Some warning signs may suggest that a person is struggling with or at risk of an alcohol use disorder. If a person does have an alcohol use disorder, there are specific symptoms that are used to determine whether a person meets diagnostic criteria for this condition. These symptoms or criteria are listed below.
Being Unable To Reduce Alcohol Use
Having an alcohol use disorder means that a person has a difficult time reducing their alcohol use. A person may strongly desire to stop drinking, but they are not successful with reducing or eliminating their alcohol use. They may have several failed attempts at quitting drinking.
Spending a Significant Amount of Time Drinking
Brain changes from alcohol use disorder lead a person to compulsively consume alcohol. This means that they may spend most of their free time drinking, or recovering from the effects of alcohol use. For instance, entire weekends may revolve around alcohol. The person may drink heavily every evening, and then spend most of the morning and afternoon the next day recovering from the effects of being hungover.
Giving Up Other Activities in Favor Of Alcohol Use
When drinking is compulsive, as it is with an alcohol use disorder, other areas of life fall by the wayside. This means that a person may no longer engage in hobbies or other enjoyable activities.
Drinking, Even When It Causes Or Exacerbates A Health Problem
A person who lives with an alcohol use disorder may develop health problems related to alcohol misuse, such as high blood pressure. Once an alcohol use disorder takes hold, the person will continue to drink, even if they know that it is making their blood pressure problem worse.
Drinking To The Extent That It Interferes With Functioning At Work Or School
When a person is compelled to drink, they may struggle to perform at work or school. They may start calling off from work in order to drink, or the mental effect of alcohol can make it difficult for them to perform work or school-related tasks.
Continued Alcohol Consumption, Despite Relationship Problems Related To Alcohol
In the case of an alcohol use disorder, alcohol will take precedence over other areas of life, including important relationships. A person may choose to drink, even if their spouse expressed concern over their alcohol consumption.
Needing Larger Amounts Of Alcohol To Achieve The Same Desired Effects
Along with an alcohol use disorder comes the risk of tolerance, which means a person needs larger amounts of alcohol to achieve the effects they desire. Consuming 3 or more drinks may have caused intoxication previously, but once a person has an alcohol use disorder, they may not even feel impaired until consuming much more than this.
Experiencing Withdrawal Symptoms When Not Drinking
Ongoing alcohol misuse can cause the body to become dependent on alcohol, meaning that it does not function the same without the presence of alcohol. When a person is dependent and stops drinking, they will experience uncomfortable symptoms, as the body is reacting to the absence of alcohol.
Having Strong Alcohol Cravings
Strong alcohol cravings are a symptom of an alcohol use disorder. These cravings can make it difficult to stop drinking, because a person may be unable to focus on anything else aside from the desire to drink.
Drinking In Dangerous Situations, Such As Drinking Before Driving Or Operating Heavy Machinery
When someone lives with an alcohol use disorder, they may not consider safety. They will consume alcohol, even if it places them at risk of harming themselves or others. This could involve drinking large amounts, even when a person knows that they are going to be driving soon after.
Consuming Larger Amounts Of Alcohol Than Intended
A person who has an alcohol use disorder may intend to have just a drink or two, but because of losing control over alcohol consumption, they end up drinking large quantities, perhaps drinking to the point of intoxication.
3 Stages Of AUD
People sometimes divide an alcohol use disorder into three different stages, and the mental effects of alcohol are evident in each stage. Learn more below.
In the initial stages of alcohol use disorder, a person may only show a few symptoms. At this point, the person may meet diagnostic criteria, but the condition is only mild or moderate. The person may drink in order to cope with stress or anxiety, but they find that mental health becomes worse, because they are beginning to experience problems from drinking.
A person in the problematic stage of AUD may begin to struggle at work because of their drinking, experience problems in their relationships, and spend most of their time drinking.
Severe Alcohol Misuse
In the severe stage of alcohol misuse, drinking problems increase in intensity. A person may begin to have health issues related to alcohol misuse, and their life will begin to revolve around alcohol. Mental health deteriorates as alcohol causes changes to the brain that lead to compulsive drinking, even in the midst of serious consequences from alcohol misuse.
Obsessive Alcohol Misuse
At the final stage of alcohol use disorder, a person has significant health problems related to alcohol. They spend their entire day drinking, and they are unable to function in important areas of life. They may lose their family, their job, and their home as alcohol takes center stage. A person who does not seek treatment for end stage alcohol use disorder may be at risk of death.
Mental Health Disorders Caused By Alcohol Misuse
Alcohol and mental health problems can go hand-in-hand. There is some disagreement regarding whether alcohol misuse itself causes mental health problems, or if people who have mental health problems are more likely to misuse alcohol to cope with symptoms of mental illness.
Based upon what is known about the mental health effects of alcohol, both scenarios noted above are possible. Some people may have a co-occurring or pre-existing mental health disorder, whereas others may develop an alcohol-induced mental disorder.
Some conditions that can result from ongoing alcohol misuse include:
- Antisocial personality disorder
While the conditions above are linked to alcohol misuse, it’s important to keep in mind that in some cases, they are not separate mental health conditions, but rather a byproduct of alcohol addiction. For instance, a person may seem depressed only when withdrawing from alcohol, or they may show symptoms of psychosis only when intoxicated.
On the other hand, a person who shows symptoms of a mental health disorder even when they are not withdrawing or under the influence may have a separate condition not directly associated with alcohol misuse.
How To Treat AUD
Alcohol use disorder treatment can vary from person to person. There is no single approach that works for everyone, but there are multiple options that are known to be effective. Medications are commonly used in the treatment of alcohol use disorder. Prescription drugs like naltrexone, acamprosate, and disulfiram can help people to reduce their drinking.
People who participate in medication-assisted treatment for alcohol misuse typically also receive behavioral services, such as individual and group counseling. They may participate in mutual support groups like AA to help them stay committed to recovery.
A person who is living with psychological effects of alcohol, including a mental health condition, should also receive treatment for this condition. If a mental health disorder like depression is left untreated, a person may relapse to drinking in order to cope with depression symptoms.