Learning About Alcohol Use Disorder

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What is alcohol use disorder?

Alcohol use disorder means that a person drinks alcohol even though it causes harm to themselves or others. It can range from mild to severe. The more symptoms of this disorder you have, the more severe it may be. People who have it may find it hard to control their use of alcohol.

People who have this disorder may argue with others about how much they're drinking. Their job may be affected because of drinking. They may drink when it's dangerous or illegal, such as when they drive. They also may have a strong need, or craving, to drink. They may feel like they must drink just to get by. Their drinking may increase their risk of getting hurt or being in a car crash.

Over time, drinking too much alcohol may cause health problems. These may include high blood pressure, liver problems, or problems with digestion.

What are the symptoms?

Maybe you've wondered about your alcohol habits or how to tell if your drinking is becoming a problem.

Here are some of the symptoms of alcohol use disorder. You may have it if you have two or more of the following symptoms:

  • You drink larger amounts of alcohol than you ever meant to. Or you've been drinking for a longer time than you ever meant to.
  • You can't cut down or control your use. Or you constantly wish you could cut down.
  • You spend a lot of time getting or drinking alcohol or recovering from its effects.
  • You have strong cravings for alcohol.
  • You can no longer do your main jobs at work, at school, or at home.
  • You keep drinking alcohol, even though your use hurts your relationships.
  • You have stopped doing important activities because of your alcohol use.
  • You drink alcohol in situations where doing so is dangerous.
  • You keep drinking alcohol even though you know it's causing health problems.
  • You need more and more alcohol to get the same effect, or you get less effect from the same amount over time. This is called tolerance.
  • You have uncomfortable symptoms when you stop drinking alcohol or use less. This is called withdrawal.

Alcohol use disorder can range from mild to severe. The more symptoms you have, the more severe the disorder may be.

You might not realize that your drinking is a problem. You might not drink large amounts when you drink. Or you might go for days or weeks between drinking episodes. But even if you don't drink very often, your drinking could still be harmful and put you at risk.

How is alcohol use disorder treated?

Getting help is up to you. But you don't have to do it alone. There are many people and kinds of treatments that can help.

Treatment for alcohol use disorder can include:

  • Group therapy, one or more types of counseling, and alcohol education.
  • Medicines that help to:
    • Reduce withdrawal symptoms and help you safely stop drinking.
    • Reduce cravings for alcohol.
  • Support groups. These groups include Alcoholics Anonymous and SMART Recovery (Self-Management and Recovery Training).

Some people are able to stop or cut back on drinking with help from a counselor. People who have moderate to severe alcohol use disorder may need medical treatment. They may need to stay in a hospital or treatment center.

You may have a treatment team to help you. This team may include a psychologist or psychiatrist, counselors, doctors, social workers, nurses, and a case manager. A case manager helps plan and manage your treatment.

Follow-up care is a key part of your treatment and safety. Be sure to make and go to all appointments, and call your doctor if you are having problems. It's also a good idea to know your test results and keep a list of the medicines you take.

Where can you learn more?

Go to https://www.healthwise.net/patientEd

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The Health Encyclopedia contains general health information. Not all treatments or services described are covered benefits for Kaiser Permanente members or offered as services by Kaiser Permanente. For a list of covered benefits, please refer to your Evidence of Coverage or Summary Plan Description. For recommended treatments, please consult with your health care provider.