alcohol use disorder: do you know the signs?

alcohol use disorder can be different than alcoholism.

how do i know if i have alcohol use disorder?
alcohol use disorder affects around 18 per cent of canadians, 15 years of age or older, at some point in their lives. getty

alcohol use disorder (aud) is a chronic health condition that compels people to frequently consume large quantities of alcohol despite the consequences it has on their day-to-day lives. people with this condition are unable to stop drinking and find they must constantly consume larger quantities of alcohol just to achieve the same result and avoid suffering the effects of withdrawal.

while alcoholism refers to a severe alcohol dependence, the recovery village explains , aud is a spectrum: for some people, it might be moderate or even mild. doctors will generally evaluate people for aud, and will determine whether the disorder is mild, moderate, or severe. people at any point on the spectrum may identify as alcoholics, if they determine that they find it difficult to cut back or quit drinking and determine that they need help.

according to the canadian alcohol use disorder society , aud is caused by a combination of biological, environmental and life factors that predispose certain people to the disease. this addiction, which can be mild, moderate or severe, can develop quickly or over longer periods of time and most commonly occurs between the ages of 20 and 40.

consuming too much alcohol can take a heavy toll on an individual’s health, with prolonged use known produce a number of dangerous outcomes, such as brain damage (including dementia), depression, cancer, liver problems, violence and suicide. it can also drain a person’s finances and wreak havoc with their professional and personal relationships.



fortunately, treatment for aud is effective and available in the form of medications that ease cravings and counselling that helps people learn to live without alcohol. the condition is only beginning to be understood, however, and compassion and patience are required to help patients overcome the stigma of the disease and find the help they need.

symptoms of alcohol use disorder

according to healthline , you may be suffering from aud if you have experienced at least two of the following over the course of the past year:

  • occasions when you drank more or longer than intended
  • you tried to reduce alcohol use but failed
  • you spent a lot of time drinking, being sick or recovering from alcohol
  • occasions when you wanted to drink so badly it was all you could think about
  • you found that drinking, or being sick from drinking, caused problems in your personal or professional life
  • you kept drinking despite the issues it was causing with friends and family
  • you cut back on activities you previously enjoyed to make time for drinking
  • you found yourself in dangerous situations during or after drinking
  • you found you must drink more alcohol to achieve the same result as before
  • you have experienced withdrawal symptoms (trouble sleeping, nausea, sweating) once alcohol wore off



the physical symptoms of aud include:
  • slurred speech
  • slowed reflexes
  • trouble concentrating
  • decreased ability to control bodily movements
  • poor-decision making
  • blackouts or memory loss
  • hangovers
physical complications from alcohol use disorder can include insomnia, sexual dysfunction, pancreatitis, brain damage, dementia, liver damage and gastrointestinal bleeding.

diagnosing alcohol use disorder

determining if a person is suffering from aud usually begins with a visit to a primary healthcare provider who will inquire about their drinking habits and even ask permission to speak to family and friends about the issue. according to the mayo clinic , a doctor will likely perform a physical exam and ask questions about a person’s health that may point to an underlying alcohol dependence. lab tests may be used to detect health issues related to aud and patients may be referred to a psychologist who is better equipped to discuss the thoughts, feelings and behaviours that inform their addiction.

treating alcohol use disorder

addressing aud depends on a number of factors but can generally involve an intervention, counselling, outpatient programs or inpatient care. specific treatment may involve a combination of techniques, including:
  • detox (medically managed withdrawal can take two to seven days to complete; this usually takes place at a hospital or treatment centre)
  • counselling (individual or group sessions, including cognitive behaviour therapy, have proven effective at helping patients understand their issues, separately and as they relate to the consumption of alcohol)
  • oral or injected medications (drugs can make it difficult to drink by producing a negative physical reaction to alcohol or by blocking the good feelings alcohol can produce)
  • medical treatment (some health conditions may require attention once the urge to drink has been addressed)
  • residential treatment programs (severe cases of aud may require patients to stay at a dedicated facility where they can receive around the clock care for their condition)



alternative treatment that may be effective at complementing aud care includes spiritual practice, yoga, meditation or acupuncture.

preventing alcohol use disorder

there is no single way to eliminate the risk of alcohol use disorder, according to addiction group , but some strategies that may help reinforce healthy drinking habits include:

  • drinking moderately or practicing low-risk drinking
  • being mindful of your consumption
  • avoiding triggers that are likely to make you reach for a drink
  • enlisting support from family and friends

prevalence of alcohol use disorder

aud affects around 18 per cent of canadians , 15 years of age or older, at some point in their lives. it contributes to around 18,000 deaths and more than $5-billion in healthcare costs every year. recent surveys have revealed that 25 per cent of canadians have been consuming more alcohol since the start of the pandemic.

support for alcohol use disorder

if you or someone you know is struggling with aud, the centre for addiction and mental health offers more information about the disease as well as access a range of services. alcoholics anonymous, an organization that has been helping people kick the habit more than 80 years, is also located throughout canada.



dave yasvinski is a toronto-based writer.
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