Alcohol Use Disorder

1 What is Alcohol Use Disorder?

Alcohol use disorder refers to the use of alcohol resulting in clinically significant changes and impairment in a person.

Characteristics of the disorder

The person may show a strong desire to have alcohol even when it causes a lot of health issues.

The person may find it difficult to stop or regulate its use, and often gives priority to having alcohol over other duties and responsibilities.

The patient may also show withdrawal symptoms when the amount of alcohol is reduced considerably or stopped.

Severity and Prevalence

The use of alcohol in this disorder is unhealthy and is a health risk. Binge drinking is another form of alcohol use in which someone takes more than five drinks in a span of two hours.

Alcohol use disorder can be mild or severe. Early diagnosis and treatment is important as the mild form of alcohol use disorder may lead to serious consequences.

Alcohol use disorder is common in Western countries and is more prevalent among the 18–29 year age group.

2 Symptoms

The most common symptoms of alcohol use disorder are:

  • Inability to control or stop alcohol use
  • Having a high tolerance for alcohol so that one ends up drinking more than necessary
  • Planning and failing to limit the use of alcohol
  • Strong urge to drink alcohol often
  • Alcohol use affecting performance at school or work
  • Less time spent on hobbies, work or social activities
  • Drinking alcohol during risky situations like driving and swimming

Most of the patients continue to have alcohol even after having many social, physical and mental issues associated with it.

Short and long term effects

When the amount is reduced or stopped, it results in withdrawal symptoms. The major withdrawal symptoms include shaking, sweating, and nausea.

An increase in the level of alcohol in the blood results in considerable impairment.

Patients may show changes in behavior such as slurred speech, lack of concentration, mood swings, poor coordination and memory.

In some cases, patients may not be able to remember certain events during periods.

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3 Causes

Alcohol use disorder can be caused by a number of factors including genetic, psychological, and environmental.

It is suggested that drinking alcohol changes the functioning in certain areas of the brain.

These areas can regulate the experience of pleasure, judgement, and the ability to control his/her behavior.

Good judgement is often replaced by a craving for more alcohol. The impaired brain gives a message of good feelings during alcohol consumption.

The negative feelings reduce with continued use and the person develops a strong urge to have alcohol even while working.

4 Making a Diagnosis

Diagnosis of alcohol use disorder is usually done by a physician, and once the disorder is confirmed, a mental health provider is recommended for further treatment.

Diagnosis is usually based on responses the patient has to questions relating to his/her habit of drinking.

The doctor may also seek information from close family members and friends regarding the issue. Some physical signs can also indicate this disorder.

No specific lab tests or imaging techniques are available for confirmation of its diagnosis.

Psychological evaluation can reveal the most about the behavioral problems and issues in the patient.

5 Treatment

Treatment of alcohol use disorder depends on the condition of the patient and his/her needs.

After detoxification, a well-drawn treatment plan is set, customized for the individual needs and lifestyle of the patient.

Some beneficial treatment methods are:

  • Detoxification -- this is the first step in the treatment of the disorder. This is usually done in the hospital
  • Treating withdrawal symptoms – sedative medications are given to control withdrawal symptoms, particularly during the detoxification stage.
  • Psychological counseling – counseling helps to understand the disorder and the patient's options for recovery. A number of mental health disorders like depression and anxiety are often associated with this disorder. Counseling can help to control these disorders as well.
  • Medications – certain oral medications like disulfiram help to prevent drinking, however, this may not help to curb the urge or cure the disorder. Naltrexone is used to prevent the pleasurable feeling after drinking. Naltrexone can be taken as an oral medication or as an injection. Acamprosate is recommended to prevent alcohol cravings once the person has stopped drinking.

6 Prevention

Preventing drinking at an early age is the best way to be sure that it doesn't develop into alcohol use disorder.

The prevalence of alcohol use disorder is greater among people 18-29 years old.

Look out for signs and symptoms of drinking in teenagers and manage it at the right time.

Talking openly about the problems of alcoholism to children and young adults helps them to control their habits.

Knowing about consequences is the best way to prevent it.

7 Alternative and Homeopathic Remedies

Yoga and meditation are good alternative remedy options for controlling the symptoms of alcohol use disorder.

These two methods are ideal for managing stress. Acupuncture can also be useful in reducing stress.

Nux vomica is used in homeopathy for treating alcohol addictions.

Hyoscyamus is used to control the withdrawal symptoms.

Cannabis Indica is suggested for controlling acute alcoholism.

8 Lifestyle and Coping

Support groups are ideal for coping with alcohol use disorder and to deal with recurrences.

They also help the person to remain sober, even when the urge is high.

Developing a healthy lifestyle with less stress, good exercise habits and a healthy diet helps them to remain sober.

9 Risks and Complications

There are several risks and complications associated with alcohol use disorder.

Slurred speech and loss of muscle coordination results from acute alcoholism. Heavy drinking may even lead to coma.

As this disorder affects judgement abilities, safety during risky situations is a concern.

This disorder may lead to a number of other health issues including:

  • Digestive problems
  • Heart issues
  • Liver disease
  • Eye problems
  • Birth defects
  • Increased risk of cancer
  • Weak immune system
  • Neurological complications
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