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Alcohol Use Disorder - Symptoms, Health Effects, and Management

Published on Nov 28, 2022   -  5 min read


Alcohol use disorder (AUD) involves frequent or heavy alcohol drinking despite having adverse health effects. This article reviews alcohol use disorder.


People with alcohol use disorder cannot control or stop drinking alcohol even though it affects their health, social life, and professional life. It is also known as alcohol abuse, alcohol dependence, or alcoholism. Heavy and frequent alcohol use will cause emotional distress, health problems, and brain damage. Drinking too much alcohol for an extended period of time will develop dependency and addiction. In alcohol use disorder, the person cannot stop drinking alcohol even after facing adverse effects associated with alcohol use. For them, alcohol will become an essential aspect of life, and they will lose control over drinking. Chronic alcohol addiction will cause altered daily activities and harmful health conditions.

What Is Alcohol Use Disorder?

Alcohol use disorder (AUD) involves an impaired ability to control or stop alcohol use even after having occupational, health, and social consequences. It is basically a medical condition with altered brain function. Alcohol use disorder (AUD) can be mild, moderate, and severe. Long-term alcohol use will cause chemical changes in the brain and produce pleasurable feelings during alcohol drinking. People will consume more and more alcohol to get this pleasurable feeling and end up in addiction. After some time, these pleasurable feelings will go away even after having alcohol, but the individual will not be able to stop alcohol use due to withdrawal symptoms. Withdrawal symptoms associated with alcohol use are unpleasant and dangerous. Alcohol use disorder (AUD) can be treated with the combined use of medications, behavioral therapies, and mutual support groups.

What Causes Alcohol Use Disorder?

Heavy alcohol use and misuse over a period of time will cause alcohol use disorder (AUD). Other factors which contribute to alcohol use disorder are the following:

What Are the Symptoms of Alcohol Use Disorder?

  • Unable to control and limit alcohol drinking.

  • Strong urge or craving for alcohol.

  • Violent and angry behavior when questioned about alcohol drinking.

  • Irritable and cranking behavior when not allowed to drink.

  • Alcohol drinking obsession.

  • Poor professional performance due to frequent alcohol use.

  • Drinking more alcohol even after facing social, physical, and relationship problems.

  • Not remembering (blacking out) things that are happening in day-to-day life.

  • Using alcohol in situations like driving and swimming, which are normally not safe.

  • Reduced effects over the same amount of alcohol and increased consumption to produce the desired effects (tolerance).

  • Developing withdrawal symptoms like shaking, nausea, irritability, and sweating after not drinking alcohol or trying to avoid alcohol use.

What Are the Health Effects of Alcohol Use Disorder?

  • Liver Diseases - Heavy alcohol drinking will cause increased inflammation of the liver tissues (alcoholic hepatitis) and increased fat deposition in the liver (hepatic steatosis). It will also cause irreversible damage and scarring of the liver tissues, known as cirrhosis.

  • Heart Problems - Excessive alcohol drinking will cause high blood pressure and an increased risk of developing heart diseases and heart failure.

  • Immune System Problems - Excessive alcohol use will cause damage to the immune cells and increase the chances of illness and inflammation (especially pneumonia).

  • Increased Risk for Cancer - Long-term use of excessive amounts of alcohol will cause an increased risk of liver, mouth, breast, throat, and esophageal cancers.

  • Birth Defects - Alcohol use in pregnant women is associated with miscarriage, developmental disorders, and birth problems in the child, known as fetal alcohol spectrum disorders (FASDs).

  • Neurological Problems - Alcohol drinking will cause damage to the brain cells and results in short-term memory loss, confusion, pain, and numbness in the hands and feet.

  • Digestive Problems - Excessive alcohol drinking will cause stomach ulcers and gastritis (due to inflammation of the cells lining the stomach). It can also cause inflammation of the pancreas, known as pancreatitis.

  • Sexual Problems - Heavy alcohol use will cause an irregular menstrual cycle in females and erectile dysfunction in males.

  • Bone Defects - Alcohol drinking will cause damage to bone marrow and new bone formation. It will cause thinning of bones and an increased risk of bone fractures (osteoporosis).

  • Eye Problems - Heavy drinking will cause paralysis and weakness of the eye muscles.

  • Vitamin Deficiencies - Chronic alcohol use will cause altered absorption and metabolism of vitamins like vitamin B12 (folic acid) and thiamine (vitamin B1). These vitamins are needed for maintaining normal body functions and well-being.

  • Drug Interactions - Alcohol will interact with some medications and cause increased toxicity and adverse health effects.

How Can We Manage Alcohol Use Disorder?

  • Behavioral Therapies - These involve talk therapy or counseling given by a health care provider to help the individual to change drinking patterns and behavior. Reinforcement approaches, brief interventions, and motivation are the behavioral treatments used to reduce and prevent alcohol addiction and relapse. Counseling can identify the root cause associated with alcohol addiction and helps in recovery.

  • Medications - Acamprosate, Naltrexone, and Disulfiram are the three drugs approved by the United States food and drug administration for treating alcohol use disorder. Disulfiram will cause physical discomfort like vomiting, nausea, and headache after alcohol drinking and helps to stop its use. Naltrexone blocks brain receptors associated with alcohol and decreases alcohol cravings. Acamprosate helps to reestablish the chemical state of the brain before alcohol dependence and helps in the treatment.

  • Mutual Support Groups - Peer group support is used to reduce and stop alcohol drinking. Group meetings can be combined with medications and behavioral modifications to prevent relapse. Support groups are available at low cost in most regions and consist of 12-step programs like Alcoholics Anonymous (AA).


Alcohol use disorder (AUD) is the loss of control over alcohol drinking and alcohol dependence. It includes excessive alcohol drinking even after having physical and emotional disturbances. Individuals will not be able to stop drinking alcohol even if they wish to. Behavioral therapy coupled with medication and support groups can be used for the effective treatment of alcohol use disorder.


Last reviewed at:
28 Nov 2022  -  5 min read




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