Alcohol Use Disorder


Alcohol is one of the most commonly consumed intoxicating substances and legal in most parts of the world. Drinking too much can cause a range of unintended consequences, and increase one’s risk for a variety of health problems.

What is alcohol?

Alcohol (ethanol) is formed when yeast breaks down the sugars in certain foods (such as grapes, barley, potatoes) through a process called fermentation.

How is it used?

Alcohol is the active ingredient in drinks such as beer, wine, and hard liquor. A standard drink consists of:

  • 12 ounces of regular beer, which is about five percent alcohol

  • 5 ounces of wine, which is about 12 percent alcohol

  • 1.5 ounces of distilled spirits, which is about 40 percent alcohol

Alcohol Use Disorder

Short-Term Effects

Alcohol affects people differently based on a variety of factors, including:

  • Quantity consumed

  • Frequency of use

  • Age

  • Health Status

  • Genetics

Alcohol interferes with the brain’s communication pathways, which can alter mood and behavior, and make it difficult to think clearly and move with coordination.

When consumed in moderation, alcohol can cause people to feel talkative, happy, and relaxed. As a person continues to drink, their blood alcohol content (BAC) level rises, which increasingly impairs brain and bodily function. Intoxication or drunkenness can result in reduced inhibitions, slurred speech, motor impairment, confusion, memory problems, and trouble concentrating. Heavy drinking can also lead to alcohol poisoning, which can cause seizures, coma, and in severe cases, death. Alcohol use can also increase risky and violent behavior, car crashes, and other accidents and injuries.

Long-Term Health Consequences

When a person has trouble controlling their drinking despite negative consequences to their health and/or relationships, they may have an alcohol use disorder (AUD). Severe AUD, also known as addiction, is a chronic, relapsing brain disease characterized by compulsive alcohol use, loss of control over alcohol intake, and a negative emotional state when not drinking.

Drinking too much over a long period of time can also take a serious toll on a person’s physical health. Heavy drinking can damage the heart, liver, pancreas, weaken the immune system, and increase the person’s risk of developing certain cancers.

Learn more about alcohol’s effect on the body.  

Treatments for AUD

Many people think that help for AUD can only be found in two places--Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) or a long-term residential rehab facility. But today, there are more choices than you might expect. (NIAAA)

Treatment for AUD is offered in outpatient, inpatient, and residential settings. In general, practitioners recommend that patients start with outpatient treatment. As with any substance use disorder, treatment for AUD should be evidence-based and tailored to an individual’s particular needs and the severity of their disorder. Mutual aid groups, such as Alcoholics Anonymous (AA), and SMART Recovery can provide recovery support services to compliment treatment.

The best available treatment for AUD involves the combination of medications and behavioral counseling, known as medication-assisted treatment or MAT.

Medications including Naltrexone, Acamprosate, and Disulfiram can help stop or reduce alcohol use and prevent relapse.

Behavioral counseling can include one-on-one, group, and family sessions that aim to change drinking behavior through counseling or “talk therapy.”

More Information about AUD: