Alcohol Guide

Treatment for Alcohol Use Disorders

Table of Contents

What is Alcoholism?

Surveys show that about 69 percent of adults in the United States drink alcohol.1 Having a drink of alcohol doesn’t qualify as having alcoholism. Alcoholism is generally a chronic, reoccurring condition that requires ongoing support.2 Alcoholism is a term widely used to reference an alcohol use disorder. Issues related to alcoholism can include social, legal, and other negative results from heavy alcohol use. In recent years attention has been focused on understanding alcoholism and recovery efforts that create long-term stability and remission from Alcohol Use Disorder (AUD).

Alcoholism vs. Alcohol Use Disorders

Alcohol Use Disorder and Alcoholism are two terms, often mixed and replaced with one another. This can be confusing. Alcohol Use Disorder is often used by behavioral health professionals across the United States to diagnose and categorize individuals seeking treatment. While the public may still use the less precise term, alcoholism.

Behavioral health professionals (psychiatrists, counselors, treatment specialists) use the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) to classify mental and emotional illnesses and disorders like Alcohol Use Disorder or Substance Use Disorders. As recent as 2013, the updated DSM-V combined two classifications of abnormal alcohol use (alcohol abuse and alcohol dependence) into one diagnosis: alcohol use disorder.3

Categories of Alcohol Use Disorders

Alcohol Use Disorder is broken into classifications of mild, moderate, and severe. There are a number of symptoms that define the severity of an AUD. The category of AUD is dependent on symptoms occurring in the past 12-month period.

Symptoms During the Last 12-Months:4

Classifying Severity

AUD is defined when an individual experiences at least two of these symptoms, and the severity level rises based on their number.

  • Mild: Two to three symptoms
  • Moderate: Four to five symptoms
  • Severe: Six or more symptoms

Binge Drinking

Binge drinking is defined as consuming five or more drinks for men on a single occasion and four or more drinks for women. Excessive drinking accounts for one in ten deaths among adults in the United States aged 20-60. A recent study found that the majority of people reporting prescription opioid misuse also are reporting binge drinking. This dangerous cycle of binge drinking may contribute to lower life expectancies.5

Rates of Alcoholism

Alcohol is the most common substance of abuse and is misused by all ages, young and old. Alcohol is also legal, which makes it easy to purchase and abuse. Alcoholism is the third leading lifestyle-related cause of death in the United States, coming after tobacco and unhealthy diets. Alcoholism remains one of the biggest public health crises in the United States today. Fifteen million Americans, age 12 and older, met the criteria for an AUD in 2016.6 More than four hundred thousand adolescents met the criteria for an AUD in 2016.

Symptoms of Alcohol Use Disorder

AUD can fall into three categories: mild, moderate, and severe. Symptoms of AUD depend on a few factors, but the most common include:

Stages of Alcoholism

There are five stages of alcoholism.

  • First Stage:The first stage is occasional abuse and binge drinking. This stage of alcoholism occurs with experimentation and testing of the individual’s limits. This stage commonly occurs with young adults. This group has more frequent instances of binge drinking.
  • Second Stage: Stage two is increased drinking for reasons like an excuse to get together with friends, stress reduction, boredom or to combat sadness or loneliness.
  • Third Stage: Stage three is the problem drinking stage where it’s possible to see the impact of the drinking. More depression, anxiety, and loss of sleep. During this stage of alcoholism, the development of relationship issues, changes in friends, and trouble conversing with strangers will begin to appear.
  • Fourth Stage: The fourth stage of alcoholism is alcohol dependence. The development of alcohol dependence has occurred. This is when it’s harder to control alcohol consumption. Withdrawal may begin when sobering up and include symptoms like nausea, body tremors, and severe irritability.
  • Fifth Stage: The final stage of alcoholism is addiction, the physical and psychological need to drink is present.

Side Effects of Alcohol Use Disorders


Alcoholism has both physical and psychological effects. Even drinking regularly or not can result in short-term effects of alcoholism, such as poor social judgment, lack of concentration, loss of coordination, mood swings, elevated blood pressure, passing out, and vomiting.


Long-term effects can include diminished gray matter in the brain, memory loss, short attention spans, and trouble learning, along with alcoholic hepatitis, liver fibrosis, steatosis, and high blood pressure. Other long-term effects include cancers like throat, mouth, larynx, liver, colorectal, or esophageal.

Alcohol Poisoning

Alcohol poisoning symptoms include confusion, vomiting, seizures, slow breathing. Irregular breathing will also appear with low body temperature and passing out with the inability to wake up. Alcohol poisoning is an emergency. Alcohol poisoning increases the risk of death.

Alcohol Withdrawal

When dependence has developed, withdrawal can occur during cutting back. Symptoms can be mild or serious. When your body adjusts to having alcohol in it, your body begins to work to keep your brain functioning with alcohol present. When the brain gets too used to the presence of alcohol when there isn’t alcohol, the brain continues to function the way it would with alcohol present, which causes the withdrawal symptoms. Symptoms can range from anxiety, shaky hands, headache, nausea, vomiting, and insomnia.7 More serious withdrawal symptoms are delirium tremens or DTs. These are severe symptoms that include vivid hallucination and delusions.

Causes of Alcohol Use Disorders

The causes of alcoholism are still unknown. AUD develops as tolerance develops and chemical changes in the brain begin to occur. The more alcohol is consumed, the more harm it causes.

Is Alcoholism a Disease?

Alcoholism is referred to in professional medical organizations as a primary, chronic, and fatal disease. Alcohol ultimately can affect brain chemistry and require treatment. Ultimately alcoholism is considered a disease and is often treated like one.

Is Alcoholism Genetic?

Genetics and hereditary are closely linked. Experts say genetics are about 50% of the underlying reason for AUD.8 If alcohol abuse has occurred in your family history, then you may be more likely to develop an AUD.

Non-Health Consequences of Drinking Too Much

Drinking can cause many problems, and not all of them are health-related. Drunk driving causes almost 30 deaths per day in the United States. Alcohol also affects daily life in students and professionals alike. When alcohol dependence is formed, natural consequences occur. Relationship issues, both personal and professional, can be affected by dependence on alcohol.

Treating Alcohol Use Disorders

AUD is a medical condition, and finding treatment means starting with a diagnosis. Once a medical professional has a bit of information about alcohol abuse, a treatment plan can be developed. There are more treatments outside of traditional 12-step and inpatient rehab programs. Other therapies include behavioral treatments like cognitive-behavioral therapies, support groups, working with your primary care provider, and even medication.

Medication for Alcoholism

There are three medications currently approved in the United States to help stop or reduce drinking: Antabuse (Disulfiram), Campral (Acamprosate), and Naltrexone. Some behavioral therapists note that the medications can be taken to curb the withdrawal for alcoholism, but if behaviors don’t change, then nothing may change in the long run.


If you or a loved one needs help, please call us at
623-523-4748 and our team at Blueprints For Recovery in Arizona will help.

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