Since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, alcohol sales have surged. Often used as a coping mechanism for stress and depression, excessive alcohol consumption can cause serious health issues and lead to Alcohol Use Disorder (AUD).
What is Alcohol Use Disorder?
According to the Mayo Clinic, Alcohol Use Disorder is “a pattern of alcohol use that involves problems controlling your drinking, being preoccupied with alcohol, continuing to use alcohol even when it causes problems, having to drink more to get the same effect, or having withdrawal symptoms when you rapidly decrease or stop drinking.”
Suppose you or a loved one have recently begun to consume more alcohol. In that case, it’s reasonable to be concerned that it could result in AUD — but it’s important to understand that not everyone who consumes alcohol regularly has AUD. The AUD diagnosis ranges from mild, moderate to severe, and diagnoses are determined based on certain criteria provided by the DSM.
When Binge Drinking May Be Something More
Often, heavy drinking and binge drinking can be confused for AUD. While these patterns of excessive alcohol consumption can lead to risky behavior and detrimental health issues, they may not meet the qualifications for AUD.
The CDC defines binge drinking as a pattern of drinking that brings a person’s blood alcohol concentration (BAC) to 0.08 or above. This BAC is typical of men consuming five drinks or women consuming four drinks in two hours. Binge drinking often occurs in social situations and can have severe repercussions like violence, chronic disease, and fatal accidents. Noteworthy, not all people who binge drink have AUD. However, binge drinking can cause an increased tolerance to alcohol’s effects, making a person more susceptible to AUD in the long term.
The key difference between binge drinking and AUD is that binge drinking is based on how much alcohol is consumed, while AUD focuses on how alcohol consumption impacts a person’s life. When a person’s alcohol consumption becomes a compulsion, interferes with daily activities, and negatively impacts personal relationships, it may meet the qualifications for AUD.
AUD Is a Disease — Not a Moral Failing
All too often, AUD is perceived as a lack of control or a moral failing, and this narrative is incredibly dangerous. AUD is a brain disorder that often requires clinical treatment, but due to misinformation about addiction, AUD often goes untreated. The stigma around alcohol addiction can cause shame in individuals struggling with AUD and make them less likely to seek help and pursue recovery.
One of the most important things we can do to overcome stigma is to focus on education to help dispel myths about AUD and addiction. By understanding that addiction is a treatable disease that cannot be cured by self-control or willpower, more people with AUD may be encouraged to accept professional help.
Treatment Options and Helpful Tools for AUD
If you or someone you know is struggling with AUD, there are many methods of treatment available. Whether the individual is struggling with mild, moderate, or severe AUD, they can benefit from personalized treatment. Standard forms of treatment include behavioral therapies, medication, and mutual support groups.
Behavioral treatments are counseling sessions led by health professionals that help individuals develop the skills they need to resist drinking, build a robust support system, set attainable goals, and cope with triggers that may cause relapse.
There are currently three medications available for those being treated for AUD. Naltrexone reduces heavy drinking, Acamprosate helps with abstinence, and Disulfiram causes unpleasant symptoms when alcohol is consumed.
Support groups offer accountability and encouragement for those in recovery. By connecting with others who can relate to the effects of AUD, a sense of community is established. It can reduce common triggers for alcohol consumption, such as loneliness or depression.
In addition to these common treatment options, many modern tools can be used for motivation and accountability. Various smartphone apps can help those with AUD establish healthy routines and offer daily encouragement and inspiration. There are also many online resources and support networks that make it possible to connect with others and get motivation throughout the day.
Another invaluable tool for recovery is Soberlink. Soberlink is an alcohol monitoring system that uses wireless connectivity and a professional-grade remote breathalyzer to document sobriety in real-time. When an individual tests, the intuitive system can send their results in real-time to everyone in their Recovery Circle or simply once a month, depending on what the person chooses. To help ensure accurate client setup, Monitored Clients and their loved ones can refer to Soberlink's Consensus Paper. Published in the Journal of Addiction Medicine, the paper relays helpful insight collected from nine expert clinicians regarding how Soberlink should be used in alcohol recovery.. Further, this system acts as a method of accountability, helps establish healthy lifestyle habits, and rebuilds trust in relationships to offset the potential for relapse.
How to Help a Loved One with AUD
If you suspect that someone you love is struggling with AUD, you may be wondering how you can help. Before intervening, be sure to do plenty of research and educate yourself on the realities of addiction. Always approach your loved one with kindness, compassion, and understanding.
Be mindful about when you choose to talk to your loved one. You may choose to connect with other family members and friends to create a mutual plan on approaching the subject and establishing clear, consistent boundaries within your group, so you don’t enable your loved one’s behavior. When you’re ready to approach your loved one, be sure to choose a time when they aren’t drinking and always express yourself from a place of caring, not judgment. Encourage them to open up about why they are drinking, and be prepared to discuss how their behavior has impacted you.
It’s possible that your loved one may not be receptive to your offer to help right away. Try not to take their reaction personally and give them the space to consider what was communicated. You cannot force someone to enter treatment, but you can offer guidance, empathy, and support.
The COVID-19 pandemic had led to widespread isolation, depression, and stress for many individuals. As a coping mechanism for this psychological distress, alcohol consumption has increased. Excessive drinking can lead to dangerous behavior and adverse health conditions, but not all alcohol problems can be diagnosed as AUD.
AUD is a disease in which alcohol consumption is compulsive and often interferes with performing tasks and maintaining relationships. AUD typically requires professional treatment, group support, and modern tools like Soberlink for accountability and healthy lifestyle changes. AUD cannot be treated by willpower alone, as the stigma surrounding alcohol addiction would suggest.
If you suspect that a loved one is struggling with AUD, be sure to educate yourself on the realities of alcohol addiction. Always approach anyone who may need of treatment with compassion, empathy, and honesty. Offer your willingness to help them find professional treatment and show your support as they go through the alcohol recovery process.