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What Is Alcohol Use Disorder, and How Can I Tell If I Have It?

By  Meagan Drillinger
Having a couple drinks can be a nice way to unwind from the day. But at what point does it become alcohol abuse?

An alcohol use disorder (AUD) is a brain condition that involves a serious drinking issue. Not everyone with an AUD has the same symptoms. But if you have this condition, you may drink too much or have trouble controlling your drinking, says Scott Krakower, DO, unit chief of the Adolescent Inpatient Unit at Zucker Hillside Hospital. 

Alcohol Use Disorder Symptoms

Only a medical professional can tell you if you have an alcohol use disorder. If you’re not sure whether you need medical help, the National Institute of Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) suggests asking yourself certain questions to determine how alcohol has impacted your life in the past year. The questions address things like:

  • How often you drink
  • Whether you’ve tried to stop but can't
  • If you’veinking even after it impacted your life, relationships, or job

"If a person starts feeling concerned or guilty about their drinking habits, that can be a sign that they would benefit from additional support,"says Heather LaCasse, a residential clinician at Mountainside Alcohol and Drug Addiction Treatment Center. "It's often difficult for people to see their own behaviors as problematic. So, if their family or friends have commented on their alcohol consumption, that can also be a way to distinguish whether they are struggling with alcoholism.”

Alcohol Use Disorder Treatment Options

Many treatment options can help you recover if you get diagnosed with an alcohol use disorder. 

About one-third of people treated for alcohol problems are symptom-free a year later, the NIAAA says. Many others are able to drink less and say they have fewer alcohol-related problems than before. Some options are:

Behavioral treatments: These are also known as alcohol counseling. They can help you spot and change habits that lead to heavy drinking. They include:

  • Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT): This type of talk therapy can help you recognize the feelings and situations that make you drink heavily. It changes the thought processes that lead to drinking, and it teaches you the skills to cope with your triggers. It can take place in a group or one-to-one with a therapist
  • Motivational enhancement therapy (MET): This counseling approach can help you deal with any mixed emotions you feel about treatment. It aims for rapid results to motivate change.
  • Marital and family counseling: This kind of therapy includes spouses and other family members.
  • Brief interventions: These short counseling sessions can happen one-on-one or in a small group. The counselor provides personalized feedback about your drinking and helps you set goals to change your habits.

Medication: Certain prescription drugs may help you stop or reduce drinking and avoid a relapse. They can be used alone or along with counseling.


Mutual-support groups: Twelve-step programs, such as Alcoholics Anonymous (AA), provide you with peer support. They are combined with treatment led by health professionals.