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Learning About Alcohol Use Disorder

What is alcohol misuse?

Alcohol misuse means drinking so much that it causes problems for you or others.

Early problems with alcohol can start at home. You may argue with loved ones about how much you're drinking. Your job may be affected because of drinking. You may drink when it's dangerous or illegal, such as when you drive.

Drinking too much for a long time can lead to health conditions like high blood pressure and liver problems.

What are the signs of alcohol use disorder?

Certain behaviors may mean that you have alcohol use disorder. For example:

  • You have problems at work or school because of your drinking, such as being late or not going at all.
  • You drink in risky situations, such as before or while driving a car.
  • After drinking, you can't remember what happened while you were drinking (blackouts).
  • You have legal problems because of your drinking, such as being arrested for harming someone or driving while drunk (intoxicated).
  • You get hurt or you hurt someone else when you are drinking.
  • You keep drinking even though you have health problems that are caused or made worse by alcohol use, such as liver disease (cirrhosis).
  • Your friends or family members are worried about your drinking.
  • You can't quit drinking or control how much you drink.
  • You need to drink more to get the same effect.
  • You have withdrawal symptoms when you stop drinking. These include feeling sick to your stomach, sweating, and feeling shaky or anxious.
  • You spend a lot of time drinking and recovering.
  • You have given up other activities so you can drink.
  • You keep drinking even though it harms your relationships and causes health problems.

Other signs include:

  • You drink in the morning, are often drunk for long periods of time, or drink alone.
  • You change what you drink, such as switching from beer to wine, because you think that doing this will help you drink less or keep you from getting drunk.
  • You feel guilty after you drink.
  • You make excuses for your drinking. Or you do things to hide your drinking, such as buying alcohol at different stores.
  • You worry that you won't get enough alcohol for an evening or weekend.
  • You have physical signs of alcohol use disorder, such as weight loss, a sore or upset stomach (gastritis), or redness of the nose and cheeks.

Signs of alcohol use disorder in children and teens can be different from the ones for adults.

You might not realize that you have alcohol use disorder. You might not drink large amounts when you drink. Or you might go for days or weeks between drinking episodes. But even if you don't drink very often, your drinking could still be harmful and put you at risk for becoming addicted to alcohol.

How is alcohol misuse treated?

Getting help for problems with alcohol is up to you. But you don't have to do it alone. There are many people and kinds of treatments to help with alcohol problems.

Talking to your doctor is the first step. When you get a doctor's help, treatment for alcohol problems can be safer and quicker.

Treatment options can include:

  • Treatment programs. Examples are group therapy, one or more types of counselling, and alcohol education.
  • Medicines. A doctor or counsellor can help you know what kinds of medicines might help with cravings.
  • Free social support groups. These groups include AA (Alcoholics Anonymous) and SMART Recovery (Self-Management and Recovery Training).

Your doctor can help you decide which type of program is best for you.

Follow-up care is a key part of your treatment and safety. Be sure to make and go to all appointments, and call your doctor or nurse call line if you are having problems. It's also a good idea to know your test results and keep a list of the medicines you take.

Where can you learn more?

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