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Alcohol Use Disorder Warning Signs: What to Look Out For

Alcohol is a widely consumed substance that can have various effects on the body and mind. While moderate drinking can be enjoyable and even beneficial for some people, excessive or problematic drinking can lead to serious health and social consequences. In this blog post, we will explore what alcohol use disorder (AUD) is, how to recognize its warning signs, and what to do if you or someone you care about is struggling with alcohol addiction.

What is Alcohol Use Disorder?

According to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5), alcohol use disorder is a chronic disease that is characterized by a pattern of alcohol use that involves problems controlling your drinking, being preoccupied with alcohol, or continuing to use alcohol even when it causes problems. AUD can range from mild to severe, depending on the number of symptoms you experience within a 12-month period. Some of the symptoms of AUD include:

  • Being unable to limit the amount of alcohol you drink
  • Wanting to cut down on how much you drink or making unsuccessful attempts to do so
  • Spending a lot of time drinking, getting alcohol, or recovering from its effects
  • Feeling a strong craving or urge to drink alcohol
  • Failing to fulfill major obligations at work, school, or home due to repeated alcohol use
  • Continuing to drink alcohol even though you know it’s causing physical, social, work, or relationship problems
  • Giving up or reducing social and work activities and hobbies to use alcohol
  • Using alcohol in situations where it’s not safe, such as when driving or swimming
  • Developing a tolerance to alcohol, meaning you need more to feel its effect or you have a reduced effect from the same amount
  • Experiencing withdrawal symptoms, such as nausea, sweating, and shaking, when you don’t drink or drink less than usual

AUD can also include periods of alcohol intoxication, which result from having a high level of alcohol in your bloodstream. Alcohol intoxication can cause behavior problems and mental changes, such as inappropriate behavior, unstable moods, poor judgment, slurred speech, problems with attention or memory, and poor coordination. You can also have periods called “blackouts”, where you don’t remember events that happened while you were drinking. Very high levels of alcohol can lead to coma, permanent brain damage, or even death.

What are the Risk Factors and Causes of AUD?

AUD develops when you drink a large amount of alcohol over a long period of time, leading to chemical changes in your brain. These changes increase the pleasurable feelings that are associated with alcohol, making you want to drink more despite the harm that alcohol causes. AUD develops gradually over time, and can be influenced by various factors, such as:

  • Your genes, which may make you more or less susceptible to alcohol addiction
  • Your environment, such as your family, friends, culture, or stress level
  • Your age, as starting to drink at a young age can increase your risk of developing AUD later in life
  • Your mental health, as having conditions such as depression, anxiety, or bipolar disorder can make you more likely to use alcohol to cope
  • Your drinking pattern, such as binge drinking, which involves having five or more drinks for men or four or more drinks for women in a span of two hours

What are the Complications and Consequences of AUD?

AUD can have serious and lasting effects on your health, relationships, and quality of life. Some of the complications and consequences of AUD include:

  • Liver damage, such as fatty liver, hepatitis, cirrhosis, or liver cancer
  • Heart problems, such as high blood pressure, irregular heartbeat, stroke, or heart failure
  • Digestive problems, such as inflammation of the stomach, pancreas, or esophagus, ulcers, or cancer
  • Brain damage, such as impaired memory, cognition, or coordination, dementia, or Wernicke-Korsakoff syndrome
  • Mental health problems, such as depression, anxiety, psychosis, or suicidal thoughts or actions
  • Immune system problems, such as increased susceptibility to infections or diseases
  • Sexual problems, such as erectile dysfunction, infertility, or increased risk of sexually transmitted infections
  • Cancer, such as of the mouth, throat, esophagus, liver, colon, or breast
  • Accidents, injuries, or violence, such as from falls, car crashes, fights, or domestic abuse
  • Social problems, such as unemployment, poverty, legal troubles, or isolation
  • Family problems, such as marital conflict, divorce, child abuse, or neglect

How to Prevent and Treat AUD?

The best way to prevent AUD is to limit your alcohol intake or avoid it altogether. The Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommend that if you choose to drink, you should do so in moderation, which means up to one drink per day for women and up to two drinks per day for men. You should also avoid drinking if you are underage, pregnant, breastfeeding, taking certain medications, or have a medical condition that can be worsened by alcohol.

If you think you have AUD, you should seek professional help as soon as possible. AUD is a treatable condition that can be managed with various options, such as:

  • Detoxification, which involves stopping or reducing your alcohol intake under medical supervision to prevent or ease withdrawal symptoms
  • Medication, which can help reduce your cravings, block the effects of alcohol, or cause unpleasant reactions if you drink
  • Counseling, which can help you identify and change your thoughts, feelings, and behaviors related to alcohol use
  • Therapy, which can help you cope with stress, trauma, or mental health issues that may contribute to your alcohol use
  • Support groups, which can provide you with peer support, encouragement, and advice from others who have similar experiences with alcohol use
  • Rehabilitation, which can provide you with intensive and comprehensive care in a residential or outpatient setting


Here are some frequently asked questions and answers about AUD:

  • Q: How do I know if I have AUD?
  • A: You can use the Alcohol Use Disorders Identification Test (AUDIT), which is a 10-item questionnaire that can help you assess your alcohol use and its consequences. If you score 8 or more, you may have AUD and should seek further evaluation from a health care provider.
  • Q: How can I help someone who has AUD?
  • A: You can help someone who has AUD by expressing your concern, offering your support, encouraging them to get help, and avoiding enabling or blaming them. You can also educate yourself about AUD, join a support group for family and friends of people with AUD, and take care of your own well-being.
  • Q: Can I drink alcohol if I have AUD?
  • A: No, you should not drink alcohol if you have AUD, as it can worsen your condition and interfere with your recovery. You should aim for abstinence, which means avoiding any amount of alcohol. If you have trouble quitting, you should seek professional help.
  • Q: Can I recover from AUD?
  • A: Yes, you can recover from AUD, but it requires a long-term commitment and effort. Recovery is not a linear process, and you may face challenges and setbacks along the way. However, with the right treatment and support, you can overcome AUD and live a healthier and happier life.


AUD is a serious and common condition that can affect anyone who drinks alcohol. It can cause various physical, mental, and social problems, and can be fatal if left untreated. However, AUD can be prevented and treated with various options, and recovery is possible with the right help and support. If you or someone you care about has AUD, don’t hesitate to reach out for help. You are not alone, and there is hope.

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