Alcohol Use Disorder (AUD)

Last Edited: March 10, 2024
Patricia Howard, LMFT, CADC
Clinically Reviewed
Andrew Lancaster, LPC, MAC
All of the information on this page has been reviewed and certified by an addiction professional.

Dangers of Alcoholism

According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA), an estimated 14.5 million Americans aged 12 and older had alcohol use disorder (AUD) in 2019. This alarming figure underscores the pervasive nature of alcoholism, which contributes to approximately 95,000 deaths annually in the U.S., making it the third leading preventable cause of death.

The dangers of alcoholism extend beyond mortality rates, affecting individuals’ physical health, mental well-being, and social dynamics. Chronic alcohol abuse can lead to a myriad of health problems, including liver disease, cardiovascular issues, and increased risk of various cancers. Moreover, alcoholism can exacerbate mental health disorders, lead to financial instability, and strain relationships with loved ones.

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What is an Alcohol Use Disorder?

Alcohol Use Disorder (AUD) is a medical condition characterized by an impaired ability to stop or control alcohol use despite adverse social, occupational, or health consequences. It is a complex brain disorder that can range from mild to severe, encompassing a pattern of alcohol use that involves issues such as drinking more than intended, inability to cut down on drinking, spending a lot of time obtaining, using, or recovering from the effects of alcohol, and experiencing cravings, or a strong desire to drink. AUD can lead to significant physical health problems, including liver disease, heart problems, and an increased risk of certain cancers, as well as mental health issues, such as depression and anxiety. It can also impact an individual’s personal and professional life, leading to strained relationships and difficulties at work or school. The diagnosis of AUD is based on specific criteria outlined in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5), and treatment can involve a combination of behavioral therapies, medication, and support groups aimed at helping individuals reduce or stop alcohol consumption and address the underlying issues related to their alcohol use.

28 people die every day in a car crash that involved an drunk driver.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

Alcoholism Effects On The Body

Consuming Alcohol may allow people to feel loose or social, but it can become a serious problem. There are many health side effects that can arise when drinking every day. Drinking Alcohol impairs your motor functions. As you become intoxicated, you may begin to slur your words or become unstable on your feet. While this might lead to an enjoyable night, abusing Alcohol is anything but enjoyable. You might do something or say something to someone that you will regret the next day, this can have horrible effects on your relationships and daily life. As tolerance goes up, so does the probability of blacking out. This can be very dangerous; you can hurt yourself or others. Some Alcoholics mix Alcohol with Ambien or other prescription medications which multiply the risks. Addiction is complicated, and it can affect brain functionality in a variety of ways, leading to health and social problems.

effects of the alcohol on the body infographic

Click here to learn about Physical Health Consequences of Alcoholism.

Health Problems from Alcohol Addiction

Alcohol addiction can lead to a myriad of health complications, affecting nearly every organ in the body and significantly increasing the risk of various diseases. Chronic alcohol consumption disrupts the body’s normal functions, leading to both immediate and long-term health issues. These complications can range from mild to life-threatening and include:

  • Liver Disease: Including fatty liver, steatohepatitis, alcoholic hepatitis, fibrosis, and cirrhosis.
  • Cardiovascular Problems: Such as hypertension, heart disease, Cardiomyopathy, and stroke.
  • Digestive Problems: Including gastritis, pancreatitis, and an increased risk of gastrointestinal cancers.
  • Neurological Issues: Such as neuropathy, cognitive decline, and an increased risk of dementia.
  • Mental Health Disorders: Including exacerbation of existing conditions, depression, anxiety, and increased risk of suicide.
  • Wernicke-Korsakoff Syndrome: Wet brain is severe brain damage from alcohol-related thiamine deficiency that can result in shakes and tremors.
  • Immune System Dysfunction: Leading to increased susceptibility to infections.
  • Pancreatitis: Alcohol can cause acute and chronic pancreatitis, leading to severe pain and digestion issues.
  • Skin Damage: Alcoholism can cause skin dryness, aging, rhinophyma, and worsen conditions like rosacea.
  • Nutritional Deficiencies: Alcohol misuse can lead to a range of nutritional deficiencies, impacting overall health.

Recognizing these potential health complications is vital for understanding the serious risks associated with alcohol misuse and the importance of seeking treatment.

True Stories of Alcoholism & Recovery

Louann tells us her story of growing up with family alcoholism and dysfunction. It wasn’t until her marriage fell apart and multiple hospital visits due to binge drinking, did she finally admit to herself that she needed to deal with her past in order to stay sober.
Patrick started drinking as a teenager, and it led him down a dark road to alcohol and drug abuse. His life became unmanageable to the point where he felt his life was being wasted. Listen to how he found a higher power of his own understanding and started living life in recovery.

Mental Health and Alcohol Use

The relationship between mental health and alcohol use is complex and bidirectional. Alcohol can temporarily relieve symptoms of mental health disorders, such as anxiety or depression, leading to increased consumption as a form of self-medication. However, over time, excessive alcohol use exacerbates these mental health issues, creating a vicious cycle. It can also lead to the development of new mental health problems, impair cognitive functions, and negatively impact emotional regulation. Furthermore, alcohol use disorder (AUD) itself is a mental health condition, characterized by an inability to control or cease alcohol use despite adverse consequences. Addressing both mental health disorders and alcohol use in tandem is crucial for effective treatment and recovery, highlighting the need for integrated care approaches that cater to both aspects simultaneously.

Mixing Drugs with Alcohol

Mixing alcohol with other drugs, whether prescription, over-the-counter medications, or illicit substances, can be extremely dangerous and potentially life-threatening. Alcohol, a depressant, can intensify the effects of other depressants, like opioids or benzodiazepines, leading to respiratory depression, profound sedation, or even death. Conversely, combining alcohol with stimulants, such as cocaine or amphetamines, can mask the depressant effects of alcohol, increasing the risk of alcohol poisoning as individuals may consume more than they can physically tolerate. Additionally, this combination can strain the heart (Heart Attack) and increase the risk of cardiovascular events. The interaction between alcohol and other drugs can also exacerbate the side effects of medications, reduce their efficacy, and lead to unexpected health complications. Always consult healthcare professionals before mixing alcohol with any medication or drug.

Factual Dangers: Alcohol

Drinking every day can lead to many different health problems. Liquor is hard on the kidneys, damages the liver, and can create heart problems moving forward in life. Your eyesight can also start to diminish and your skin starts to wrinkle and dry out. You can also reach a point where you will not sleep well if you are not intoxicated, so that you constantly feel tired.

Intervention for Alcohol Abuse Stat

Recognizing Alcoholism in a Loved One

Recognizing alcohol use disorder (AUD) in a loved one is crucial for providing support and encouraging treatment. Here are key signs to look out for:

  • Increased Quantity or Frequency of Drinking: Noticeable uptick in how much or how often they consume alcohol.
  • Inability to Cut Back: They’ve expressed a desire to cut down on drinking but seem unable to do so.
  • Spending a Lot of Time Drinking or Recovering: Large portions of their time are dedicated to drinking or recovering from its effects.
  • Neglecting Responsibilities: They start neglecting professional, educational, or domestic responsibilities due to their drinking habits.
  • Continuing to Drink Despite Problems: Persisting in drinking even when it causes or exacerbates health, financial, or relationship issues.
  • Withdrawal Symptoms: Exhibiting withdrawal symptoms such as irritability, anxiety, tremors, or even seizures when not drinking.
  • Loss of Interest in Activities: Losing interest in hobbies or activities they once enjoyed in favor of drinking.
  • Drinking in Dangerous Situations: Consuming alcohol in situations where it is hazardous to do so, such as before driving.
  • Increased Tolerance: Needing to drink more over time to achieve the same effects.
  • Covering Up or Lying About Drinking: They may hide alcohol, lie about how much they drink, or be secretive about their drinking habits.

Recognizing these signs and symptoms early can be the first step in helping a loved one seek the necessary support and treatment for alcohol use disorder.


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