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What is AUD?

Alcohol use disorder (AUD) is a medical condition that makes it hard to stop or control alcohol use, even when it is affecting a person’s health, relationships, or job. Sometimes people call AUD, alcohol dependence, alcohol addiction, or alcoholism.

AUD can be mild, moderate, or severe. AUD causes lasting changes in the brain that makes it very difficult for individuals to decrease or quit drinking. AUD may cause people who have quit drinking to “relapse”-that is, start drinking again. Drinking alcohol is sometimes a way people cope with stress, anxiety, or other mental health issues. The good news is that no matter how impossible the problem may seem, treatment with behavioral therapies, mutual-support groups, and/or medications can help people with AUD achieve and maintain recovery.

Decreasing or stopping drinking can be one of the best things you can do for your health and wellbeing.

How much is too much?

Check your drinking with the Alcohol Use Disorder Identification Test, an interactive self-test.

Take the Test

Supports are available for people who want help quitting or cutting back on drinking alcohol.
Find alcohol use resources, support services, and free apps.

Thinking about cutting back on your own?
Learn tips, tricks, and strategies to cut back or quit drinking alcohol.

If you or a loved one want to stop drinking but need help to do it, call the Access Line 800-563-4086.

If you are chemically dependent on alcohol and suddenly stop drinking, convulsions or seizures can occur within six to 48 hours. This can become dangerous if not medically treated. 

If you are a heavy drinker and want to quit, consult a trained medical professional or a facility that specializes in alcohol and drug treatment, and be honest about your usual alcohol intake. You can also contact the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) National Helpline at 1-800-662-4357 for information on support and treatment facilities in your area.

What Are the Symptoms of AUD?

To determine if you might have AUD, a healthcare provider might ask these questions:

In the past year, have you…

  • Had times when you ended up drinking more, or longer, than you intended?
  • More than once wanted to cut down or stop drinking, or tried to, but couldn’t?
  • Spent a lot of time drinking? Or being sick or getting over other aftereffects?
  • Wanted a drink so badly you couldn’t think of anything else?
  • Found that drinking—or being sick from drinking—often interfered with taking care of your home or family? Or caused job troubles? Or school problems?
  • Continued to drink even though it was causing trouble with your family or friends?
  • Given up or cut back on activities that were important or interesting to you, or gave you pleasure, in order to drink?
  • More than once gotten into situations while or after drinking that increased your chances of getting hurt (such as driving, swimming, using machinery, walking in a dangerous area, or having unprotected sex)?
  • Continued to drink even though it was making you feel depressed or anxious or adding to another health problem? Or after having had a memory blackout?
  • Had to drink much more than you once did to get the effect you want? Or found that your usual number of drinks had much less effect than before?
  • Found that when the effects of alcohol were wearing off, you had withdrawal symptoms, such as trouble sleeping, shakiness, restlessness, nausea, sweating, a racing heart, or a seizure? Or sensed things that were not there?

Any of these symptoms may be cause for concern. The more symptoms, the more urgent the need for change.

What Increases the Risk for AUD?

Some things can increase a person’s risk for getting AUD.  A person’s risk depends on how much, how often, and how quickly they drink alcohol. Alcohol misuse, which includes binge drinking and heavy alcohol use, increases the risk of AUD. Other factors also increase the risk of AUD, such as:

  • Drinking at an early age. People who began drinking before age 15 are more than 5 times as likely to report having AUD in the past year than people who waited until age 21 or later to begin drinking. This risk is even greater for women than for men.
  • Genetics and family history of alcohol problems. Having parents or other family members with AUD increases the chance that someone will develop AUD. 
  • Mental health conditions and a history of trauma. Many mental health conditions—including depression, post-traumatic stress disorder, and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder— are associated with an increased risk of AUD. People with a history of childhood trauma are also vulnerable to AUD.

Any of these symptoms may be cause for concern. The more symptoms, the more urgent the need for change.

What Are the Types of Treatment for AUD?

When it comes to treating AUD, one size does not fit all, and a treatment approach that may work for one person may not work for another. Treatment can be outpatient and/or inpatient and be provided by specialty programs, therapists, and doctors.

Three medications are currently approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to help people stop or reduce their drinking and prevent relapse: naltrexone (oral and long-acting injectable), acamprosate, and disulfiram. All of these medications are non-addictive, and they may be used alone or combined with behavioral treatments or mutual-support groups.

Behavioral Treatments
Behavioral treatments, also known as alcohol counseling or “talk therapy,” provided by licensed therapists are aimed at changing drinking behavior. Examples of behavioral treatments are brief interventions and reinforcement approaches, treatments that build motivation and teach skills for coping and preventing relapse, and mindfulness-based therapies. Find an addiction facility near you or get timely access to residential addiction treatment and recovery house beds here

Mutual-Support Groups
Mutual-support groups provide support from people like you for stopping or reducing drinking. Group meetings are available in most communities, at low or no cost, at convenient times and locations—including an increasing presence online. This means they can be especially helpful to individuals at risk for relapse to drinking. These groups, which include options such as AA, are a pathway to recovery and can offer a valuable added layer of support. Find an AA support group.

Please note:
People with severe AUD may need medical help to avoid alcohol withdrawal if they decide to stop drinking. Alcohol withdrawal is a potentially life-threatening process that can occur when someone who has been drinking heavily for a prolonged period of time suddenly stops drinking. Doctors can prescribe medications to address these symptoms and make the process safer and less distressing.

Looking for a little support?

Find alcohol use resources, support services, and free apps.

Thinking about cutting back on your own?

Learn tips, tricks, and strategies to cut back or quit drinking alcohol.

Not sure if quitting or cutting back is for you?

Here are 6 ways alcohol use impacts your health.