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Alcohol Use Disorder

Alcohol Use Disorder Information

Alcohol use disorder (AUD) is a medical condition characterized by problematic alcohol use that interferes with an individual's daily life. It is a chronic disorder that can range from mild to severe, and it is diagnosed based on specific criteria outlined in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition (DSM-5). Alcohol use can be a serious problem with potentially devastating consequences.

The severity of AUD is often categorized as mild, moderate, or severe based on the number of criteria met. It's important to note that AUD is a treatable condition, and individuals with this disorder can benefit from various forms of intervention, including counseling, behavioral therapies, and, in some cases, medication.

Alcohol use disorder (AUD) is a complex condition with various contributing factors, including genetic, environmental, and psychological elements. Individuals with a family history of alcohol use disorder are at a higher risk of developing the condition because there is evidence of gene-environment interactions, where genetic predispositions may be activated or amplified by specific environmental factors. Cultural and societal norms regarding alcohol use can influence an individual's drinking behavior. Peer pressure, family attitudes toward alcohol, and community norms play a role. Easy access to alcohol, especially during adolescence, may increase the likelihood of alcohol misuse and the development of AUD. Co-occurring mental health disorders, such as depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder, or trauma-related conditions, may contribute to the development of AUD as some individuals may use alcohol as a way to self-medicate their symptoms. Certain personality traits, such as impulsivity, sensation-seeking, or a tendency to take risks, may be associated with a higher risk of alcohol misuse. Initiating alcohol use at an early age, particularly during adolescence, is a risk factor for the development of alcohol use disorder.  High levels of stress, economic instability, and life difficulties may contribute to the development of alcohol misuse as a coping mechanism. Experiencing traumatic events or adverse childhood experiences (ACEs) can increase the risk of alcohol misuse and AUD later in life. It's important to note that the development of AUD is often multifactorial, and individuals may have different combinations of risk factors. Additionally, not everyone with risk factors will develop AUD, and protective factors, such as a strong support system and access to mental health resources, can mitigate risk. Early intervention, education, and addressing contributing factors are crucial components of preventing and treating alcohol use disorder.

Alcohol addiction can have severe consequences, including physical and mental health issues, overdose, and an increased risk of infectious diseases. It can also lead to strained relationships, financial problems, and legal issues.

Alcohol Use Disorder Treatment

Treatment for alcohol use disorder often involves a combination of medication-assisted treatment (MAT), counseling, and support groups. Medications like naltrexone, topiramate, and gabapentin may be used to help manage withdrawal symptoms and cravings.

Strategies to prevent alcohol use disorder include education about the risks of excessive alcohol consumption, early intervention in cases of problematic drinking, and addressing underlying factors contributing to alcohol misuse. Efforts to reduce the stigma associated with seeking help for addiction are also crucial.

Medications We Use

Several medications are used in the treatment of alcohol use disorder (AUD) to help individuals reduce or quit drinking. These medications often target different aspects of the addiction process, including reducing cravings, blocking the rewarding effects of alcohol, and managing withdrawal symptoms. Here are some medications commonly prescribed for the treatment of AUD and their mechanisms of action:

  • Naltrexone: Naltrexone is an opioid receptor antagonist, meaning it blocks the effects of opioids. It is thought to reduce alcohol cravings and the rewarding effects of drinking by blocking the release of endorphins associated with alcohol consumption.

  • Acamprosate: Acamprosate is believed to stabilize the balance between excitatory and inhibitory neurotransmitters in the brain, particularly affecting the glutamate system. It may help reduce withdrawal symptoms and cravings in individuals who have stopped drinking.

  • Disulfiram: Disulfiram works by inhibiting the enzyme aldehyde dehydrogenase, which is involved in the metabolism of alcohol. When someone taking disulfiram consumes alcohol, it leads to an accumulation of acetaldehyde, causing unpleasant symptoms such as nausea, vomiting, and flushing. This aversive reaction is intended to deter individuals from drinking.

  • Topiramate: Topiramate is an anticonvulsant that modulates neurotransmitter activity in the brain. It is thought to reduce alcohol cravings and promote abstinence by affecting various neurotransmitter systems, including GABA and glutamate.

  • Baclofen: Baclofen is a muscle relaxant that may also have effects on the GABAergic system in the brain. Some studies suggest that baclofen may help reduce cravings and promote abstinence in individuals with AUD.

  • Clonidine: Clonidine is not specifically designed to treat AUD, but it has been used off-label for this purpose. Clonidine is an alpha-2 adrenergic agonist, and it works by stimulating certain receptors (alpha-2 receptors) in the brain. It primarily acts on the central nervous system to reduce sympathetic nervous system activity. This can lead to a decrease in the release of norepinephrine, a neurotransmitter associated with stress and arousal.

  • Gabapentin: Gabapentin is an anticonvulsant that modulates the activity of certain neurotransmitters in the brain, particularly gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA). It is believed to increase the synthesis and release of GABA, an inhibitory neurotransmitter. GABA has calming effects on the brain and can help reduce excitability. Gabapentin is sometimes used off-label to treat alcohol cravings and withdrawal symptoms. By enhancing GABAergic activity, gabapentin may have a calming effect on the central nervous system, reducing the hyperactivity and excitability associated with alcohol withdrawal. This, in turn, may help reduce cravings and improve abstinence.

  • Benzodiazepines: They exert their effects by enhancing the activity of gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA), which is the major inhibitory neurotransmitter in the brain. GABA reduces neuronal excitability and has a calming effect on the central nervous system. Benzodiazepines bind to a specific site on the GABA-A receptor, potentiating the effects of GABA. They are primarily employed to manage the symptoms of alcohol withdrawal, which can be severe and potentially life-threatening. However, the use of benzodiazepines in AUD treatment is generally short-term and carefully monitored due to the risk of dependence and other adverse effects.


These medications are often used as part of medication-assisted treatment (MAT) programs, which combine medication with counseling and behavioral therapies to address the complex nature of alcohol addiction. The choice of medication may depend on factors such as the individual's medical history, the severity of addiction, and the treatment plan developed in consultation with licensed healthcare professionals. MAT has been shown to be effective in reducing alcohol use, preventing relapse, and supporting long-term recovery.



Counseling therapy can help improve depression symptoms by helping you develop skills to more effectively deal with the thoughts and feelings you are having. These therapies consist of:

  • Cognitive behavioral therapy. This type of therapy will help you cope better with depression by teaching skills specific to management of organization, patterns of thinking, and behavioral patterns. 

  • Family therapy. Because many people with depression encounter loved ones, family members, and spouses who are unfamiliar with depression, this therapy can help them overcome the stress associated with living with someone who struggles with depressive symptoms. 

  • Music therapy. This therapy utilizes music to help relax an individual to enhance their mood. Music therapy activates  cognitive, motor, and speech centers in the brain to help improve overall functioning.

  • Talk therapy. This type of therapy employs a variety of techniques to help a person better deal with thoughts and behaviors.

  • Interpersonal therapy. IPT is a type of therapy that focus on personal relationships and how you feel. It is a short-term, intensive therapy.

  • Integrative therapy. This therapy approach takes aspects from different therapy types to create a personal therapy to best treat the presenting problem.

Alcohol Use Disorder Treatment Facilities

Treatment for alcohol use disorder (AUD) can be provided at various levels of care, ranging from outpatient services to inpatient/residential treatment. The appropriate level of care depends on factors such as the severity of the individual's AUD, the presence of co-occurring medical or psychiatric conditions, and the individual's response to previous treatments. 

  1. Outpatient Treatment:

    • Outpatient Counseling: Individuals attend counseling sessions while living at home. This level of care is suitable for those with mild to moderate AUD who can manage their daily responsibilities. This is the level of treatment facility at Pine Ridge Mental Healthcare.

    • Intensive Outpatient Programs (IOP): These programs offer more frequent and structured sessions than traditional outpatient counseling, providing a higher level of support without requiring residential stay.

  2. Partial Hospitalization Program (PHP):

    • Individuals receive treatment during the day and return home in the evenings. PHPs offer a more intensive level of care than outpatient programs, often involving daily therapeutic activities.

  3. Residential/Inpatient Treatment:

    • Residential Rehabilitation Centers: Individuals live at a facility for a specified period, receiving 24-hour care and a structured treatment program. This is appropriate for individuals with moderate to severe AUD.

    • Inpatient Detoxification: For those in acute alcohol withdrawal, inpatient detoxification provides medical supervision to manage withdrawal symptoms safely.

  4. Medication-Assisted Treatment (MAT) Programs:

    • MAT programs combine medications with counseling and support, which you can receive at Pine Ridge Mental Healthcare. Medications such as naltrexone, acamprosate, or disulfiram may be prescribed to help reduce cravings and support recovery.

  5. Aftercare and Continuing Care:

    • After completing a primary treatment program, individuals often participate in aftercare or continuing care programs. These may include outpatient counseling, support groups, and relapse prevention strategies to maintain recovery, which you can also find at Pine Ridge Mental Healthcare.

  6. Therapeutic Communities:

    • Therapeutic communities are long-term residential programs that focus on holistic recovery. Individuals live in a supportive community and participate in various therapeutic activities. 


The level of care needed is determined through a comprehensive assessment conducted by healthcare professionals. This assessment considers factors such as the severity of AUD, the presence of medical or psychiatric conditions, the individual's support system, and their motivation for change. Treatment plans are often tailored to meet the specific needs of each individual.

Alcohol Use Disorder Resources

  1. National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA):

    • NIAAA is a part of the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and provides valuable information, research, and resources related to alcohol use and its effects.

    • Website: NIAAA

  2. Alcoholics Anonymous (AA):

    • AA is a worldwide fellowship of individuals who share their experiences, strength, and hope to help each other achieve and maintain sobriety.

    • Website: Alcoholics Anonymous

  3. SMART Recovery:

    • SMART Recovery is a science-based, self-help program for individuals seeking independence from any type of addictive behavior, including alcohol addiction.

    • Website: SMART Recovery

  4. Moderation Management:

    • Moderation Management offers support to individuals who want to make positive changes in their alcohol consumption, whether that involves moderation or abstinence.

    • Website: Moderation Management

  5. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA):

    • SAMHSA provides a national helpline offering free, confidential assistance for individuals and families facing substance use disorders, including AUD.

    • Helpline: 1-800-662-HELP (4357)

    • Website: SAMHSA

  6. National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence (NCADD):

    • NCADD offers information, resources, and support for individuals and families affected by alcoholism and drug dependence.

    • Website: NCADD

  7. Women for Sobriety:

    • Women for Sobriety is a self-help organization that provides support and resources specifically designed for women recovering from alcohol and drug addiction.

    • Website: Women for Sobriety

  8. Rethinking Drinking (NIAAA):

    • This online resource from NIAAA provides information and tools to help individuals assess their drinking patterns and make informed decisions about their alcohol consumption.

    • Website: Rethinking Drinking

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