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Alcohol use disorder is a serious medical condition which is diagnosed when someone cannot stop drinking or is finding it very difficult to stop drinking alcohol. There are many names for this condition, including:  


  • Alcohol addiction  

  • Alcoholism  

  • Alcohol dependence 


It can either be mild, moderate or severe and can cause lifelong brain damage if left untreated, as well as the physical toll it can leave. Lasting changes to the brain can make people more susceptible to relapsing. However, using evidence-based treatments, it is possible to recover and stay in recovery. 


 How many people have AUD? 

In 2021, a survey in the United States of America suggested that over 28.6 million adults aged over 18 had Alcohol Use Disorder: That is  over 11% of the population. 

What Increases the Risk for Alcohol Use Disorder?

The risk of someone  developing AUD depends in part on several factors, namely what they drink, how much they drink and how often they drink.  There are other factors that also contribute: 

* Starting drinking at an early age. 

Research has shown that those who drink from the age of 15, on wards, are more than three times more likely to develop symptoms of AUD by the age of 26 than those who did not start drinking until they were 21. 

* Women are, statistically more likely than men, to develop AUD. 

* Genetic predisposition/family history: 

60% of people with diagnosed AUD are genetically pre-disposed to it However, as with other chronic health conditions, there is a interplay between genetics and environment. Thus someone with a very stressful lifestyle who drinks to relieve stress , and who has a family history of AUD is more prone than someone who has a family history but is not drinking to relieve stress. 

 *Mental illness/psychological trauma. 

Those with underlying mental health conditions and/or a history of trauma. ADHD, PTSD and other related conditions are common amongst those with AUD. 

What Are the Symptoms of Alcohol Use Disorder?

Doctors and other healthcare professionals use criteria from established diagnostic criteria to determine if someone is experiencing AUD. The severity is based on multiple criteria which is linked to symptoms. A person who shows two or three symptoms is said to have a mild episode, four to five is considered moderate and any more than six is considered to be severe. 

A health care provider might ask the following questions to assess a person’s symptoms, based on a persons drinking history for the last calendar year: 

  • Have there been occasions where you drank more than you intended to for longer than you intended to?

  • Have you tried to stop, or cut down, but have been unable to? 

  • Does drinking take up a lot of your time and/or have you been physically unwell as a result of drinking? 

  • Has the desire to drink alcohol taken control of your thinking to the degree that you can not think about anything else? 

  • Has drinking affected your job? your relationship? Your studies? 

  • Despite the trouble caused by drinking, have you continued to drink? 

  • Due to alcohol, have you cut back on social activities? 

  •  Because of drinking, have you put yourself in a dangerous situation such as drink driving, risky sexual behavior? Have you been hurt, as a result?


Symptoms can start to appear in as little as six hours. In an emergency, if someone is unable to access rehab  immediately they will need to continue drinking. Sudden cessation can, not only be very dangerous, but can also be fatal

Withdrawal symptoms can be physical and psychological, and range in severity from mild to severe.

Typical symptoms of alcohol withdrawal can include:

  • Excessive sweating

  • A tremor, usually in the hands

  • A fast pulse, over 100

  • Vomiting

  • Nausea

  • Poor appetite

  • Headache

  • Anxiety

  • Depression

  • Restlessness

  • Seizures

  • Insomnia (difficulty sleeping)


Milder symptoms usually start within eight to 24 hours from the last alcoholic drink.

A condition known as delirium tremens can set in,it is the most severe form of alcohol withdrawal, manifested by altered mental status (global confusion) and sympathetic overdrive (autonomic hyperactivity), which can progress to cardiovascular collapse. Minor alcohol withdrawal is characterized by tremor, anxiety, nausea, vomiting, and insomnia. Major alcohol withdrawal signs and symptoms include visual hallucinations and auditory hallucinations, whole body tremor, vomiting, diaphoresis, and hypertension (high blood pressure).


Alcohol-related brain damage

What is Wernicke–Korsakoff syndrome?

Wernicke-Korsakoff is a serious medical condition that is a form of dementia caused, 99% of the time, due to excessive consumption of alcohol. In essence, Alcohol prevents the body from absorbing vitamin B1, which can have catastrophic and life long changes to the brain.Alcohol prevents thiamine from being absorbed properly in the gastro intestinal tract, stops it from being absorbed properly in the body, and increases the amount of thiamine that is excreted in urine.   This devastating condition has two, distinct, separate stages:

Firstly, there will be a brief period where the person has intense swelling on the brain: This is Wernicke's  encephalopathy.

Secondly, if this first stage is left untreated, Korsakoff's syndrome develops. This, irreversible condition, has many of the same symptoms as dementia.

Around 25% of those with Wernicke's who access the appropriate medical care will make a good recovery.  50% will make a partial recovery and be able to live with some social care support. However, the remaining 25% will need lifelong care, normally in a residential care setting.

How is it diagnosed?

If someone with alcohol use disorder is still intoxicated, it can be a challenge to diagnose, this is because some of the symptoms can often be confused with alcohol withdrawal.

The signs to look out for are:

* Being disorientated, appearing confused or having problems with your memory

* Difficulty with eye movements

* Poor balance, being unsteady and walking with legs very wide apart

* Either being very underweight or recent  unexplained weight loss within the last few months.

It is unusual for someone with  present with all of these symptoms but nearly all  will show signs of confusion and disorientation.

Without appropriate medical treatment, Wernicke's will, undoubtedly, lead to Korsakoff's  and permanent brain damage. Intravenous Thiamine  is needed, with oral  supplements  for several weeks as well as re hydration and enhanced nutrition.

Kindling effect

Many callers ask for treatment at home because they have been in treatment before but, sadly, have relapsed. They will often say that they "just need a detox" and that they "know  what they are doing." The difficulty is that withdrawal symptoms can increase if someone needs repeated treatment. This is what is called the Kindling effect. This occurs when a weak electrical or chemical stimulus , which ordinarily would not be of concern, causes seizures when someone stops drinking. The evidence suggests  that those who seek repeated treatment actually need to be treated with a more aggressive course of medication than those seeking treatment for the first time.

Treatments for alcohol use disorder

When someone presents with alcohol use disorder, medical intervention is needed. Depending on the severity of the symptoms and other factors a course of benzodiazepines will be needed to ensure a safe withdrawal. This could take several days, or even longer. Vitamin B replacement therapy may also be required which may need to be in the form of a series of injections over a period of three to five days. During the initial period of medical treatment, aside from benzodiazepines, adjunctive medication may sometimes be offered to assist with symptom control.  Clients in treatment centers will be  given sufficient medication, not only to ensure safety, but also to provide a comfortable as possible transition from dependency to sobriety.

As with all those seeking residential treatment, medical intervention is a small, but important part of the process and runs seamlessly alongside a recovery plan that is based around either a twelve step or SMART based recovery programme. Most centers will augment this with allied therapies including exercise, yoga, mediation, music and art therapy and  for  those in treatment  for more than  a week, individual sessions.

Getting into treatment requires the right centre within a budget that is not going to cause additional problems. Admission can, on occasion, be arranged the same day, if not within 24 hours.

Call Paul, now, to discuss.

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