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

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