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Recognizing Alcohol Use Disorder

April 15, 2024

Hand holding a glass of alcohol

Alcohol use disorder is defined by frequent and excessive drinking, strong cravings and negative consequences when it comes to alcohol consumption.

Although the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines limit an adult’s alcohol consumption to a maximum of seven drinks per week for women and 14 drinks a week for men, many people drink more than this and don’t have an addiction problem. So, when does it become a serious issue?

What Is Alcohol Use Disorder?

“For some people, experimenting with alcohol can evolve into casual drinking and progress to excessive and compulsive alcohol consumption,” says Tamara Lipshie, MD, an addiction specialist at Atlantic Health System. “The compulsion to drink can come from a genetic predisposition, trauma, socioeconomic and environmental factors, and even excessive exposure to it. But, if your drinking begins to interfere with your daily responsibilities and relationships, it’s time to talk with your primary care doctor.”

Knowing the Signs

  1. Dependence: when you find yourself thinking about, craving, and reaching for alcohol alone, in the mornings, or on regular basis.
  2. Tolerance: when you find that you need more and more alcohol over time to feel the same effects.
  3. Withdrawal: when you’re not drinking and you experience symptoms such as tremors, anxiety, nausea, or insomnia.
  4. Neglecting Responsibilities: When you prioritize drinking over your personal obligations or when it leads to conflicts or legal issues.
  5. Relationships: When your connection to family, friends, or colleagues becomes strained due to alcohol use.
  6. Hiding and Sneaking: When you’re ashamed so you conceal the frequency or amount of alcohol you consume from the people in your life.
  7. Health Decline: When you begin to develop alcohol-related health issues such as liver disease, heart problems, or neurological issues.
  8. Mood Swings: When you experience sudden changes in mood or behavior such as irritability, depression, or aggression.

Getting the Help You Need

The best way to get control of alcohol use disorder is to acknowledge the problem, seek help, and commit to the process of learning how to manage it. Medications can help reduce cravings and withdrawal symptoms. Cognitive behavioral therapy can serve as a valuable tool towards sobriety. Mutual aid meetings such as Alcoholics Anonymous (AA), Celebrate Recovery, and Smart Recovery can support your recovery journey.

“Overcoming addiction is challenging, but with the right support and treatment you can learn to manage it,” says Dr. Lipshie. “Evidence-based care shows that well over 50% of adults achieve their sobriety goals. Managing addiction requires a little flexibility — it’s not 100% or nothing.”

Be Proactive About Your Health

To stay safe and healthy, it's good to have a primary care provider who knows and understands your health history and wellness goals.

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