What Is Alcohol Use Disorder?

What Is Alcohol Use Disorder_
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By Ryan Moore, LICDC-CS, LPCC, clinical director, Recovery Works Columbus, a detox and residential treatment center in Ohio.

Young African American man struggling with alcohol abuse.

Nearly one million people died from alcohol-related deaths between 1999 and 2017. These deaths include:

  • Liver disease
  • Car accidents
  • Heart disease
  • Alcohol overdose

While many people see alcohol as a vehicle for socializing and relieving stress, it is a drug that can be easily abused and turn into an addiction or even a dependence.

Unfortunately, for those trying to kick an alcohol dependency, alcohol is everywhere. They’re constantly reminded of their vice when going to the supermarket, watching movies, and doing a plethora of other daily tasks. Without proper help, the constant exposure makes it incredibly difficult to get sober.

But what do we really know about alcohol? Is alcohol a depressant or a stimulant? When does drinking alcohol go from a social event to an alcohol use disorder and what are the warning signs?

Here’s what you need to know about alcohol, its effects, and how one can recover from an alcohol addiction.

What is Alcohol?

Alcohol is a drug created when yeast ferments the sugars in fruits, vegetables, and grains. The most common kinds of alcoholic drinks include:

  • Beer
  • Wine
  • Whiskey
  • Tequila
  • Vodka
  • Gin
  • Absinthe
  • Champagne

Although there is a wide variety of alcoholic beverages, they all contain the same type of alcohol: ethyl. This type of alcohol is toxic and can be addictive.

Is Alcohol a Depressant or a Stimulant?

Alcohol is a depressant. It slows down vital functions which causes people to lose coordination and control of their body.

It is a common misperception that alcohol is a stimulant. Its ability to temper our inhibitions and boost one’s confidence may give credence to this belief.

Alcohol’s depressant effect is part of the reason people may experience anxiety or a looming dread they can’t shake. Long-term abuse can even lead to worsened depression.

How Does Alcohol Work?

When you drink, the alcohol enters your bloodstream through your stomach and small intestine and then travels to the brain. The resulting calming or euphoric sensation is simply a chemical reaction.

Alcohol stimulates the production of GABA (gamma-Aminobutyric acid), which calms the brain and stops the production of glutamate, a chemical associated with anxiety. This is why, when you have a drink or two, you get that euphoric feeling and perhaps feel less stressed in social situations.

Short-Term Effects of Alcohol

A couple of drinks may make you feel relaxed. A few more drinks and you may start to experience:

  • Slurred speech
  • Unsteadiness as you stand or walk
  • Loss of coordination

Meanwhile, a full night of alcohol consumption may result in:

  • Vomiting
  • Headache
  • Loss of consciousness
  • Gaps in memory (blackout)

Long-Term Effects of Alcohol

When casual drinking turns into an everyday event, it can become an alcohol use disorder. Drinking large quantities daily over an extended period can result in:

  • Liver disease
  • Pancreatitis
  • Cardiovascular issues
  • Peripheral neuropathy (numbness in hands and feet)
  • Ulcers
  • Anxiety and depression

Alcohol Withdrawal Symptoms

Group consoling to cope with alcohol withdrawal symptoms.

If you’ve spent a night out with friends and had one too many drinks, you will experience mild alcohol withdrawal symptoms, more commonly known as a “hangover.” Typical symptoms include:

  • Dry mouth
  • Headache
  • Nausea
  • Fatigue
  • Sensitivity to light and sound
  • Muscle and joint pain

Withdrawal from alcohol abuse can be quite severe and even life-threatening. Those trying to break the bonds of alcohol use disorder may experience:

  • Hallucinations
  • High blood pressure
  • Heavy sweating
  • Delirium tremens (DTs)

How to Get Sober from Alcohol

Contrary to popular belief, a few cups of coffee, a cold shower, and other “hangover remedies” will not sober you up. The only thing that works is time.

The amount of time required to get sober depends on a few factors:

  • The amount of alcohol consumed
  • Weight
  • Biological sex
  • Other food consumed while drinking
  • Alcohol tolerance

When someone is struggling with alcohol use disorder, getting sober will most likely take more time and effort. An inpatient and residential alcohol addiction treatment facility is the safest and most successful way to detox, get sober and stay sober.

Alcohol Addiction Treatment

Alcohol addiction treatment is not a static blueprint every person follows to build a life of sobriety. Every person requires a flexible plan and the help of a trained professional who can guide them towards the path to sobriety.

Types of treatment often used include:

  • Outpatient
  • Partial Hospitalization
  • Residential

Any one of these levels of care can including medication-assisted treatment with the use of Vivitrol.

Start Your Recovery Today

Woman who received help for alcohol dependency.

If your relationship with alcohol has gone from casual to destructive, help is available. Contact Pinnacle Treatment Centers now at 1-800-782-1520, and we will help you find the nearest location to get you started on your road to recovery.

The materials provided on the Pinnacle Blog are for information and educational purposes only. No behavioral health or any other professional services are provided through the Blog and the information obtained through the Blog is not a substitute for consultation with a qualified health professional. If you are in need of medical or behavioral health treatment, please contact a qualified health professional directly, and if you are in need of emergency help, please go to your nearest emergency room or dial 911.