Understanding The Warning Signs And Causes Of Alcohol Use Disorder

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By: Sarah Galzerano, Jefferson Health

With stay-at-home orders currently in place due to the COVID-19 pandemic, many people are sitting home bored, and some are overindulging on food and alcohol.

It’s important to realize that having a few drinks, here and there, doesn’t mean you have AUD, but you should be cautious of the reason why you’re drinking, explains Dr. Ankila Chandran, psychiatrist with Jefferson Health in New Jersey.

AUD develops when someone continuously binge-drinks and abuses alcohol, knowing the negative consequences it can lead to (i.e., illness, weight gain, anger, etc.); or when they are dependent on it to function and get through troubling circumstances.

“If you’re drinking simply because you enjoy the taste and you want to unwind with dinner, or with a snack and a movie, that’s okay,” says Dr. Chandran. “However, if you’re drinking in an attempt to reduce your stress and anxiety, or because you feel like you need it – that raises a red flag.”

According to Dr. Chandran, other warning signs that someone might be suffering from a mild, moderate, or severe AUD (depending on how many are present) include:

• Using alcohol to numb emotions after a hard day or to get through something you aren’t looking forward to

• Using alcohol to forget about past traumas

• Feeling a constant need to obtain and consume alcohol

• Not being able to relax and fall asleep at night without having a drink first

• Continued alcohol use despite having negative past experiences with it

• Rationalizing your behavior and placing the “blame” for your alcohol use on something/someone else.

A full list of symptoms, as declared by the DSM-5, can be viewed here.

The causes behind AUD are not clear-cut; they can range from a variety of genetic, psychological, social, and environmental factors. In fact, according to the National Institutes of Health, research shows that genes contribute to nearly half the risk for developing AUD.

However, studies have also shown that the risk for AUD is significantly higher in individuals with other mental disorders (or “coexisting conditions”), such as ADHD; depression or bipolar depression; and anxiety.

Societal and environmental pressures also play a huge role, says Dr. Chandran. “Alcohol as a presence in one’s life usually starts early; we see our family members drinking at gatherings. In addition to this, we see it associated with being popular and having a good time on TV and in movies.”

Some people succumb to this pressure easier than others, perhaps because they have a greater need to feel like they belong, adds Dr. Chandran.

If you find yourself drinking alcohol often, you should reflect on the warning signs discussed above, and recognize your feelings and possible triggers.

There are ample support groups, AA meetings, and online resources available to help if you think you might be struggling from AUD, says Dr. Chandran. You should also consider speaking with your primary care provider about what else you can do, such as visiting a therapist.

If you’re using alcohol as a means to help you cope, there are healthier, more beneficial ways to do so, reminds Dr. Chandran. “Try to go for a walk, pick up the phone and call a friend, reach out to someone you haven’t spoken to in a while, find a new hobby, make fun plans that don’t involve alcohol, or practice mindfulness and meditation.”

Don’t be afraid to seek help. You are not alone. If you or a loved one is struggling from AUD, or another substance use or addiction, contact the National SAMHSA (Substance Abuse and Mental Services Administration) Helpline at 1-800-662-4357.



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