What are the Signs and Symptoms of Alcohol Use Disorder?

Jake Newby

| 3 min read

Alcohol Use Disorder (AUD) is a complex condition that can be subtle to detect. It often develops over a span of years and involves an unhealthy preoccupation with alcohol. AUD can lead to an inability to control one’s drinking and many behavioral consequences. 
AUD is not a weakness or character issue – it is something that everyone is at risk of. Some just carry a higher risk for it than others, based on their family history with drinking and the environment they live in. Recognizing signs and symptoms of AUD can lead to a change in habits. Getting help can be a lifesaving endeavor for those who struggle with an AUD.

What is binge drinking?

Binge drinking is when someone drinks at least four or five drinks in one sitting. One in four American adults who binge drink double that amount by drinking least eight drinks during one occasion, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Not everyone who binge drinks has an AUD, but they are at higher risk for getting one. It is typically a telltale sign of AUD.

Signs and symptoms of alcohol use disorder

AUD can be mild, moderate, or severe, based on the number of symptoms experienced. Doctors can usually diagnose AUD when someone exhibits two or more of these symptoms:
  • Drinking more or longer in one sitting than originally intended. 
  • More than once wanting to cut down on how much you drink but making unsuccessful attempts to do so.
  • Spending ample time drinking, being sick from drinking, or dealing with hangovers.
  • Wanting a drink so badly you can’t think of anything else.
  • Continuing to drink even when you know it causes problems with your physical health, mental clarity, relationships, social life, and your job/career. 
  • Reducing social activities and hobbies you enjoy so you can drink. 
  • Using alcohol in situations where it's not safe, like while driving or operating machinery.
  • Continuing to drink even though it made you feel depression, anxious or caused another health problem.
  • Continuing to drink after experiencing an alcohol-related memory blackout.
  • Developing a tolerance to alcohol and drinking more than you once did in single sitting to acquire the desired effect.
  • Experiencing withdrawal symptoms — like nausea, restlessness, shaking, sweating, or a racing heart — when you don't drink.

Understanding the problem and finding help if you need it

If you don't experience symptoms but are still concerned, be sure to stay within the limits provided in the 2020—2025 Dietary Guidelines for Americans to reduce your chances of future problems.
Understanding AUD is the first step in helping yourself or your loved one recognize the problem. If you do have any symptoms, alcohol may already be a cause for concern. The more symptoms you have, the more urgent the need for change. 
A major component of AUD is the brain tricking itself into believing there is nothing wrong. Generally, this is called denial. Expressing your concern to a loved one is a good early step but recognize that this step is nothing without reinforcement.
Contact a healthcare professional so they can look at the number, pattern, and severity of symptoms, and determine whether AUD is present. That way you, your doctors, and your family can decide the best course of action.
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