Alcohol Use Disorder

We will work with you to overcome the challenges you face with alcohol

Alcohol use disorder affects an estimated 16 million people in the United States.

You may need help if:

  • You have difficulty stopping or cutting back on the amount of alcohol you drink
  • You spend significant time thinking about, consuming or recovering from drinking alcohol

At IU Health, our experts can help you.

Understanding Alcohol Use Disorder

You may have alcohol use disorder (commonly called alcoholism) if you develop:

  • difficulty controlling drinking
  • a preoccupation with alcohol
  • the need to drink more alcohol to get a similar effect (known as tolerance)
  • continued drinking despite having negative consequences
  • physical withdrawal symptoms (such as tremors) when trying to stop drinking

Problematic alcohol use can fall into a few categories. These include:

Binge Drinking

Binge drinking is defined as:

  • For males: Consuming more than five drinks within 2 hours
  • For females: Consuming more than 4 drinks within 2 hours

Serious health and safety risks can occur with binge drinking.

Alcohol Dependence

Alcohol dependence is when you stop drinking alcohol and develop withdrawal symptoms.

As the name implies, alcohol dependence is a condition in which the body is dependent on alcohol. Medical treatment is needed. Quitting drinking abruptly can result in the following:

  • Severe withdrawal symptoms
  • Seizures
  • Hallucinations (seeing, hearing, and feeling things that are not actually there)
  • In some instances, even death

Alcohol Abuse

Alcohol abuse is a dated term that refers to continuing to use alcohol despite negative consequences.

What are Complications of Alcohol Use Disorder?

Drinking can suppress immunity to diseases and infections and can increase risk of some cancers and liver problems. In addition, it can cause problems with:

  • Blood clotting
  • Skin rash
  • Memory
  • Balance and falls
  • Stomach and pancreas
  • Heart

In these ways and more, alcohol use disorder can interfere with living a healthy life.

Can Alcohol Use Disorder Cause Seizures?

Seizures can happen both with binge drinking and alcohol withdrawals. Greatest risk of seizures occurs between 12 and 48 hours following your last drink. Medically assisted detoxification from alcohol use is vital to lower major risks, including death.

Why is Alcohol Use Disorder Considered a Chronic Disease?

Alcohol use disorder is considered a chronic or life-long condition because:

  • it has genetic (meaning it runs in families) and environmental causes
  • it typically progresses over time without treatment
  • relapse is common
  • long-term treatment plans tend to have most success

What is Alcohol Use Disorder?

You may have alcohol use disorder (commonly called alcoholism) if you develop:

  • difficulty controlling drinking
  • a preoccupation with alcohol
  • the need to drink more alcohol to get a similar effect (known as tolerance)
  • continued drinking despite having negative consequences
  • physical withdrawal symptoms (such as tremors) when trying to stop drinking

Problematic alcohol use can fall into a few categories. These include:

Binge Drinking

Binge drinking is defined as:

  • For males: Consuming more than five drinks within 2 hours
  • For females: Consuming more than 4 drinks within 2 hours

Serious health and safety risks can occur with binge drinking.

Alcohol Dependence

Alcohol dependence is when you stop drinking alcohol and develop withdrawal symptoms.

As the name implies, alcohol dependence is a condition in which the body is dependent on alcohol. Medical treatment is needed. Quitting drinking abruptly can result in the following:

  • Severe withdrawal symptoms
  • Seizures
  • Hallucinations (seeing, hearing, and feeling things that are not actually there)
  • In some instances, even death

Alcohol Abuse

Alcohol abuse is a dated term that refers to continuing to use alcohol despite negative consequences.

What are Complications of Alcohol Use Disorder?

Drinking can suppress immunity to diseases and infections and can increase risk of some cancers and liver problems. In addition, it can cause problems with:

  • Blood clotting
  • Skin rash
  • Memory
  • Balance and falls
  • Stomach and pancreas
  • Heart

In these ways and more, alcohol use disorder can interfere with living a healthy life.

Can Alcohol Use Disorder Cause Seizures?

Seizures can happen both with binge drinking and alcohol withdrawals. Greatest risk of seizures occurs between 12 and 48 hours following your last drink. Medically assisted detoxification from alcohol use is vital to lower major risks, including death.

Why is Alcohol Use Disorder Considered a Chronic Disease?

Alcohol use disorder is considered a chronic or life-long condition because:

  • it has genetic (meaning it runs in families) and environmental causes
  • it typically progresses over time without treatment
  • relapse is common
  • long-term treatment plans tend to have most success

Alcohol use disorder is a diagnosis made by our trained clinicians.

A diagnosis of alcohol use disorder can include some of the following 11 criteria:

  • An inability to limit the amount of alcohol you drink
  • A desire to cut down on how much you drink or making unsuccessful attempts to do so
  • A lot of time spent drinking, getting alcohol or recovering from alcohol use
  • A strong craving or urge to drink alcohol
  • Failure to fulfill major obligations at work, school or home due to repeated alcohol use
  • Continuation of drinking alcohol despite its cause of physical, social or interpersonal problems
  • Giving up or reducing social and work activities and hobbies
  • Use of alcohol in unsafe situations such as when driving or swimming
  • A tolerance to alcohol so you need more to feel its effect or you have a reduced effect from the same amount
  • Withdrawal symptoms — such as nausea, sweating and shaking — when you don't drink, or drinking to avoid these symptoms

Alcohol use disorder can include periods of alcohol intoxication and symptoms of withdrawal.

Alcohol Intoxication

Alcohol intoxication can lead to many problems including:

  • Impaired memory and attention
  • Slurred speech
  • Impaired judgement
  • Disinhibited behavior
  • Mood changes
  • Impaired coordination

Coma and even death can occur if blood alcohol levels get too high.

Alcohol Withdrawal

Withdrawal can occur if you suddenly reduce or stop drinking alcohol after using alcohol heavily for prolonged periods of time. Withdrawal usually occurs between several hours and up to 5 days of the reduction in alcohol consumption. Signs and symptoms include:

Alcohol Use Disorder Diagnosis

Alcohol use disorder is a diagnosis made by our trained clinicians.

A diagnosis of alcohol use disorder can include some of the following 11 criteria:

  • An inability to limit the amount of alcohol you drink
  • A desire to cut down on how much you drink or making unsuccessful attempts to do so
  • A lot of time spent drinking, getting alcohol or recovering from alcohol use
  • A strong craving or urge to drink alcohol
  • Failure to fulfill major obligations at work, school or home due to repeated alcohol use
  • Continuation of drinking alcohol despite its cause of physical, social or interpersonal problems
  • Giving up or reducing social and work activities and hobbies
  • Use of alcohol in unsafe situations such as when driving or swimming
  • A tolerance to alcohol so you need more to feel its effect or you have a reduced effect from the same amount
  • Withdrawal symptoms — such as nausea, sweating and shaking — when you don't drink, or drinking to avoid these symptoms

Alcohol use disorder can include periods of alcohol intoxication and symptoms of withdrawal.

Alcohol Intoxication

Alcohol intoxication can lead to many problems including:

  • Impaired memory and attention
  • Slurred speech
  • Impaired judgement
  • Disinhibited behavior
  • Mood changes
  • Impaired coordination

Coma and even death can occur if blood alcohol levels get too high.

Alcohol Withdrawal

Withdrawal can occur if you suddenly reduce or stop drinking alcohol after using alcohol heavily for prolonged periods of time. Withdrawal usually occurs between several hours and up to 5 days of the reduction in alcohol consumption. Signs and symptoms include:

Our highly skilled addiction clinicians will help you identify the treatment that will work best for you.

We do not take a one-size-fits-all approach to treating alcohol use disorder because we know that each person is different. Your medical history, biology, experience, preferences and support systems are unique to you. IU Health will take time with you to ensure you receive the best treatment for your specific needs.

Learn more about addiction treatment services at IU Health.

Treatment Options for Alcohol Use Disorder

Our highly skilled addiction clinicians will help you identify the treatment that will work best for you.

We do not take a one-size-fits-all approach to treating alcohol use disorder because we know that each person is different. Your medical history, biology, experience, preferences and support systems are unique to you. IU Health will take time with you to ensure you receive the best treatment for your specific needs.

Learn more about addiction treatment services at IU Health.

Patient Stories for Alcohol Use Disorder