A person with alcohol use disorder has diagnosable issues with non-addicted alcohol abuse and/or alcohol dependence (alcoholism). Many people with this disorder recover when they receive appropriate treatment. In a study published in October 2014 in the journal Substance Use & Misuse, researchers from three U.S. institutions sought to identify the impact that alcohol intake levels prior to entry into a treatment program have on women’s chances of recovering from alcohol use disorder. These researchers concluded that reduced alcohol intake before treatment entry helps predict treatment success.
Alcohol Use Disorder
The diagnosis of alcohol use disorder requires an affected person to have two or more symptoms that indicate the presence of a damaging pattern of alcohol use. In some cases, this pattern stems from the presence of a physical dependence on the consumption of a characteristically excessive amount of alcohol. In other cases, the affected individual abuses alcohol in the absence of physical dependence. A third group of people diagnosed with alcohol use disorder have simultaneous or overlapping symptoms that indicate the presence of both alcohol abuse and alcohol dependence.
The American Psychiatric Association started using the alcohol use disorder diagnosis as a replacement for separately defined cases of alcohol abuse and alcoholism in 2013, largely in response to an accumulation of evidence pointing to the interlocking and sometimes indistinguishable nature of these alcohol-related problems. In everyday conversation, addiction specialists and other health professionals may still refer to alcohol abuse and alcoholism in isolation. However, all experts in the field are well-aware of the new standards established for an alcohol use disorder diagnosis. People with the worst cases of the disorder have a full 11 symptoms of seriously problematic alcohol consumption.
Women and Drinking-Related Risk
While men in the U.S. consume alcohol somewhat more often than women, women have a disproportionate chance of developing drinking-related problems at any given level of intake. Underlying reasons for this gender-based risk include the speed at which women process alcohol, women’s body weight in relation to men’s body weight and the impact of certain hormonal influences on women’s health. Specific alcohol-related risks either unique to women or particularly prominent in women include a heightened chance of developing breast cancer, exposure to potentially severe pregnancy complications, heightened chances of developing heart disease as a consequence of regular and excessive drinking and heightened chances of developing alcoholic liver disease (an interrelated group of conditions that includes alcoholic hepatitis and alcoholic cirrhosis). In addition, compared to men, women need to consume smaller daily and weekly amounts of alcohol to meet the minimum criteria for heavy drinking, a pattern of alcohol consumption that substantially boosts the odds of developing alcohol use disorder.
Alcohol Intake Prior to Treatment
It’s not uncommon for people anticipating entry into an alcohol treatment program to start reducing their alcohol intake. In the study published in Substance Use & Misuse, researchers from Rutgers University, the University of New Mexico and the Institute of Living used an assessment of 136 women to help determine how a pretreatment falloff in drinking levels affects the treatment outcomes of women with alcohol use disorder. All of the women enrolled in the study had diagnosable symptoms of alcoholism and took part in alcohol treatment programs centered on the use of a form of psychotherapy called cognitive behavioral therapy. The researchers used two measurements to gauge the impact of declining alcohol intake prior to treatment entry: the amount and frequency of alcohol consumed during active treatment and the amount and frequency of alcohol consumed one year after treatment ended.
The researchers preliminarily concluded that most of the women enrolled in the study started reducing their alcohol intake before entering a treatment program. In fact, fully 33 percent of the participants had stopped drinking altogether before entering treatment. After analyzing drinking patterns during and after treatment, the researchers concluded that women who start lowering their alcohol intake in advance of program involvement consume alcohol on fewer occasions and in smaller amounts during treatment than their counterparts who don’t start lowering their alcohol intake. They also consume alcohol on fewer occasions (but not in smaller amounts) throughout the year following the end of treatment. Interestingly, the researchers found that the size of the drop in alcohol intake prior to treatment entry is not clearly linked to women’s level of motivation to overcome their alcohol-related problems.