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Alcohol is a socially acceptable drug. Its consumption is shown in popular television shows and movies. Entire series of shows are often based on characters working in, frequenting, or owning bars. Even when not in bars, characters can be seen with a drink perpetually in hand, and their drunkenness is a source of entertainment, or their high alcohol consumption a plot point. 

When our examples are seemingly constant alcohol consumption, alcohol misuse becomes difficult to spot. This article will dive into what alcohol use disorder (AUD) is, its signs and symptoms, and what to do if you or someone you know needs help. It will also cover when drinking is problematic and starting to develop into addiction.

Understanding Alcohol Use Disorder 

It is estimated that “around 18 million adult Americans have an alcohol use disorder,” according to the National Library of Medicine. AUD is characterized by drinking that causes distress and harm. AUD is sometimes referred to as alcohol dependence or alcoholism when cases are severe. It is characterized by cravings for alcohol, an inability to stop drinking once you’ve begun, and feelings of anxiety and irritability when not drinking.

AUD comes with a number of pitfalls. Overconsumption of alcohol can increase the risk of certain cancers, liver disease, and cirrhosis. Heavy consumption of alcohol can also damage the brain and other organs, as well as harm your baby if you drink during pregnancy. 

Who Experiences Alcohol Use Disorder?

AUD is not just a problem for American adults; alcohol consumption happens worldwide. Further, AUD is not simply genetic. While genetic components can increase your risk of developing AUD, environmental factors also contribute. For example, some behaviors surrounding alcohol consumption can be learned that later contribute to an unhealthy relationship. Additionally, addiction is a formed habit, meaning it can be developed over time whether one is genetically predisposed to alcoholism or not. 

One way to determine whether or not alcohol use is becoming more than habitual is by assessing how many drinks it takes to gain its effects. Over time, that number will continue to increase as your body adapts to and lessens the effects of alcohol use.

Knowing if You Have Alcohol Use Disorder

Looking back at the past year and asking yourself the following questions can help you determine whether you have AUD:

  • Have you found yourself drinking more or longer than you planned?
  • Have you tried to cut back or quit drinking but couldn’t?
  • Have you spent so much time drinking or recovering from drinking that it interrupted your time with life, family, job, or school?
  • Have you continued to drink when it was adding to another health problem or contributing to stress or anxiety?
  • Have you experienced withdrawal symptoms such as shakiness, trouble sleeping, restlessness, anxiety, depression, irritability, sweating, or nausea when alcohol was wearing off?
  • Have you found yourself drinking more to achieve the same effects?
  • Have you driven drunk, had unsafe sex, or gotten into other dangerous situations as a result of drinking?

If any of the above symptoms are true for you, your relationship with alcohol may be unhealthy. Please note that the more questions you answered yes to, the more serious your problem is. Additionally, alcohol use is accompanied by a number of short and long-term effects.

Does Alcohol Use Disorder Require Detox?

You may have heard that discontinuing the use of some substances requires a supervised detox period. This can be true when it comes to alcohol. While the severity of alcohol withdrawal symptoms varies, they generally occur in three stages that become progressively more severe. They are:

  • Stage 1: The most immediate stage can take place as quickly as two hours following your last drink and can include shakiness, depression, and anxiety.
  • Stage 2: Here, symptoms begin to intensify. You may experience sweating and mood swings. More severe symptoms include increased blood pressure and abnormal heart rate.
  • Stage 3: This is the most dangerous stage of alcohol withdrawal. If you experience this stage, you require immediate medical attention. Here, withdrawal symptoms include seizures, high fever, and hallucinations. 

In order to protect your long-term well-being, seek the help of a medical health professional. Consulting with someone experienced in the stages of detox can provide you with insight into what you can expect as you enter sobriety. It will also offer you a level of protection should your withdrawal symptoms become more severe. An example of this is that your doctor can prescribe medications that help ease withdrawal symptoms and reduce cravings. However, these options require supervision, and an inpatient detox may be the safest option for your health and well-being.

Seeking Treatment for Alcohol Use Disorder 

If you are ready to take control of your life by discontinuing alcohol use, there are plenty of options for quality care. West Coast Recovery Centers (WCRC) offers responsive programming that supports addiction recovery. Here, you can expect an integrated approach, including options for various therapies as well as supervised detox where necessary. WCRC offers inpatient detox care and outpatient or residential recovery treatment. 

Alcohol use disorder is characterized by drinking that causes distress and harm. While genetics can contribute to the likelihood of developing an AUD, environmental factors also play a role. In fact, anyone can develop an AUD. To know if you are at risk, consider your alcohol use this past year. If you find that alcohol has disrupted your life and is contributing to your stress and anxiety, you may have an AUD. West Coast Recovery Centers (WCRC) is equipped to support both detox and recovery from AUD. If you or someone you love is ready to learn more about AUD and begin the journey of recovery, call WCRC at (760) 492-6509 today.

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