraged to talk to their doctor about what the best form of treatment is for them. Behavioral treatment, medication, and mutual-support groups are three of the more common types of treatment.

Behavioral Treatment

Cognitive-behavioral treatment (CBT) has shown to be very useful when used to help treat those with alcohol use disorder. Such treatments help individuals determine the causes and triggers of their alcohol dependence, develop the skills needed to quit or reduce drinking, create a reliable support system, and set achievable goals. 

The reasons in which someone develops alcohol use disorder can be many. Behavioral treatment is a great way to dig deeply and begin to examine the individual causes. The ultimate goal of this treatment is to change the thought processes and emotional responses that lead to alcohol misuse.


In the US, there are three different non-addictive FDA-approved medications that can be used to help treat alcohol addiction. These medications include: 

  • Acamprosate - reduces craving and reduces withdrawal symptoms
  • Naltrexone - blocks the intoxicating effects of alcohol
  • Disulfiram - causes negative side effects when alcohol is consumed

These medications are not a cure for addiction and should be used in combination with other forms of treatment.

Mutual-Support Groups

Twelve-step programs such as Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) can be great forms of support and recovery encouragement. These programs are open to all and are typically free to attend. Collaborating with other like-minded individuals can be incredibly helpful when recovering from any form of addiction.

Regaining Normalcy

Alcohol is a depressant that can negatively affect the brain in a variety of ways, especially when consumed in high volume too often. For every one drink, your body takes, on average, a minimum of one hour to leave your system. Depending on the level of alcohol abuse or dependency, it can take weeks to even years for an individual to recover from the damage done by alcohol. However, it is encouraging and rather remarkable that the brain is capable of repairing itself. 

Though recovery takes time and consistency, it is possible. Individuals must be willing to experience the good and bad days. The reward of normalcy and health are worth the hard work and persistence.  

If you are struggling with any form of substance use addiction, contact us today. Our knowledgeable and caring team is here to give you the care you need.