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What is alcohol use disorder?

Written by Brandon Okey. Mina Draskovic, B.Psy., reviewed this content for accuracy.

According to the National Center for Drug Abuse Statistics (NCDAS), “140,557 Americans die from the effects of alcohol in an average year.” Alcohol use disorder (AUD) is a serious condition characterized by an inability to control alcohol use despite detrimental effects. It’s a compulsion that can be tough to break free from on your own. 

The good news is, with the right help and treatment, you can overcome AUD and reclaim your health and happiness.

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If you’re unable to kick the habit despite the negative consequences of excessive drinking, we are here for you. The compassionate team at Ardu’s rehab center is here to guide you through recovery one step at a time. 

This place truly changed my life…. don’t know where I would be if I didn’t find Ardu… if you or anyone you know is struggling I strongly suggest this place. Located in a beautiful area of Utah, with even better people that will take the time to understand you and give you the care you need. 

Brock Estes


Understanding alcohol use disorder

Alcohol use disorder is a chronic, relapsing disorder characterized by a person’s inability to control or stop drinking despite the negative consequences. According to the disease model of addiction, AUD is a complex brain condition that changes the brain’s structure and function, making it incredibly hard for a person to resist the urge to drink. It’s a condition that affects millions of people worldwide and can have devastating effects on a person’s physical and mental health, as well as their personal and professional life.

What are the symptoms of AUD?

AUD exists on a spectrum—its symptoms can range from mild to severe, and they may vary from person to person. The signs and symptoms of dependence on alcohol can be split into two main categories: physical and behavioral. Let’s take a closer look at both.

The physical symptoms of AUD include:

  • Intense cravings for alcohol
  • Alcohol tolerance: you need more drinks to feel the same effects
  • Memory lapses or blackouts
  • Alcohol-related injuries or accidents
  • Disrupted sleep patterns
  • Weight gain or loss due to alcohol consumption
  • Health problems: liver damage, high blood pressure, digestive issues
  • Experiencing withdrawal symptoms: shaking, sweating, or nausea when you stop drinking

Behavioral symptoms of AUD include:

  • Unsuccessful attempts to control or quit drinking
  • Feeling irritable, agitated, or restless when not drinking
  • Experiencing mood swings or emotional instability
  • Spending a significant amount of time drinking or recovering from the effects of alcohol
  • Neglecting your responsibilities and relationships due to your alcohol use
  • Giving up important activities or hobbies to drink
  • Drinking in dangerous situations, such as while driving or operating machinery
  • Lying about or hiding your alcohol use from others
  • Prioritizing alcohol over important obligations or relationships
  • Engaging in risky behaviors while under the influence of alcohol
  • Having legal, financial, or social problems due to drinking

Quitting drinking can feel like an impossible task when you’re struggling with alcohol use disorder. Thankfully, there is hope, and you’re not alone in this fight. At our drug and alcohol rehab center, compassionate, skilled professionals are here to help you every step of the way. 

What are the risk factors for AUD?

Some people may be more vulnerable to developing AUD than others. Some people believe that there’s an “alcoholic personality,” and that certain traits or characteristics can make someone more likely to develop AUD. There is no specific personality type that guarantees someone will struggle with alcohol abuse in their lifetime. Alcohol use disorder can affect people from all walks of life.

While there’s no single cause, certain factors can increase your likelihood of struggling with alcohol abuse. According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA):

  • Adolescents and young adults aged 18–29 are at higher risk for developing AUD. Heavy drinking during adolescence can disrupt brain development and lead to AUD later in life. 
  • Historically, men have had higher rates of alcohol consumption and AUD than women. This gender gap has been narrowing in the past few decades. 
  • Between 50% and 60% of the vulnerability to AUD is inherited. 
  • The interplay of genetic and environmental factors can prompt the development of mental health conditions, such as anxiety and depression, that raise the risk of developing AUD. At the same time, AUD can cause or worsen mental health issues.

AUD often goes hand-in-hand with mental health conditions such as anxiety, depression, personality disorder, or eating disorders. This co-occurrence of AUD and mental health issues is known as dual diagnosis. In a vicious cycle, AUD can also worsen pre-existing mental health problems, or even cause their initial development.

At Ardu Recovery Center, we understand the complex nature of a dual diagnosis. We are well-equipped to provide comprehensive treatment for alcohol use disorder and co-occurring mental health conditions.

What are the stages of alcohol use disorder?

Alcohol use disorder is often described as a progression through stages, although the progression is different for each person. People will likely have different experiences with these stages, and may seek help at any point.

Here are the generally recognized stages of AUD:

  1. Pre-alcoholic stage
    • Drinking is primarily social and not yet problematic. 
    • Some people may start using alcohol as a coping mechanism for stress or emotional issues.
  2. Early alcoholic stage
    • Binge drinking becomes more frequent, and tolerance begins to develop. 
    • Occasional blackouts or memory loss may occur.
    • Many start to prioritize drinking over other activities. 
  3. Middle alcoholic stage
    • Drinking becomes a central focus of the person’s life. 
    • They may experience cravings, withdrawal symptoms, and loss of control over alcohol consumption. 
    • Relationships, work performance, and physical health may start to deteriorate.
  4. Late alcoholic stage
    • In this stage, people are physically and psychologically alcohol-dependent. 
    • They may experience serious health problems. 
    • Drinking becomes a necessity rather than a choice.
  5. Recovery stage
    • The person with AUD acknowledges the problem and seeks help through treatment programs, therapy, or support groups. 

We understand that recovering from alcohol use disorder is a lifelong journey that requires ongoing dedication. Our comprehensive treatment programs, experienced professionals, and nurturing environment provide the foundation for lasting recovery. Through medically monitored detox, counseling, group therapy, and aftercare planning, you can reclaim sobriety and maintain lifelong wellness. 

How does alcohol use disorder impact your health?

AUD can negatively impact your health, both physically and mentally. Here are some of the ways AUD can harm your well-being:

Liver damage is a serious consequence of AUD

Excessive alcohol consumption can wreak havoc on your liver. Alcoholic hepatitis causes liver inflammation, while fatty liver disease results in the buildup of excess fat in liver cells. According to a 2021 study, the “major cause of alcohol-related mortality is alcohol-related liver disease (ALD), in some countries accounting for almost 90% of alcohol-related deaths.”

Over time, heavy drinking can lead to cirrhosis, a medical condition where scar tissue replaces healthy liver tissue, impairing the organ’s ability to function properly. Liver damage from AUD can ultimately lead to liver failure, which can be life-threatening.

AUD can cause cardiovascular problems

Alcohol use disorder can take a significant toll on your cardiovascular system. It increases the risk of developing high blood pressure, which puts extra strain on your heart and can lead to heart disease. Piano, Ph.D. found that AUD is associated with an increased risk of a range of cardiovascular diseases, including hypertension, coronary artery disease, myocardial infarction, stroke, heart failure, and atrial fibrillation.

The impact of heavy drinking on your digestive system

Heavy drinking can cause a range of digestive problems that can be both painful and dangerous. Alcohol can irritate the lining of your stomach, causing inflammation (gastritis) and ulcers. 

In patients with alcohol use disorder, heavy drinking days may affect their body’s ability to absorb nutrients and function properly. 

…alcohol interferes with gastric acid secretion and with the activity of the muscles surrounding the stomach. Similarly, alcohol may impair the muscle movement in the small and large intestines, contributing to the diarrhea frequently observed in alcoholics. (Bode and Bode)

Heavy drinking often triggers pancreatitis, a serious condition where the pancreas becomes inflamed, causing severe abdominal pain and other complications. 

The effects of AUD on the brain and the nervous system

Alcohol is bad for your brain and the entire nervous system. It can lead to memory loss, confusion, and difficulty with coordination and motor skills, making everyday tasks challenging. Heavy drinking also increases the risk of seizures and a severe form of brain damage called Wernicke-Korsakoff syndrome. 

Pervin and Stephen reveal that heavy drinking can cause permanent harm to the brain. Alcohol disrupts the blood-brain barrier, leading to changes in brain structure and function that may result in neurological problems and cognitive decline in people with alcohol use disorder.

AUD weakens the immune system

Chronic alcohol use can weaken your body’s immunity against infections, making you more vulnerable to illnesses. Simet and Sisson found that “individuals with AUD are more likely to develop pneumonia, tuberculosis (TB), respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) infection, and acute respiratory distress syndrome (ARDS).”

The link between AUD and cancer

According to the CDC, alcohol consumption, even at moderate levels, is associated with an increased risk of several types of cancer, including cancers of the mouth, throat, esophagus, liver, colon, and breast. Alcohol increases cancer risk by damaging healthy cells, altering hormone levels, and producing toxic substances as byproducts. 

According to a study analyzing US data, alcohol consumption accounted for an estimated 3.2% to 3.7% of all US cancer deaths in 2009-2010. While higher alcohol consumption increases cancer risk, there is no safe threshold, and even daily consumption of up to 1.5 drinks accounted for a substantial portion of alcohol-related cancer deaths

Alcohol use disorder deteriorates mental health

Alcohol abuse can have a significant impact on your mental health, exacerbating pre-existing conditions such as depression and anxiety or even triggering their development. Many people turn to alcohol to cope with emotional distress, but alcohol can worsen these problems over time. The NIAAA claims that alcohol can impair judgment and lower inhibitions, increasing the risk of suicide and self-harm.

Don’t wait until alcohol addiction takes a heavy toll on your health and well-being. Ardu Recovery Center is here to help you take the first step toward recovery and prevent further damage.

Contact us today.

When to seek professional help

If you find yourself drinking more than you intended, struggling to cut back, or experiencing negative consequences due to alcohol use, it’s time to consider seeking professional help. When alcohol starts interfering with your daily life, relationships, work, or health, it’s a clear sign that you need support. 

Don’t wait until you hit rock bottom; the earlier you reach out, the better your chances of a successful recovery. It’s a sign of strength not weakness to ask for help. If you’re unsure whether you need assistance, the compassionate, skilled professionals at our drug and alcohol rehab center are here to address all of your questions and concerns. 

How is AUD diagnosed?

AUD is diagnosed through a clinical assessment using the specific Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition (DSM-5) criteria. The DSM-5 evaluates the presence and severity of problematic alcohol use patterns and their impacts on a person’s life.

Patients with alcohol use disorder are diagnosed when they exhibit at least 2 of the 11 specified symptoms within 12 months:

  • Drinking more alcohol or over a longer period than originally intended
  • Unsuccessful attempts to cut down or control alcohol use
  • Spending a significant amount of time obtaining, using, or recovering from the effects of alcohol
  • Craving or a strong desire to use alcohol
  • Alcohol use interfering with responsibilities at work, school, or home
  • Continued alcohol use despite persistent social or interpersonal problems caused or exacerbated by it
  • Giving up important social, occupational, or recreational activities because of alcohol use
  • Recurrent alcohol intake in physically hazardous situations
  • Continued alcohol use despite knowledge of a persistent physical or psychological problem likely to have been caused or exacerbated by it
  • Tolerance: either a need for increased amounts of alcohol to achieve the desired effect or a diminished effect with continued use of the same amount
  • Withdrawal or consuming alcohol to relieve or avoid the symptoms of withdrawal

Based on the number of criteria met, AUD can be classified as mild (2-3 criteria), moderate (4-5 criteria), or severe (6 or more criteria).

Our experienced professionals at Ardu can provide a comprehensive assessment to diagnose AUD and develop a personalized alcohol treatment plan. 

How is alcohol use disorder treated?

The treatment of alcohol use disorder involves a combination of approaches tailored to the person’s individual needs, the severity of the disorder, and personal circumstances. Ardu’s expert team will guide and support you through the following key components of treatment for alcohol use disorder:


The first step in the treatment of alcohol use is alcohol detox. Detoxification helps your body safely adjust to the absence of alcohol while managing potentially uncomfortable or dangerous withdrawal symptoms. At Ardu Recovery Center, our medically supervised detox program ensures that you receive round-the-clock care and support, with our experienced professionals closely monitoring your progress. They provide medications to alleviate symptoms and prevent complications on an as-needed basis, allowing you to focus on healing in a comfortable and safe environment.

Inpatient or outpatient treatment programs

Our inpatient and outpatient programs cater to the diverse needs of those seeking help for their excessive drinking problem. 

Inpatient treatment provides a structured, immersive environment for recovery, with 24/7 medical and emotional support, daily therapy sessions, and a distraction-free setting. If you have severe alcohol use disorder, co-occurring mental health conditions, or a history of relapse, an inpatient program may be the most effective treatment option.

Outpatient treatment allows you to continue living at home and maintain daily responsibilities while receiving regular treatment for alcohol use disorder at our center. This option is suitable for those with mild to moderate AUD and a strong support system. Our outpatient program includes individual and group therapy, educational workshops, and skill-building activities to help develop strategies for managing triggers and maintaining sobriety in everyday life. 

Behavioral therapies

We employ a range of evidence-based behavioral therapies to help you recognize and change thought patterns and behaviors that contribute to AUD. Our skilled therapists will work with you using cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT), motivational enhancement therapy (MET), and dialectical behavior therapy (DBT) to develop effective coping strategies and tools to prevent relapse. These therapies are designed to empower you with the knowledge and skills necessary to maintain long-term sobriety and build a fulfilling life in recovery.

Aftercare and relapse prevention

We believe that aftercare and relapse prevention are essential components of long-term recovery from AUD. Our aftercare program provides ongoing support and resources to help you maintain sobriety and navigate the challenges of everyday life after completing your initial treatment.

We work closely with you to develop a personalized aftercare plan that may include continued therapy sessions, participation in support groups such as Alcoholics Anonymous (AA), and building a strong sober support network.

Dual diagnosis treatment

Many people struggling with alcohol also battle co-occurring mental health conditions, such as depression or anxiety. This dual diagnosis requires an integrated treatment approach that addresses both issues simultaneously.

Our dual diagnosis program combines evidence-based therapies such as CBT and trauma-informed care to help you understand the underlying issues contributing to your AUD and mental health concerns. By addressing these root causes and providing healthy coping mechanisms, we aim to break the addiction cycle and promote lasting emotional well-being.

Our experienced team of psychiatrists, therapists, and addiction specialists creates a comprehensive, personalized treatment plan in a supportive, judgment-free environment. We emphasize treating the whole person, not just the symptoms, to help you manage your mental health while building a strong foundation for long-term AUD recovery.

Get help with Ardu Recovery Center

At Ardu Recovery Center, we understand that the road to recovery from alcohol abuse is a deeply personal journey. That’s why we tailor our programs to meet your unique needs and circumstances. Our dedicated team of addiction specialists is here to provide the support and guidance you need to overcome AUD and build a foundation for lasting sobriety.

Our addiction treatment facility is located in Provo, Utah. Comprehensive programs, expert staff, and a serene natural setting provide the ideal environment for your recovery journey. We specialize in treating even the most severe cases of alcohol use disorder and offer a full range of evidence-based therapies, including eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR), experiential therapy, and contingency management. 

Whether you’re struggling with alcoholism or other substance use disorders, Ardu can help you rebuild your life. We provide specialized programs and employ diverse therapeutic approaches to treat:

Ardu offers cutting-edge therapies to address drug and alcohol addiction holistically. These evidence-based approaches complement traditional treatment methods, promoting lasting recovery and personal growth. They include:

Contact us to get informed and start your sobriety journey today.

Brandon Okey

Brandon Okey is the co-founder of Ardu Recovery Center and is dedicated to empowering people on their journey to sobriety.

Alcohol use disorder FAQ

What are the 3 types of alcoholics?

Commonly observed types of alcoholics are moderate drinkers, heavy drinkers, and binge drinkers. 

  • Moderate drinkers typically consume alcohol within recommended limits.
  • Heavy drinkers engage in regular and excessive alcohol consumption, often leading to health and social issues. 
  • Binge drinkers indulge in episodic heavy drinking, consuming large amounts of alcohol in a short span, with the intent of getting intoxicated. 

Each type of alcoholic behavior presents distinct challenges and may require tailored intervention methods to get effective treatment for alcohol use disorder.

What are the 4 types of wives of alcoholics?

The partners of individuals struggling with alcoholism often take on specific roles within the relationship dynamic. These roles include:

  1. Enablers: inadvertently supporting the alcoholic’s behavior
  2. Caretakers: assuming responsibility for managing the alcoholic’s life
  3. Controllers: resorting to manipulation to manage the drinking
  4. The detached: emotionally withdrawing to cope with the turmoil caused by the alcoholic’s actions

The roles of wives in alcoholism dynamics profoundly impact their husbands’ behaviors. Enablers inadvertently perpetuate alcohol abuse, while controllers may exacerbate guilt, intensifying reliance on alcohol. 

To break the cycle of alcoholism, seek help from medical professionals and certified counselors who can provide tailored interventions and support.

How much alcohol per day is alcoholism?

Alcoholism isn’t solely defined by the volume of alcohol consumed daily. It’s a mix of factors, but regularly going over the recommended limits raises red flags. Weekly limits are 14 standard drinks a week for men and 7 for women, and no more than 4 drinks a day for men and 3 for women. 

Things such as individual tolerance to alcohol, how often they drink, and how it affects their daily life also matter. That’s why it’s essential to talk to healthcare providers who can give expert advice and help.


Risk Factors: Varied Vulnerability to Alcohol-Related Harm | National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA). (2024, February 27). https://www.niaaa.nih.gov/health-professionals-communities/core-resource-on-alcohol/risk-factors-varied-vulnerability-alcohol-related-harm

Buchanan R, Sinclair JMA. Alcohol use disorder and the liver. Addiction. 2021 May;116(5):1270-1278. doi: 10.1111/add.15204. Epub 2020 Aug 21. PMID: 32710592.

Piano, M. R. (2017). Alcohol’s Effects on the Cardiovascular System. Alcohol Research : Current Reviews, 38(2), 219-241. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5513687/

Bode, C., & Bode, J. C. (1997). Alcohol’s Role in Gastrointestinal Tract Disorders. Alcohol Health and Research World, 21(1), 76-83. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6826790/

Pervin, Z., & Stephen, J. M. (2021). Effect of alcohol on the central nervous system to develop neurological disorder: Pathophysiological and lifestyle modulation can be potential therapeutic options for alcohol-induced neurotoxication. AIMS Neuroscience, 8(3), 390-413. https://doi.org/10.3934/Neuroscience.2021021

Simet, S. M., & Sisson, J. H. (2015). Alcohol’s Effects on Lung Health and Immunity. Alcohol Research: Current Reviews, 37(2), 199-208. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4590617/

Alcohol and Cancer | CDC. (n.d.). https://www.cdc.gov/cancer/alcohol/index.htm

Nelson DE, Jarman DW, Rehm J, Greenfield TK, Rey G, Kerr WC, Miller P, Shield KD, Ye Y, Naimi TS. Alcohol-attributable cancer deaths and years of potential life lost in the United States. Am J Public Health. 2013 Apr;103(4):641-8. doi: 10.2105/AJPH.2012.301199. Epub 2013 Feb 14. PMID: 23409916; PMCID: PMC3673233.

Mental Health Issues: Alcohol Use Disorder and Common Co-occurring Conditions | National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA). (2024, January 12). https://www.niaaa.nih.gov/health-professionals-communities/core-resource-on-alcohol/mental-health-issues-alcohol-use-disorder-and-common-co-occurring-conditions

DSM. (n.d.). https://www.psychiatry.org/psychiatrists/practice/dsm

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