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Although drinking alcohol is widely accepted and legal in the U.S. for those older than the legal drinking age, alcohol use disorder can be a scary and dangerous addiction to recover from.
In 2018, 139.8 million Americans aged 12 or older reported drinking any alcohol in the past 30 days. In the same study it was estimated that, over 14.8 million individuals 12 years old and up in the last year had an alcohol use disorder.1
To learn about how alcohol may affect the body, about alcohol withdrawal, and about alcohol use disorder and some possible treatment options for it, read on.
Alcohol depresses the central nervous system.2 Effects you may experience from consuming too much alcohol include:2, 3, 4, 5, 6
The amount you drink correlates with how strongly you are affected: your level of impairment is greater when more alcohol is in your blood.7 Other things also may impact a person’s reaction to drinking, such as the speed of drinking, using drugs or medications with alcohol, the person’s age, and more.2
Drinking can have some subjectively positive effects: it can make people feel good, relax, feel less stress, and be more sociable.4, 9 However, for individuals who do not already use alcohol, beginning is not advised.2
Underage drinking, heavy drinking, binge drinking, or drinking while pregnant are types of problematic drinking. Indicators of a problem with drinking include it causing school problems, relationship issues, trouble with social activities, or difficulty with one’s thoughts and emotions.2
Some terms related to alcohol use are listed below and explained.
Alcohol overdoses can be fatal. If you think you or someone else may have overdosed on alcohol, call 911 at once.8
Possible symptoms of alcohol poisoning or overdose include:8
In the U.S., one “standard drink” is defined as a drink with 14 grams or 0.6 fluid ounces of pure alcohol. For a beer that is 5% alcohol, 12 ounces would be a standard drink. For a liquor that is 40% alcohol, 1.5 ounces would qualify. For a wine that is 12% alcohol, a 5-ounce pour would do the trick. Knowing what counts as a standard drink can assist a person in applying health guidelines.10
Two drinks or less on any day for men and one drink or less on any day for women is considered moderate drinking.2, 11
Binge drinking constitutes drinking an amount of alcohol that leads your blood alcohol concentration to reach 0.08% or higher, which would generally correlate with women drinking 4 drinks or a larger amount, or men drinking 5 or a larger amount all on one occasion. This level of consumption generally needs to occur within approximately 2 hours.2, 11
Only a medical professional can officially diagnose an alcohol use disorder. With that in mind, the signs, symptoms, and behavioral changes used to diagnosis an alcohol use disorder include:12
Several factors may affect an individual’s alcohol use disorder risk.13 Some are listed below.
Genetics can impact a person’s alcohol use disorder risk.13 If you have a close relative with alcohol use disorder, you may be more likely to develop it yourself, and in people whose relatives have more severe issues connected to alcohol, who are more closely related genetically to the individual with an alcohol use disorder, and who have more relatives with alcohol use disorders, alcohol use disorder is even more prevalent.12
Risky behaviors might be more likely during the teenage years since parts of the brain that govern judgment, control of oneself, and making decisions are still in development.11 Young individuals that drink alcohol have a higher chance of having an alcohol use disorder when older.14
Prevalent cultural views on drinking and drunkenness, how easy it is to obtain alcohol, and whether the people an individual spends time with abuse alcohol might impact an individual’s alcohol use disorder risk.12, 13
Low self-esteem, stress, impulsivity, and methods used to handle stress may impact an individual’s risk of alcohol use disorder.9, 12, 13 Conditions such as depression, bipolar disorder, or schizophrenia may raise a person’s alcohol use disorder risk.12, 13
Consuming too much alcohol can negatively affect your health in a variety of ways.15, 16 Alcohol use disorder, dependence, and overdose are not the only possible risks of excessive alcohol consumption.7, 8, 13, 15 Some of the adverse health effects alcohol may have include:
In cases of significant physical alcohol dependence, suddenly stopping alcohol use or markedly decreasing the amount you use may result in withdrawal.18 Withdrawal from alcohol can be uncomfortable and, in some cases, dangerous or deadly.6, 18
Possible alcohol withdrawal symptoms include:6, 12
Individuals who may be experiencing withdrawal from alcohol should right away see a medical provider experienced in managing this condition.6 Call 911 in an emergency—remember alcohol withdrawal may be deadly.
Hospitalization or admission to another treatment setting able to provide some form of round-the-clock medical care may be necessary for the adequate management of alcohol withdrawal.6
Detox is often an important start to recovery, but on its own does little address the underlying issues that lead to alcohol use disorder. To be most effective, detox should be followed up with further treatment.6
Possible treatment types include:19
Behavioral therapies that may effectively help an individual include:14
FDA-approved medications that can help individuals in recovery from alcohol use disorder avoid relapse include:19
If you think your alcohol use may be an issue (or think a person that you know may have an alcohol use issue), discuss this with a healthcare provider.7 Recovery can be difficult, but it is possible.