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Learning About Alcohol Use Disorder

What is alcohol use disorder?

Alcohol use disorder means that a person drinks alcohol even though it causes harm to themselves or others. It can range from mild to severe. The more signs of this disorder you have, the more severe it may be. People who have it may find it hard to control their use of alcohol.

People who have this disorder may argue with others about how much they're drinking. Their job may be affected because of drinking. They may drink when it's dangerous or illegal, such as when they drive. They also may have a strong need, or craving, to drink. They may feel like they must drink just to get by. Their drinking may increase their risk of getting hurt or being in a car crash.

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

What are the signs?

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

Here are some of the symptoms of alcohol use disorder. You may have it if you have two or more of the following signs:

  • You drink larger amounts of alcohol than you ever meant to. Or you've been drinking for a longer time than you ever meant to.
  • You can't cut down or control your use. Or you constantly wish you could cut down.
  • You spend a lot of time getting or drinking alcohol or recovering from its effects.
  • You have strong cravings for alcohol.
  • You can no longer do your main jobs at work, at school, or at home.
  • You keep drinking alcohol, even though your use hurts your relationships.
  • You have stopped doing important activities because of your alcohol use.
  • You drink alcohol in situations where doing so is dangerous.
  • You keep drinking alcohol even though you know it's causing health problems.
  • You need more and more alcohol to get the same effect, or you get less effect from the same amount over time. This is called tolerance.
  • You have uncomfortable symptoms when you stop drinking alcohol or use less. This is called withdrawal.

Alcohol use disorder can range from mild to severe. The more signs you have, the more severe the disorder may be.

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.

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 advice line (811 in most provinces and territories) 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?

Go to https://www.healthwise.net/patientEd

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Care instructions adapted under license by your healthcare professional. If you have questions about a medical condition or this instruction, always ask your healthcare professional. Healthwise, Incorporated disclaims any warranty or liability for your use of this information.