What You Need to Know about Alcohol Use Disorder
Did you know that alcohol is the most-used intoxicating substance in the world? Here in the United States, 87% of adults admit to drinking at some point in their life, and over half are current drinkers. But while most people enjoy recreational drinking responsibly, for far too many others, drinking becomes an uncontrollable compulsion that wreaks havoc on their life and the lives of everyone close to them.
Because alcohol has such an immediate and profound effect on the brain, it is extremely habit-forming. In fact, that effect is so powerful that the neurochemical changes that may support the development of a drinking problem are triggered by the very first drink a person takes in their lifetime. Repeated exposure – regular or heavy drinking, for example– accelerates those changes, especially in those people who are genetically or environmentally vulnerable to substance abuse.
A Disease That Affects Millions of Americans
This explains why the most-recent National Survey on Drug Use and Health found that among the almost 137 million Americans who drink, over 15 million meet the criteria for a medical diagnosis of alcoholism, now properly called Alcohol Use Disorder. That works out to 1 out of every 18 people age 12 and older.
- More than 65 million people engage in the dangerous practice of binge-drinking within the past month
- Over 16 million Americans admitted to drinking “heavily”
- Annually, alcohol claims the lives of approximately 88,000 people in the United States.
Here in San Diego County, more than 1600 residents died because of alcohol between 1999 and 2016, with the number of yearly deaths climbing 75% in less than one generation.
All of this means that you almost definitely know someone who is struggling with problematic drinking right now – your spouse or significant other, your child, your parent or sibling…maybe even YOU.
“A lot of alcoholics talk about how they look back and can see that they never knew, never really could predict, when they’d get too drunk, when they’d cross the line from what felt like normal heavy drinking into raging, out-of-control drinking.” –Caroline Knapp, Drinking: A Love Story
For many, drinking is a generally-harmless social activity, when done responsibly and in moderation. But where is the line that separates recreational drinking from problem drinking?
Alcoholism, like all forms of addiction, is a progressive disease with multiple stages. Unfortunately, too many people either fail to recognize the warning signs until it is too late to change their behaviors on their own.
The slippery slope leading to AUD starts with how much and how often you drink. The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism defines “increased risk” or “heavy” drinking as:
- Binge drinking
5 or more times during the past month
Men 5+ drinks within a two-hour period
Women: 4+ drinks within a two-hour period
- Daily/Weekly drinking
Men: More than 4 drinks on any single day, or
14 drinks per week
Women: More than 3 drinks on any single day, or
7 drinks per week
Why are these recommended levels so important? Just 2% of people who drink within these guidelines develop AUD.
A drinking problem is also evidenced by negative consequences – other areas of your life are impacted because of it:
- Legal entanglements – DUIs, Public Intoxication, etc.
- Problems at school or work – Absences, poor performance/ bad grades, suspensions, termination, etc.
- Relationship difficulties – Arguments, separation, divorce, domestic violence, child abuse, etc.
- Health trouble– Blackouts, accidents and injuries, brain/heart/liver damage, cancer, etc.
- Money issues – Frequent or prolonged unemployment, repossessions, unpaid bills, etc.
If any of these struggles are related to your use of alcohol, then your recreational “habit” has started to become an actual problem that needs to be dealt with. And if you continue to drink in spite of these consequences, then you are exhibiting one of the major symptoms needed for a medical diagnosis of AUD.
By this point, you may even find that you are UNABLE to stop drinking, even if you have every reason to quit and you desperately want to. You lose control over when or how much you drink. Now, without outside intervention, your alcohol addiction will only worsen, potentially to the point of permanent damage to your health or even death.
Take this quiz to help you determine if you have a drinking problem.