CleanSlate Blog

The Fuzzy Borders Between Social Drinking and Alcohol Dependence

More than 15 million Americans  - and more than 623,000 people between the ages of 12 and 18 years old - suffer from alcohol use disorder (AUD). Understanding the early warning signs of alcohol dependence is critical to preventing AUD. 

How can you recognize these warning signs?

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Alcohol addiction is a gradual process

Alcohol addiction doesn’t develop overnight; it’s a gradual process that involves chemical changes within the brain. The more that a person drinks, the more their brain becomes accustomed to the altered chemical imbalances, which are connected to feelings like happiness, euphoria, and impulsivity. When that person eventually tries to stop drinking, they may begin to experience withdrawal symptoms.

The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) has developed guidelines around recommended maximum daily drinking to minimize risk of alcohol dependence. For women, low-risk drinking means no more than three drinks on any single day and no more than seven drinks per week. For men, low-risk drinking translates into no more than four drinks on any single day and no more than 14 drinks per week.

Symptoms of Alcohol Use Disorder (AUD)

The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition (DSM-5) lists 11 criteria to help clinicians determine if their patients have AUD. Someone who experiences two or three of these symptoms for a year falls within the definition of a mild AUD; four or five of these symptoms would be a moderate AUD; six or more would be a severe AUD.

The 11 criteria are as follows:

  1. Drinking more alcohol, or for longer, than intended.
  2. Trying to cut down or stop drinking but being unsuccessful.
  3. Spending a lot of time drinking or feeling sick from a hangover or other after-effects.
  4. Experiencing interference in daily life and relationships because of drinking or being sick from drinking too much
  5. Having cravings for alcohol.
  6. Continuing to drink even though it hurt relationships with friends and family.
  7. Cutting back on, or giving up, hobbies to consume more alcohol.
  8. Repeatedly being in situations where alcohol put one at risk of harm.
  9. Having to consume more alcohol to experience the desired effects.
  10. Continuing to consume alcohol even though it worsens a health condition, including anxiety or depression.
  11. Experiencing withdrawal symptoms when alcohol’s effects began to wear off.

Related blog: Co-Occurring Disorders: The Link Between Addiction and Mental Health

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Risks for AUD

Certain people are at higher risk of developing an AUD. This includes people with a family history of alcoholism and people who start drinking at an early age.

While women are more likely to develop harmful medical effects from drinking, men are more likely to develop alcoholism than women.

A person who is struggling with AUD may display some common signs, such as:

  • Frequent drinking.
  • Gulping drinks or otherwise drinking quickly.
  • Lying about how much alcohol is consumed or failing to realize how much alcohol has been consumed.
  • Drinking until drunk or being unable to stop drinking before becoming drunk.
  • Skipping work, school, family responsibilities, or social functions more often in order to drink.
  • Getting drunk on the job.
  • Drinking and driving, or performing other dangerous tasks while intoxicated.
  • Experiencing social, financial, and legal problems due to alcohol consumption.
  • Using alcohol to self-medicate mental health issues.
  • Feeling irritable, resentful, angry, or depressed when not drinking.
  • Experiencing medical problems from consuming too much alcohol.

Related blog: Why Aren't We Talking About One Of The Most Effective Treatments For Alcoholism?

Medication-assisted treatment for AUD

If you or someone you love has developed AUD, it’s important to explore the option of medication-assisted treatment (MAT) for alcohol addiction, which has demonstrated high success rates for patients. Vivitrol (naltrexone) treats alcohol addiction in several ways, by:

  • Blocking cravings for alcohol.
  • Guarding against relapse.
  • Lessening the number of times that alcohol is consumed and the amount of alcohol consumed in people who take it.
  • Helping people have more success in remaining alcohol free.

There are other medications that can help with alcohol dependence as well. If you are concerned about your drinking or are concerned about a loved one, please discuss these signs and treatment options with your physician. 

 

CleanSlate treats patients suffering from opioid or alcohol addiction with medication-assisted treatment (MAT) and a continuum of care to support each individual's journey to recovery. If you or someone you love needs help, contact us at 833-505-HOPE, or visit our website at www.cleanslatecenters.com to find the center nearest you.


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Picture of Claudie H. Jimenez, M.D., M.S.

Claudie H. Jimenez, M.D., M.S.

Dr. Claudie Jimenez is CleanSlate's Medical Director for the states of Indiana and Kentucky. CleanSlate is a leading national medical group that provides outpatient medication treatment for the chronic disease of addiction, primarily alcohol and opioid use disorders.

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If you or someone you know suffers from the disease of addiction, please call 833-505-HOPE to speak with a professional.

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