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The Truth About Alcohol Use Disorder

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The Truth About Alcohol Use Disorder

Alcohol Use Disorder is the technical term used to describe what is more commonly known as alcoholism. It is a significant public health issue. In 2014 a study conducted by the National Institute On Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA), it was calculated that 16.4 million people in the U.S. suffer from the disorder.[1]

Causes

There are a number of factors that have been identified, which can potentially increase a persons likelihood of being diagnosed with the disorder.

For example, underage drinking has been identified as a potential risk factor that increases the likelihood of a positive diagnosis. It potentially normalizes the act of drinking alcohol at a young age, making the child less likely to understand the potential hazards overuse can cause.

Researchers have suggested[2] that there may be a genetic predisposition that increases the likelihood of being diagnosed. Studies have shown that people with parents or grandparents who are alcoholics are over 4 times more likely to be diagnosed with the condition compared to the general population.

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However, they have also concluded that genetics are just one part of a much larger picture. A commonly agreed upon theory is that social and environmental factors are likely to play a much more significant role than genetics. The act of living and growing up with someone abusing alcohol seems to be a higher risk factor than the genetics that have been passed on.

Despite this increased risk, the vast majority of people who grow up with parents that have the disorder do not go on to contract it themselves.

Symptoms

In order to diagnose someone with the condition, a doctor must be able to determine if a patient’s drinking patterns are detrimental to their health or wellbeing. This includes both physical harm and mental distress. Some of the symptoms are subtle, and may not be immediately obvious as harmful to a patient. But to a doctor they can be clear warning signs of a potentially escalating situation.

Diagnosis

Diagnosis is usually performed by a doctor asking a series of targeted questions pertaining to a patient’s experiences in the past 12 months. Examples of the kinds of questions asked are:

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  • Have you ever tried more than once to stop drinking or cut down your drinking but found yourself unable to do it?
  • Have you (on several occasions) drank significantly more alcohol than you had intended without being able to control it?
  • Have you stopped doing other activities that you once enjoyed to spend more time or money on drinking alcohol?

Once the questions have been answered, diagnosis is usually straightforward. Results are provided in terms of severity and are not a binary pass/fail result.

The Truth About Alcohol Use Disorder

    Treatment

    The recommended treatment depends on the severity of the condition that a patient has been diagnosed with.

    The patients with the mildest diagnoses are often advised to cut down on their alcohol intake.[3] Complete abstinence is not always required for successful treatment, and the condition can often be mitigated with a regulation of consumption.

    Patients with a more moderate or severe diagnosis are nearly always advised to avoid all alcohol intake. This is often a permanent recommendation, although in certain cases it can be presented as a temporary option; however, this is uncommon and is only considered in cases where patients are undergoing a non-alcohol related temporary traumatic experience.

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    Several self-help methods are often provided when a diagnosis is made. These are small life changes that can help a patient abstain. Some examples are:

    1. Avoiding Triggers: There are often events or times of day that are ingrained as a habitual time to drink alcohol. By avoiding situations that a patient associates with alcohol, or disrupting a daily routine that involved alcohol, a patient can reduce the chance of relapse.
    2. Inform Friends And Family: By informing friends and family of their intention to reduce or remove their alcohol intake they create accountability to the people they have told. This can help with willpower, encouraging them to resist drinking when an event triggers a withdrawal craving.
    3. Practice Saying No: One of the most difficult craving triggers to overcome is often being offered a drink during a social event by someone that does not know the patient is no longer drinking. Patients are encouraged to practice saying a phrase along the lines of “No thanks, I don’t drink,” in front of a mirror in preparation for a real-life experience. The sometimes automatic response of accepting a drink can be mitigated using this technique.

    For moderate and severe cases, group therapy is often an effective and suggested option. Free alcohol cessation classes are available around the world, the most well-known of which is Alcoholics Anonymous.

    Alcoholics Anonymous has a 12-step program that reduces the potentially daunting task of cessation into smaller, more manageable sections. The group therapy aspect of the program helps patients by adding accountability in a nonjudgmental atmosphere. Patients who are members of social cessation support groups report the desire to not let down other members of the group to be a significant factor in their continued sobriety.

    Online support groups such as Hellosundaymorning.com have attempted to use technology to help patients overcome the condition. They combine a version of the 12-step program with a social media platform that has been designed to create a global support group. The efficacy of online social cessation platforms is yet to be independently verified, but the initial anecdotal evidence seems to be positive.

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    People with moderate and severe symptoms of the condition are referred to alcohol rehab centers.[4] These facilities often offer both inpatient and outpatient treatment options (depending on the severity of a patient’s condition). Treatment inside the facilities involves psychological and physical evaluations, group support, and individual therapy while experiencing withdrawal symptoms.

    Health Risks

    There can be severe health consequences for patients who are unsuccessful in treating their condition and reducing their alcohol intake to acceptable levels. The severity of the conditions often depends on the amount of alcohol that is being consumed.

    Direct health consequences can include increased risk of contracting heart disease, liver disease, stroke, depression, and many types of cancer.

    Indirect health consequences are events that are a result of the patient often being inebriated more than the national average. Statistically, they are much more likely to be involved in serious car accidents, suicides, brain injuries, and other fatal accidental deaths. Annually, 88,000 people in the U.S. die from consequences indirectly linked to the condition.[5] Alcohol is the 4th most common preventable cause of death in the U.S., and over 30% of fatal car accidents involve a driver who was impaired due to alcohol.

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    Research from the World Health Organization (WHO) suggests that globally, 3.3 million people (or 5.9% of all deaths) are directly related in some form to alcohol consumption. They do however state that over the past few decades consumption is declining, and the rate of diagnosis is lowering significantly.

    Featured photo credit: Pixabay via pexels.com

    Reference

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    Elise Bauer

    Freelance Writer, Lawyer & Blogger

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