For most people, the occasional craft brew or delicate glass of wine doesn't lead to negative consequences in their lives.
But when alcohol use seems out of control or consistently causes family strife, issues at work, or health problems, you might be in the grip of something more serious.
Alcohol use disorder is a diagnosable condition that requires professional medical help.
The seriousness of your condition will determine the best treatment plan for you. Here are some situations that suggest you could benefit from treatment:
You try to cut down or stop drinking, but you can’t control it.
You spend a lot of time drinking or recovering from alcohol’s effects.
You aren’t completing important tasks at home or at work.
You continue to drink despite the problems it’s causing in your life.
It’s not just “one beer too many” on a Friday night.
At Eappen Clinic, we know that compassionate, individualized care can help you stop or control your drinking. We will collaborate with you on a treatment plan that will help you break free from alcohol’s worst effects.
What is alcohol use disorder?
Alcohol use disorder, sometimes called “alcoholism,” means a person drinks alcohol frequently or in large amounts—even when it causes a lot of problems—and can’t seem to stop the pattern of heavy drinking.
The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) generally defines heavy drinking as:
- Four or more drinks a day (or 14 a week) for men
- Three or more drinks a day (or seven a week) for women
But alcohol use disorder is about more than how many drinks a person has. A diagnosis must be based on a patient meeting certain criteria for the disorder.
Among these criteria are:
- Physical tolerance, or getting less of a “buzz” from drinking
- Cravings for alcohol
- Failed attempts to stop or reduce drinking
- Continued drinking despite negative consequences
It’s possible that if your condition is at the lower end of the range, only brief treatment might be needed. On the other hand, severe cases will require treatment and consistent management. Because alcohol use disorder is a chronic disease, there is a risk of relapse.
One of the biggest reasons why alcohol use disorder takes such a heavy toll is few people with the condition seek help. Many studies have linked alcohol use disorder with impaired memory, poor decision-making, and low motivation. We can help you become more aware of the risks of heavy drinking and to acknowledge any damaging effects alcohol is having on your health and your relationships.
Who gets alcohol use disorder?
An estimated one-third of Americans experience an alcohol use disorder at some time in their lives. Alcoholism is more common in some groups than others.
Surveys of adults have found that two-thirds of those who developed alcohol use disorder as an adult had started to drink excessively before the age of 25. There is also a genetic component to alcoholism, so if a family member of yours has had problems related to drinking, you’re at higher risk.
Men are more than twice as likely than women to develop an alcohol use disorder. However, the harmful effects of alcoholism can be greater for women.
Research has shown that among women with an alcohol use disorder, complications such as liver disease are more common, and death from alcohol-related causes is more likely. For both sexes, alcohol use disorder substantially increases the chance that someone will have thoughts of suicide and may act on them.
Having another behavioral health disorder also increases the chance of having an alcohol use disorder. Alcoholism is significantly more common among people with depression or anxiety, for example. Sometimes when people don’t receive the help they need for these other mental health problems, they turn to drinking to mask their pain.
There is also growing evidence that stressful experiences can increase harmful drinking that can lead to an alcohol use disorder. These stressful events can date back as far as a childhood trauma, or be as recent as the social isolation so many are experiencing today.
How is alcohol use disorder treated?
There are many effective ways to treat alcohol use disorder. Medications, therapy and support groups all play an important role.
For some patients, serious withdrawal symptoms that occur after they stop drinking (such as tremors, nausea, even seizures) might require medical treatment for detoxification. However, many people who stop drinking will not need medical treatment at all.
For long-term treatment of alcohol use disorder, there are medication options available. Medications work best when combined with therapies such as cognitive-behavioral therapy (“talk therapy”) and motivational interviewing (goal-oriented counseling to change behavior). These therapies can help patients overcome negative thoughts and fears about changing their behavior.
The non-medication approach that has the richest history in helping alcoholics is 12-Step group support, practiced mainly by Alcoholics Anonymous (AA). In fact, AA is the world’s largest support fellowship. Some people find AA is not a fit for them because it’s tied to a spiritual or religious “higher power.” Because of this, secular support groups such as Self-Management and Recovery Training (SMART) Recovery have grown substantially in recent years.
Many people find individual treatment in addition to a support group works best for their long-term journey to overcome alcohol use disorder—a positive point in their lives usually called “recovery.”
How long will my treatment for alcohol use disorder last?
For some individuals, short treatment time might be all that is needed to help eliminate drinking or reduce it to a less harmful level. But an important point to remember is that alcohol use disorder is a chronic illness, just like diabetes or high blood pressure. Like those diseases, relapse is common.
A return to drinking, whether a one-time slip or an emerging pattern, should never be considered a failure. If it happens, we will use it as an opportunity to reorient you to your long-term goals and to make any needed shifts in your treatment plan. Living a life “in recovery” is a lifelong journey.
We will work with you to identify the life stresses that increase your risk of a relapse. Your higher quality of life after you stop or reduce your drinking will make a big difference in your long-term health.
Should I get treatment for my alcohol use disorder?
It’s possible that even if you meet criteria for an alcohol use disorder, you may be able to stop or reduce your drinking without treatment. A thorough evaluation will help reveal the severity of the problems you’re experiencing.
Still, many people who drink excessively have limited insight into how their use is affecting their lives and those around them. If your drinking is harming your productivity at work, hurting your relationships with others, or leading to accidents or other health problems, you may need treatment to set you on a healthier course.
At Eappen Clinic, we can help you gain a better understanding of alcohol use disorder and what treatments may work best for you. Your first appointment with us is a detailed evaluation. At the end of your evaluation, you’ll know the next steps.
Let’s work together on your road to recovery.