What is Alcohol Use Disorder and How We Can Help?

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Table of Contents

What is Alcohol Use Disorder?

Alcohol Use Disorder or AUD is classified as a Substance Abuse Disorder. Substance Abuse Disorders are defined as​ a “pathological pattern of behaviors in which patients continue to use a substance despite experiencing significant problems related to its use. There may also be physiological manifestations, including changes in brain circuitry” (Kosten, 2018).​ Victims of substance abuse find themselves overusing opioids or alcohol outside their intended use. Binge drinking is an indicator of AUD. “Binge drinking is ​defined as four or more drinks in a day for a woman and five or more drinks in a day for a man” (Campos, 2018). Those who suffer from this disorder can be influenced by their environment and be more susceptible to this disorder by genetics. Typically, those in stressful environments and suffer from another mental disorder such as anxiety or depression, may suffer from alcohol use disorder also.

How does Alcohol Use Disorder Affect the Brain?

It is common knowledge that alcohol use is not good for the brain but, few people know exactly how alcohol affects the brain. Alcohol messes with the signal transduction pathways in your brain and how your brain interprets information. According to ​Northwestern Medicine, ​ there are several stages of alcohol use. The first stage is pleasure. When first consuming alcohol, the neurotransmitter, dopamine; which gives pleasurable sensations; is released from your postsynaptic neuron, crosses the synapse and attaches to the receptors on the postsynaptic neuron. This elicits a response. The user usually feels very “euphoric” and calm. The next stage is disorientation and a sense of depression. The extra alcohol is absorbed by your body. Following this is the “excitement stage”. During this stage, users are losing their loss of judgement, vision and impaired hearing due to the occipital, frontal and temporal lobes of the brain being affected. Lastly, there is confusion. Due to the high alcohol intake, the cerebellum which is responsible for coordination in the body is affected thus, the need for the “straight line test”. Consuming more alcohol past this point can lead to a coma and even death.

What are the symptoms of Alcohol Use Disorder?

Typically, those who suffer from AUD will show signs of:

  • Unwanted Cravings
  • Dependency on alcohol in stressful situations or to feel “relaxed”
  • Withdrawal such as anxiety, shaking, headaches, sweating and nausea
  • Withdrawal from society and other activities that you once loved
  • Drinking for long periods of time
  • Tolerance if the usual dosage is not strong enough

What are the types of Alcohol Use Disorder?

According to ​Medical Use Today, ​ there are five different types of AUD sufferers:

  1. “Alcohol Induced Risk Takers” are those who have engaged in risky behaviors such as drunk driving and self- inflicted injury due to their alcohol consumption
  2. “Low Perceived Life Interferers” are those who believe that alcohol either aids or does not have an effect on their daily lives such as relationships, work life, love life and basic duties.
  3. “Those Who Experienced Adverse Effects” typically experience frequent hangovers, headaches and other bodily pain due to trying to quit.
  4. “Those Who Have Difficulty Cutting Back” are suffers that have tried in the past to ct back on their alcohol intake but, find themselves in the same situation.
  5. “Those Who Are Highly Problematic” find themselves to be aggressive and trouble seeking while under the influence.

How can we treat Alcohol Use Disorder?

Treating AUD is soon as possible; is optimal. Due to the different degrees of AUD and different suffers from AUD, there is no one size-fits-all approach. For milder AUD sufferers, “detox and withdrawal may be the best option. This approach is “medically managed” to prevent the symptoms of withdrawal from reappearing (​Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research, 2011). Another option is behavioral consulting. Seeing a counselor of behavioral health professional can help get to the root of the problem and help you and your family understand why this is a problem. If a more group centered approach is optimal, Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) offer support and medical treatment for those who suffer from AUD. This is often at a center or a halfway home.

Why Inpatient Treatment May Not Work?

When we think about treating AUD, inpatient treatment is always the first one to come to mind. Different people need different approaches. Inpatient treatment centers are not “one-size-fits-all”. Contrary to popular belief, the success rate of inpatient treatment centers is about 30% if not, lower (American Addiction Centers, 2019). There are many factors on why this approach can be unsuccessful for many people: the stigma around rehabilitation centers, being isolated away from home and the depersonalized approach of some rehabilitation facilities. “In 1985, the ​Journal of Studies on Alcohol ​ reported that drinkers were able to walk away from their behavior of their own volition via a combination of willpower, developing a physical aversion to alcohol after
bottoming out, and experiencing some kind of life-changing experience to support the idea that 12-Step or rehab in general isn’t a must in every case”. When patients feel like they are getting treatment “for themselves” they are more likely to stay sober. The inpatient setting of rehabilitation centers could take this feeling away from them.

How Can ​Makin Wellness ​ Help?

We specialize in ​Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT). This is evidence and research based talk therapy that involves sessions with a licensed therapist. CBT helps you tackle negative thinking, false beliefs and helps you find ways to manage and change them. In our sessions, I can teach you mindfulness skills to make recovery and healing happen in your life. We will create a Wellness Recovery Action Plan so you will have concrete steps in place for yourself in case you end up in a risky or unsure situation. You can learn new ways to manage the addictive thoughts, you don’t have to feel trapped by them. You can reframe negative, illogical thoughts into positive and practical ones, which can lead to effective and lasting recovery. I invite you to contact ​us today for a free phone consultation at 412-532-1249 to discuss your specific needs and to answer any questions you have about addiction counseling.

About Makin Wellness

Founded in 2017, Makin Wellness is Pittsburgh’s premier therapy & coaching centers located in Downtown Pittsburgh and Downtown New Kensington. The company’s mission is to help people heal and become happy again. Makin Wellness specializes in depression, anxiety, addiction, trauma, medical marijuana assisted treatment and relationship counseling.

alcohol use
Nadiyah Fisher
Makin Wellness Psychology Research Intern
Sara Makin MSEd, LPC, NCC

Sara Makin MSEd, LPC, NCC

All articles are written in conjunction with the Makin Wellness Research Team.

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