Alcohol Use Disorder

What is Alcohol Use Disorder?

Alcohol Use Disorder is a term used to describe problem drinking that has become severe and causes harm or distress in the form of alcohol-related unemployment and the squandering of money.  It is estimated that around 17 millions adults aged 18 and older in the United States had Alcohol Use Disorder in 2012 and was comprised of around 7.5 million women and 11.2 million men.

The disorder is characterized by a series of psychological, cognitive and physical consequences connected to the compulsive use of alcohol.

What are the Symptoms of Alcohol Use Disorder?

Physical symptoms are connected to the damage that the substance creates in the body and signs of withdrawal.

Symptoms include

Symptoms of psychological and physical dependence include continuing to drink even though it is causing health problems and making the individual feel anxious and depressed.  Neglecting enjoyable hobbies in order to devote more time to drinking, developing problems with friends and family due to excessive drinking, drinking is interfering with taking care of one’s family, drinking is leading to illegal activity and violence, the individual has thoughts of suicide and problems at work or at school because of being intoxicated, and trying to stop drinking without success.

Alcohol Use Disorder Causes

While it is not easy to point out the exact causes of alcohol use disorder, some risk factors help in predicting how vulnerable people are to abuse and addiction.


A family history of alcohol abuse and alcoholism puts you at a higher risk of developing the disorder. Alcohol use disorder, however, depends on other factors and living with alcoholic relatives doesn’t mean that you will become one too.

Psychological dispositions

Mental health is a critical element in the development of alcohol use disorder. Individuals with anxiety, schizophrenia, depression, or low self-esteem experience the need to get approval from others and often resort to drinking to cope with these problems. Using alcohol as a medication leads to dependence and eventually alcoholism.

Binge drinking

Having more than five drinks in a day is called binge drinking, especially if it is done once in a week. The problem with binge drinking is the body gets used to the large amounts of alcohol over time, and the person cannot drink any less.

How is Alcohol Use Disorder Treated?

Only a small amount of people who need help with Alcohol Use Disorder receive it.  A study done in 2012 estimates that of the 8.4 million people who needed treatment only 1.4 million individuals received the help they needed.

Alcoholics Anonymous and Smart Recovery look down on medication used to treat Alcohol Use Disorder even though there is clinical research that proves medication to be more effective.  Many individuals in the psychology and addiction counseling community look down on a pharmacological approach to treatment even though the evidence is in support of using medication along with cognitive behavioral therapy to end addiction.

Alcohol Use Disorder Prevention

The best way to prevent alcohol use disorder is to start early awareness in our homes, schools and workplaces.

Government intervention

Policies are a major preventive measure in curbing alcohol abuse. Laws that set out the legal age that gives young adults the right to drink, the legal blood alcohol content for drivers and repercussions on drunk driving, help to lower the incidences of drunk driving accidents and drinking disorders.


Family-focused, youth, and even workplace intervention strategies are successful in curbing alcohol use disorders among young people and adults. These interactive programs include counseling sessions, plays, and training for teachers. Engaging the community in these interventions helps to set out that alcohol use among teenagers and young adults is unacceptable.

Last Reviewed:
October 09, 2016
Last Updated:
March 29, 2018