Alcohol use disorder (sometimes called alcoholism) is a medical condition. It involves heavy or frequent alcohol drinking even when it causes problems, emotional distress or physical harm. A combination of medications, behavioral therapy and support can help you or a loved one recover.
Alcohol use disorder is a medical condition involving frequent or heavy alcohol use. People with alcohol use disorder can’t stop drinking, even when it causes problems, emotional distress or physical harm to themselves or others.
Alcohol use disorder is a medical condition. It’s a disease of brain function and requires medical and psychological treatments to control it.
Alcohol use disorder can be mild, moderate or severe. It can develop quickly or over a long period of time. It’s also called alcohol dependence, alcohol addiction or alcohol abuse.
About 14.5 million Americans 12 years or older have an alcohol use disorder.
Drinking too much alcohol can damage your health. It’s associated with:
Frequent or heavy drinking can also lead to personal problems, such as trouble with:
Scientists are still trying to understand what causes alcohol use disorder. It appears to be a combination of one or more of the following:
People are more likely to develop alcohol use disorder if they:
Signs of alcohol use disorder include:
A person with alcohol use disorder also might experience symptoms of withdrawal when they cut back or stop drinking, such as:
Alcohol use that turns into a use disorder develops in stages.
There’s no single lab test for alcohol use disorder. Diagnosis is based on a conversation with your healthcare provider. The diagnosis is made when drinking interferes with your life or affects your health.
Treatment may include a combination of:
Your treatment setting will depend on your stage of recovery and the severity of your illness. You may need inpatient medical (hospital), residential rehabilitation (rehab), outpatient intensive therapy or outpatient maintenance.
To prevent alcohol use disorder, avoid high-risk drinking:
If you drink more alcohol than that, consider cutting back or quitting. Talk to your healthcare provider about proven strategies.
Your outlook depends on many factors. Milder cases may only be problematic for a period of time. Severe cases are often a lifelong struggle.
The sooner you recognize there may be a problem and talk to your healthcare provider, the better your recovery chances.
The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) offers a hotline, 24/7, 365 days a year. Call 1-800-662-HELP (4357).
Alcoholics Anonymous is available almost everywhere and provides a place to openly and non-judgmentally discuss alcohol problems with others who have alcohol use disorder.
A note from Cleveland Clinic
No matter how hopeless alcohol use disorder may seem, treatment can help. If you think you might have a problem with alcohol, call SAMHSA or talk to your healthcare provider. They can help you cope, make a treatment plan, prescribe medications and refer you to support programs.
Last reviewed by a Cleveland Clinic medical professional on 06/02/2021.
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