Alcohol use disorder can be a complicated condition that comes with many questions.

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Alcohol use disorder is a chronic condition that can have extreme effects on a person’s life, even in mild and moderate cases.

Symptoms can vary from person to person. But it primarily means that a person has difficulty quitting drinking alcohol, despite its negative impact on relationships, work, and overall health.

Alcohol use disorder can be successfully treated with the right plan and support. But due to factors like stigma and misunderstanding, people can still have plenty of questions.

Alcohol use disorder is a more contemporary term for alcoholism.

According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA), alcohol use disorder is when someone is generally unable to stop or cut back on drinking on their own, even when it causes some sort of negative impact in their life.

The NIAAA considers alcohol use disorder a brain disorder. However, the condition can be successfully treated.

Is alcohol use disorder a disease?

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) considers alcohol use disorder a disease. It’s also considered chronic, meaning that it can last for a long time.

However, many people find that alcohol use disorder is something they can successfully treat over their lifetime.

The signs of alcohol use disorder can often be different for each person. If you are concerned that you may have it, you’re not alone.

Talking with your doctor can be a helpful first step in getting help. They’ll likely ask you a series of questions about your relationship with alcohol and perform a physical exam.

For instance, the NIAAA notes that a variety of questions can help determine whether someone has alcohol use disorder. These can include:

  • how often you consume alcohol
  • how many drinks you have in a certain period of time
  • how drinking has had a negative impact on various aspects of your life

There are varying levels of severity when it comes to alcohol use disorder. Symptoms will likely be different for each person and may include:

  • drinking more than you intended to
  • being unable to cut back or stop drinking
  • being sick due to drinking
  • not being able to think about anything else but drinking
  • stopping other activities in order to drink
  • continuing to drink, even if it causes issues with family or friends

If you’re experiencing some or all of the symptoms noted above, it may be a good idea to consider visiting with your doctor.

When evaluating you for alcohol use disorder, your doctor will look at your physical health as well as your overall well-being.

You may want to consider the possibility of alcohol use disorder if:

  • you’re missing deadlines at work due to drinking
  • you think drinking is causing you to be unable to perform your tasks at your job
  • you’re concerned about your use of alcohol

Similarly, alcohol use disorder may interfere with your personal relationships. Your doctor can help provide an objective opinion if you’re unsure.

How many drinks a week constitutes alcohol use disorder?

The NIAAA notes that a heavy amount of alcohol consumption per week is 14 drinks for men and seven drinks for women.

The number of drinks you have may vary, which is why it’s important to speak with a physician who can help determine whether you have alcohol use disorder.

How can I explain alcohol use disorder to loved ones?

If you’re living with alcohol use disorder, you may want to inform some of your loved ones. It might help to find one or two people that you’re close to who can help support you as you navigate this condition.

Talking about alcohol use disorder as a disease that benefits from treatment might help them understand what you’re going through. You can even show them resources from the NIAAA for more reference.

You may also consider joining and attending a sobriety support group with a loved one to gain greater perspective.

How can I explain alcohol use disorder to children?

If you have young people in your life, such as children or nieces and nephews, you may want to provide a higher-level overview of what alcohol use disorder is.

You might simply say that you’re choosing a healthier lifestyle for yourself by refraining from drinking alcohol. This can help set a good example for young people in forming healthy relationships with alcohol, as well.

You may experience a variety of symptoms with alcohol withdrawal, including:

  • depression
  • fatigue
  • anxiety
  • nervousness
  • irritability
  • shaking
  • mood shifts
  • nightmares
  • headache
  • sweating
  • nausea
  • loss of appetite
  • insomnia

Symptoms can occur within 8 hours of consuming your last drink, or may not occur until days after. They’re typically at their worst 24 to 72 hours following the last drink, but may persist for weeks afterwards.

Are headaches part of alcohol withdrawal?

Headaches may be a sign of alcohol withdrawal for some people. Others may not experience headaches.

Are alcohol withdrawal symptoms permanent?

Alcohol withdrawal symptoms may start within the first 8 hours after taking your last drink. Many people will experience alcohol withdrawal symptoms for as long as 72 hours, and in some cases symptoms may last for weeks or months if not treated.

Some people may experience more severe withdrawal symptoms that could require inpatient treatment. Others may have more mild symptoms.

Generally, symptoms aren’t permanent, but it’s important to seek help if your symptoms are more severe.

Alcohol use disorder is a recognized disease that can improve with support and treatment. If you think you may be experiencing alcohol use disorder, the first step is to reach out to a trusted loved one or healthcare professional for help.

Find help right now

If you need help immediately, you can call the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) helpline at 800-662-HELP (4357) for confidential, free help that’s available 24/7.

If you or someone you know is in crisis, call 911 or local emergency services.

Was this helpful?

You may also want to think about visiting an Alcoholics Anonymous chapter for additional support. You can also check out NIAAA’s alcohol treatment navigator.

A number of supportive recovery podcasts exist, which could be helpful as well.

Be proud of yourself for reaching out for help in addressing alcohol use disorder. You’re making healthy choices that will benefit you and your loved ones.