Understanding Alcohol Use Disorder
AUD is a mental health condition which can come about as a result of several factors:
- Environmental factors: Your upbringing and social influences can contribute to the susceptibility and likelihood of developing an alcohol use disorder (or other substance use disorder).
- Genetic factors: Some people possess a genetic predisposition that may increase their potential for developing AUD.
- Psychological factors: Going through stress and having a co-occurring condition (such as depression) may increase someone’s potential for developing AUD.
In 1980, the third edition of the DSM classified alcoholism as a mental health disorder, which was further refined to the current diagnosis of AUD in the fifth version of the manual, the DSM-5. DSM-5 provides the following criteria for alcohol use disorder, of which at least two criteria must be met in order to qualify:
- Alcohol is often consumed in larger amounts or over a longer period than was intended
- There is a persistent desire or unsuccessful efforts to cease drinking or control your alcohol use
- A great deal of time is spent obtaining, using, or recovering from using alcohol
- Craving alcohol
- Recurrent alcohol use resulting in a failure to fulfill major role obligations at work, school, or at home
- Continued alcohol use despite having recurrent social or relational problems caused by alcohol
- Important recreational activities are given up or reduced because of alcohol use
- There is recurrent alcohol use in situations in which it is physically hazardous to do so
- Alcohol use is continued despite knowledge of having a persistent or recurrent physical/psychological problem that is caused or made worse by alcohol
- Tolerance, or needing increased amounts of alcohol to achieve intoxication
- Withdrawal symptoms when alcohol use is decreased or stopped
When viewed under this lens, it makes sense that AUD is classified as a mental illness. Mental health conditions can come in various forms, all typically displaying alterations in mood, thought patterns, and behavior. The symptoms of these conditions can be debilitating and have a significant impact on your quality of life. Furthermore, the underlying causes of these conditions can be varied, also involving complex interactions between genetics, brain chemistry, and environmental factors.
Alcohol Use Disorder and Co-Occurring Conditions
People struggling with AUD sometimes face additional challenges when co-occurring conditions, also known as dual diagnosis or comorbid disorders, are present. These conditions can range from mental health issues to physical ailments, further complicating the journey toward recovery. Co-occurring conditions and alcohol use disorder frequently go hand-in-hand, creating a complex and intricate relationship.
Some common co-occurring conditions seen in individuals with AUD include:
Depression and Anxiety
Many individuals turn to alcohol as a way to cope with feelings of depression and anxiety. However, alcohol’s depressive effects can worsen these conditions over time, creating a harmful cycle.
Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)
Those who have experienced trauma may attempt to self-medicate their distress with alcohol. Unfortunately, this often leads to intensified symptoms of PTSD and a heightened risk of AUD as well.
The mood swings that often characterize bipolar disorder can be exacerbated by alcohol consumption. Conversely, alcohol can also trigger episodes of mania or depression.
Alcohol use can interfere with medications used to manage schizophrenia, potentially making symptoms more severe and treatment less effective.
Chronic Physical Conditions
Individuals with chronic physical illnesses, such as liver disease or diabetes, may find their conditions worsened by alcohol consumption. This can complicate treatment plans and contribute to a poorer overall prognosis.
How Addictive Are Stimulants?
When stimulants are misused, they induce an intense feeling of euphoria that often leads to increasing frequency and greater doses, sparking the cycle of addiction. As a Schedule II controlled substance, stimulants are deemed highly addictive.
The Need for Comprehensive Treatment
Addressing alcohol use disorder (and any co-occurring conditions) often requires a holistic and integrated approach to treatment, and recovery from AUD is possible with the right support. Comprehensive treatment acknowledges that individuals struggling with alcohol are multifaceted and complex beings, and providing integrated care that’s tailored to the individual can lead to a more effective recovery journey.
If you or someone you know faces alcoholism and co-occurring mental health concerns, reaching out for professional help is a courageous step to take toward a brighter, healthier future.