Skip to main content

Alcohol Use Disorder

Medically reviewed by Drugs.com. Last updated on Jun 6, 2022.

What is alcohol use disorder (AUD)?

AUD is a medical condition that causes problems with alcohol use. You are not able to control alcohol use even though it causes negative effects. AUD includes alcohol abuse and alcohol dependence. Alcohol abuse means you drink more than the recommended daily or weekly limits. Alcohol dependence means you have withdrawal symptoms after not drinking for a short period.

What are the signs and symptoms of AUD?

Your healthcare provider will ask you about your alcohol use. Mild AUD means you had 2 to 3 of the following over the last 12 months. Moderate means you have 4 to 5. Severe means you have 6 or more.

  • You have tried to decrease or stop drinking more than one time. You continue drinking even after you quit. You have had more to drink than you planned, or you drank for a longer time than you intended.
  • You crave alcohol. You have a desire to drink more often or to drink larger amounts of alcohol. You have a hard time thinking about anything other than alcohol.
  • You put extra effort and time into drinking alcohol. You often go to events or activities that will include drinking. You spend much of your time drinking alcohol or being with people who also drink.
  • You spend less time doing important activities. You have trouble taking part in social or daily activities at school, work, or home.
  • You have given up activities that you like. You drink instead of doing the activities. You also spend a lot of time recovering from the effects of drinking.
  • You continue to drink even though it causes health or relationship problems. You may have problems with your family, friends, or coworkers but continue to drink.
  • You develop alcohol tolerance. Tolerance means the amount of alcohol you usually drink no longer causes the effects you desire. You need to drink more alcohol to get the same effects.
  • You have withdrawal (physical or mental) symptoms after not drinking for a short period. Alcohol is needed to relieve or prevent withdrawal symptoms such as tremors (shakes). You may also have to drink to stop withdrawal symptoms or to cure a hangover.
  • You put yourself in physically dangerous settings while drinking. Examples include driving a car or having unprotected sex after drinking.

What health problems can AUD cause?

  • Cancer in your liver, pancreas, stomach, colon, kidney, or breast
  • Stroke or a heart attack
  • Liver, kidney, or lung disease
  • Blackouts, memory loss, brain damage, or dementia
  • Diabetes, immune system problems, or thiamine (vitamin B1) deficiency
  • Problems for you and your baby if you drink while pregnant

How is AUD treated?

Do not try to stop drinking on your own. Your healthcare provider may admit you to the hospital to help you withdraw from alcohol safely. Then you may need any of the following:

  • Medicines to decrease your craving for alcohol
  • Support groups such as Alcoholics Anonymous
  • Therapy services from a psychiatrist or psychologist
  • Admission to an inpatient facility for treatment for severe dependence

Treatment options

The following list of medications are in some way related to or used in the treatment of this condition.

Further information

  • Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration
    PO Box 2345
    Rockville , MD 20847-2345
    Web Address: http://www.samhsa.gov
  • Alcoholics Anonymous
    Web Address: http://www.aa.org

Call your local emergency number (911 in the US), or have someone call if:

  • You have seizures.

When should I seek care immediately?

  • You vomit blood.

When should I call my doctor?

  • Your heart is beating faster than usual.
  • You have hallucinations.
  • You cannot remember what happens while you are drinking.
  • You are anxious and have nausea.
  • Your hands are shaky and you are sweating heavily.
  • You have questions or concerns about your condition or care.

Care Agreement

You have the right to help plan your care. Learn about your health condition and how it may be treated. Discuss treatment options with your healthcare providers to decide what care you want to receive. You always have the right to refuse treatment. The above information is an educational aid only. It is not intended as medical advice for individual conditions or treatments. Talk to your doctor, nurse or pharmacist before following any medical regimen to see if it is safe and effective for you.

Ā© Copyright IBM Corporation 2022 Information is for End User's use only and may not be sold, redistributed or otherwise used for commercial purposes. All illustrations and images included in CareNotesĀ® are the copyrighted property of A.D.A.M., Inc. or IBM Watson Health

Always consult your healthcare provider to ensure the information displayed on this page applies to your personal circumstances.