What Is An Alcohol Use Disorder?
An alcohol use disorder is a term that medical personal use as a diagnosis for an individual who has encountered a significant measure of harm or disruption in life due to drinking. Previously, the 4th edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (DSM) listed two disorders that dealt with these scenarios—either alcohol use or alcohol dependence. Currently, in the most recent 5th edition of the DSM, this designation has been changed. Now, these two disorders have merged into one—what we now call an alcohol use disorder. This disorder is classified into the following as a diagnostic tool: mild, moderate, and severe.
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Drinking, though socially acceptable and encouraged, is not without danger. NIAAA reports that “nearly 88,000 people (approximately 62,000 men and 26,000 women) die from alcohol-related causes annually, making it the fourth leading preventable cause of death in the United States.” These deaths may have stemmed from a variety of alcohol-related incidents, two of which include binge or heavy drinking. Most importantly, these deaths can be preventable with intervention, proper education, and treatment.
The National Council on Alcohol and Drug Dependence advises us of further dangers, stating that “over time, excessive alcohol use, both in the form of heavy drinking or binge drinking, can lead to numerous health problems, chronic diseases, neurological impairments and social problems.”
NIAAA defines binge drinking as “a pattern of drinking that brings blood alcohol concentration (BAC) levels to 0.08 g/dL. This typically occurs after 4 drinks for women and 5 drinks for men—in about 2 hours.” This illustrates that even on the nights that a person is drinking socially, he may in fact be endangering his health and wellbeing. As defined by SAMHSA, heavy drinking is “drinking 5 or more drinks on the same occasion on each of 5 or more days in the past 30 days.”
Why Do We Assess People’s Drinking?
In order to provide the most effective treatment, a provider must understand the extent by which a person’s life is effected by alcohol. Some individuals may exhibit worrisome drinking, but may not yet have a dependency. This use and use may stem from various life circumstances or emotions, including loneliness, boredom, fear, a desire to fit in, or possibly to be more socially inclined.
If they’re not careful, some of these people’s drinking behaviors may progress into heavier and more constant drinking, which could form a dependence. For others, as this drinking may be vastly situational—and at times temporary—if the aforementioned situations resolve themselves or a person alters their perception or perspective, they might curb their drinking and again consume only what is considered to be social or low-risk drinking. Some of these people may even stop drinking altogether. The capacity to change like this is because these people were not struggling with a dependence.
For an individual who struggles with alcohol dependence, the body has reached a point where it has become physically dependent on alcohol. Tolerance has increased, he may struggle with the inability to quit, and if he does succeed in quitting, he will experience withdrawal symptoms.
Denial is a hallmark of substance use. It is a very dangerous and crippling emotion, one that can stunt a person’s growth towards sobriety and prevent them from receiving the care that they need. An assessment or screening can go beyond this and provide a clear picture of the reality of the situation so that a person can receive the help that they might not yet know they need.
A person who suffers from a dependency or alcoholism will require a different mode of treatment than a person who uses alcohol without symptoms of physical dependency. Certain elements, such as therapy and education, might be the same—and in the case of a person who is drinking heavily for a period of time without dependency, this might be enough to achieve resolution. However, in the case of alcoholism, a person might need to receive treatment that is more in depth and requires a level of intensity that may be best served in an inpatient or outpatient treatment program.
For those who suffer from a dependency, there are greater health concerns, including the risk of withdrawal. Withdrawal can be very serious and can at times even be life-threatening; this is not something that a person should go through on his own. Thoroughly assessing a person’s drinking habits can help a provider to determine if he is high-risk for withdrawal. This will help them to plan accordingly and provide supportive care for this critical time.
What Is The Alcohol Use Inventory?
Just as each person is unique and comes from a background and current life circumstances that are different from the next person, each person will have different attitudes regarding behaviors and engagements with alcohol. This test is beneficial for the reason that it recognizes these things and allows for a unique representation of alcohol’s effects on a person’s life.
The AUI is a self-report inventory, which means that when you take it you are taking it on your own and not being interviewed. A potential downfall of this methodology is that it requires complete honesty. As we’ve discussed before, denial is commonplace for those who suffer from alcohol use. This, along with any confusion or deliberate attempts to mislead, could sway the results. If you find yourself in a situation that presents you with the opportunity to take this inventory, remember—it is in your best interest to be honest so that you can get the help you need to get your life back on track.
This inventory consists of 228 questions that are broken down into 24 scales.
These questions focus on the following, as defined by NIAAA:
- Perceptions of benefits derived from drinking
- Styles of drinking
- Ideas about the consequences of drinking
- Thoughts about how to deal with drinking problems
This assessment provides a provider—whether it be a doctor, therapist, or an individual who works at a rehabilitation facility—a venue by which to determine how often, how much, and for how long a person has been drinking for. The results of this inventory will be compared to any other determinations the substance use professional may have made, which may include interviews, other assessments, or screening tools. Combined, these things can also help to illustrate how these alcohol-related factors impact a person’s life or how they perceive their drinking and the effects on their life; oftentimes these two things may be radically different.