Alcohol use disorder (AUD), commonly known as alcoholism, is a condition where a person has an impaired ability to stop or control their alcohol consumption despite adverse social, occupational, or health consequences. Individuals with AUD often find it challenging to regulate the amount of alcohol they drink, and it can significantly impact their personal and professional lives.
It is important to note that excessive alcohol consumption is not necessarily equivalent to alcohol dependence. However, repetitive drinking patterns despite facing significant losses or health problems and an inability to stop or reduce consumption typically indicate addiction. As the body develops tolerance, the quantity of alcohol consumed to achieve desired levels of intoxication increases over time. Attempts to quit drinking suddenly or reduce consumption drastically can lead to withdrawal symptoms.
AUD is characterized by the abuse of alcohol rather than its use, and it is not limited to individuals who drink heavily every day. Engaging in drinking binges or weekend binge drinking can also progress into alcohol dependency.
Some signs and symptoms of AUD include drinking alone or in secret, inability to limit alcohol consumption, blacking out, being unable to remember chunks of time, developing drinking rituals, and becoming irritated if someone comments on them. Other signs include poor brain-to-body coordination, losing interest in previously enjoyed hobbies, irritability when drinking times approach, storing alcohol in unlikely places, gulping drinks down to feel good, relationship, law, financial or work problems stemming from drinking, experiencing nausea, sweating, or shaking when not drinking, and unclear or slurry speech.
Although not all individuals displaying these symptoms may be dependent on alcohol, alcohol abuse over time can result in an imbalance of gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA) in the brain and glutamate, which stimulates the nervous system. Excessive alcohol intake also causes dopamine levels to rise, and this can significantly alter brain function.
Several risk factors may also be linked to alcoholism, such as a family history of substance or alcohol abuse or non-chemical addiction, starting to drink at a young age, easy access to alcohol, high stress, anxiety, friends who drink regularly or excessively, low self-esteem, depression, and media advertising that promotes excessive drinking.
The complications of AUD include fatigue, memory loss (especially short-term memory), weakened eye muscles, liver diseases (hepatitis and cirrhosis), gastrointestinal complications, hypertension, heart problems (damaged heart muscle, heart failure, or stroke), diabetes (with a high risk of developing type 2 diabetes), erectile dysfunction, fetal alcohol syndrome (during pregnancy), thinning bones (increased risk of fractures), nervous system problems, various cancers, injuries from falls, road traffic accidents, domestic abuse, employment or educational problems, increased risk of suicide and mental illnesses, and problems with the law.
Managing alcoholism can be challenging, and there are several options available for treatment. These include one-on-one counseling, residential treatment programs, medicinal drugs that help with cravings, detoxification, abstinence, and the international program Alcoholics Anonymous.
In conclusion, alcoholism is a serious condition that can significantly impact an individual’s life. Understanding the symptoms and causes of AUD can help identify and address the issue, and treatment is available to help manage and overcome alcoholism.