Nearly 30 million Americans aged 12 and older qualified as having an alcohol use disorder (AUD) within the past year of being surveyed in 2021, according to the National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH). Almost 900,000 of those were adolescents between the ages of 12 and 17.
What Is Alcohol Use Disorder
A person with a diagnosed AUD suffers from alcohol dependence, be it physical, emotional, or both. How alcohol rehab professionals treat those battling AUD will depend on the severity of the addiction. Below, we listed the American Psychiatric Association criteria (DSM-5) for diagnosing someone with an AUD. You need to have at least two behaviors within the past year to qualify for a mild AUD. Six or more, and your addiction is considered severe.
- You had times when you ended up drinking more or longer than you had planned.
- More than once, you tried to cut down or quit but couldn’t.
- You spent a lot of time drinking or getting over the after-effects of taking in too much alcohol.
- You craved alcohol so much that you couldn’t think about anything else.
- You discovered that your persistent drinking – or recovering from drinking – has interfered with your abilities to fulfill family, work, or school obligations.
- You continued to drink even though it was causing significant problems with friends and family relationships.
- You reduced or eliminated your participation in sports, hobbies, or other once enjoyable pursuits in order to drink.
- More than once, you engaged in dangerous activities because of alcohol use, such as ingesting drugs, driving a vehicle, having unsafe sexual relations, fighting, etc.
- You continued to drink despite it making you anxious or depressed or causing you to experience other physical or mental health issues.
- You discovered that your alcohol tolerance has increased, in that you need more drinks to give you the same feelings of confidence and euphoria you experienced before with less alcohol. Or, you noticed the amount of alcohol you’re consuming isn’t having the desired effect anymore.
- After the effects of the alcohol wore off, you experienced withdrawal symptoms, e.g., nausea, dizziness, excessive sweating, seizures, and hallucinations.
Myths and Facts
Now that you know how to identify an alcohol use disorder, let’s discuss some common misconceptions about alcoholism.
Myth 1: I only drink socially and hardly ever get drunk, so I have nothing to worry about.
Sound familiar? This is the excuse that probably every college kid who drinks uses on his parents. He has convinced himself that partying or getting blackout drunk a few weekends a month qualifies as “hardly ever.” Also, since he is drinking with others, his heavy alcohol use isn’t a problem. It’s not like he’s the stereotypical loner in an alley with a bottle sticking out of a paper bag. He’s a good student, athletic, popular, and successful.
Fact 1: Anytime you drink, especially heavily, you put yourself at risk for addiction.
Heavy and binge drinking have been linked to many risks, including accidents, sexual abuse, exacerbated mental disorders, life-threatening diseases, and drug and alcohol abuse. And if you have a family history of addiction or underlying health issues, you are doubly susceptible to substance misuse. Ultimately, there is no safe situation in which to get drunk without making yourself vulnerable to negative consequences, including addiction, either in the short- or long-term.
Myth 2: Everyone drinks, and I want to feel included.
You know you go overboard at parties sometimes, drinking too much and regretting it later. And yet, you’re at an important social event for your work, and everybody’s networking over a cocktail or glass of wine. You don’t want to be the odd man out, so you go along with the crowd. Drinking alcohol is natural and inclusive, a great way to break down social barriers. You can control it for tonight.
Fact 2: Choosing not to drink alcohol has garnered respect in recent years, and there is a growing call for more “sober” social options.
Just under a third of people aged 21 and over reported not drinking any alcohol within the past year, according to the 2021 NSDUH, so you have a fair amount of company if you decide not to drink. Society is also seeing alcohol abstinence as more of a positive lifestyle choice, offering up an increasing number of sober party venues and events. And more people are incorporating fun, non-alcoholic options into their work and family celebrations, such as mocktails, specialty sodas, hot chocolate, and other booze-less drinks.
Myth 3: I never drink hard liquor, only beer and wine; those are “safe” drinks that won’t get me drunk.
After all, who doesn’t enjoy a good beer or two after work? Beer, wine, hard seltzers – you probably think of them as sodas with a little kick instead of hardcore alcoholic drinks. You’re sure you can have several glasses without any significant physical or neurological effects.
Fact 3: All alcohol absorbs quickly into your body, so knowing your limits is essential.
As you may have learned back in driver’s ed, a drink is a drink, whether beer, wine, or hard liquor. A 12-ounce beer with 5% ABV (alcohol by volume) delivers the same alcoholic wallop as a 1.5-ounce shot of 80-proof whiskey and a 5-ounce glass of wine (12% ABV). What’s known as subliminal intoxication can happen to both men and women after their first drink, depending on their weight. At this stage, your blood alcohol level is generally between 0.01 and 0.05, and while you probably don’t feel affected, your reaction time, judgment, and behavior may already be altered or impaired.
Myth 4: Regularly drinking a modest amount of alcohol is healthy.
Researchers have cited moderate alcohol use as a great way to improve circulation, protect your heart, help you sleep, and stay warm in cold climates. That means drinking alcohol in reasonable amounts is good for you, right?
Fact 4: All alcohol is toxic to your body.
Wrong! An increasing amount of recent research on this topic debunks the thinking that some moderate daily drinking is good for you. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) states in its Dietary Guidelines for Alcohol that “even drinking within the recommended limits [one drink a day for women and two drinks a day for men] may increase the overall risk of death from various diseases, such as several types of cancer and some forms of cardiovascular disease.”
Myth 5: People with AUD are bad.
If you can’t keep yourself from becoming addicted to alcohol, you’re either weak or lazy. Alcoholism results from a flawed character, nothing more, nothing less.
Fact 5: Alcoholism happens to good people all the time.
The reasons people start drinking are often influenced by their mental state, genetics, and environment. Your initial decision to take a drink could have stemmed from something as simple as curiosity or peer pressure, or could have been a response to trauma. If your family has a history of addiction, that stacks the deck against you right from the start. You may never have had the opportunity to learn healthy coping skills, and you looked to society to teach those to you. However someone arrives at addiction, it’s not anyone’s right to judge. Instead, offer your support, love, and patience.
Myth 6: I can quit anytime I want.
You have control over the physical and mental aspects of alcohol addiction, and you can stop “cold turkey” whenever you choose.
Fact 6: Alcohol use disorder is a disease like cancer or asthma, and you need professional help to stop drinking.
Trying to quit alcohol alone is challenging at best; in the worst case, it’s deadly. The severity of detox symptoms depends on various factors, including the amount of use, age, and overall health. Sometimes, detox can lead to life-threatening complications like seizures, hallucinations, and delirium tremens (DT). DTs are the most serious and can occur two to five days after your last drink. Symptoms can include rapid breathing and heart rate, disorientation, mental fog, high blood pressure, loss of consciousness, and death. Don’t try to withdraw from alcohol on your own – instead, work with your doctor, a local health clinic, or a certified alcohol detox facility.
Myth 7: I’ll never be able to quit drinking, and my life will stay a mess.
There is no cure for alcohol use disorder, and most people never recover. Chances are that you will never live a normal life again or be able to regain those close relationships you have lost as a consequence of your addiction.
Fact 7: Recovery is real, and people like you achieve it every day.
This is probably the most destructive myth out there, as it destroys all hope of recovery. The truth is that recovery is possible and, indeed, likely if you take advantage of essential public and private addiction treatment programs. Checking yourself into an alcohol rehab facility with robust aftercare planning, regularly attending AA meetings, and engaging with a therapist will dramatically increase your chances for lifelong sobriety.