A new framework identifies people with alcohol use disorder

alcohol use disorder, alcohol abuse

A new framework by researchers can help identify and diagnose alcohol use disorder based on symptoms, so patients can be given personalised treatment options

Alcohol use disorder (AUD) is a medical condition characterised by an impaired ability to stop or control alcohol use despite adverse social, occupational, or health consequences.

Often referred to as alcohol abuse, alcohol dependence, alcohol addiction, and alcoholism, it is considered a brain disorder which can have serious negative mental and physical health outcomes.

Alcohol abuse is a continuing problem around the world.

According to Professor Sir Ian Gilmore, Chair of the Alcohol Health Alliance: “COVID-19 has only heightened the UK’s complex relationship with alcohol. The uncertainty and suffering experienced by many over the last 18 months have affected the way many people drink.

“Despite some groups reporting to have consumed less alcohol during the pandemic, the number of high-risk drinkers increased by around 59% according to the analysis of several studies by Public Health England.” 

Knowing the risk factors which lead to AUD

AUD is a significant public health problem, with a need for improving the identification and treatment of individuals with it. This new research aims to identify the causal factors implicated in alcohol use disorder through amalgamating key findings together, compiling all known information into a comprehensive usable framework.

This framework could be a good starting point for additional research, offering numerous implications for the diagnosis and treatment of AUD, focusing on 13 risk factors, such as impulsive behaviour, reward sensitivity, and punishment sensitivity, that could lead to someone developing an AUD.

“We can identify individual profiles of risk and potentially intervene during earlier stages of addiction.”

AUD can be caused by numerous things. Most commonly: drinking at an early age, family alcohol problems, and mental health conditions.

Cassie Boness, a former graduate student at MU in the Department of Psychological Sciences, said: “We know from decades of research that there are a lot of different pathways to alcohol use disorder. So, we want to make sure that we are targeting people’s specific pathways as accurately as possible in order to be most effective in identifying and treating AUD.”

Boness has highlighted her interest in the causes, diagnosis and assessment of substance use disorders, including AUD, a chronic medical condition characterised by ongoing alcohol use despite adverse consequences. She aims to use this research to assist the people she knows personally with this mental condition.

Current assessment tools – such as the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition (DSM-5) – can assist health care professionals in diagnosis of AUD, the authors believe the current methods are too narrowly focused on the consequences of someone’s actions, rather than incorporating a broad list of potential risk factors that may lead to an AUD diagnosis.

Through emphasising on the numerous pathways someone can develop AUD, it could be easier to access help or lessen the disorder by reducing the gateway behaviours.

Destigmatising alcohol addiction treatment

Boness stresses that this tool is not meant to be the only solution, but rather a way for other researchers like her to build upon and enhance the existing research on the subject. She hopes this framework can be a step forward toward a comprehensive diagnosis of AUD throughout the healthcare community.

Boness concluded: “Eventually, we’d like to see assessment tools that more comprehensively capture the factors articulated in our framework so that we can identify individual profiles of risk and potentially intervene during earlier stages of addiction.”

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