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  • Addiction & recovery

How do I know if I have a problem with alcohol?

Nzinga Harrison
Nzinga Harrison

January 19, 2020

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Alcohol is a part of many cultures across the world and has been used as a way to celebrate, relax, or socialize for hundreds of years. Even though alcohol use is commonplace, it’s not always easy to tell if someone has a problem with alcohol. Not everyone stays at a bar all-day or struggles to keep their life together. Some people appear “high-functioning” but privately, they may face constant struggles with their alcohol use.

In reality, alcohol use disorder, sometimes called alcoholism, is a medical condition that varies from person-to-person. This is why doctors and mental health professionals use a list of 11 criteria from the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition (or DSM-5) to make a diagnosis. Learning more about the criteria might help you understand if you have a problem with alcohol.

Criteria for Alcohol Use Disorder

  1. Drinking alcohol in larger amounts or over a longer period of time than you had originally meant

  2. Wanting or trying to cut back or control your alcohol use but struggle to do so successfully

  3. Spending much of your time spent on activities related to alcohol–both the drinking itself and recovering from hangovers and the physical side-effects of drinking

  4. Craving alcohol so badly that it consumes all of your thoughts

  5. Dealing with alcohol or hangovers that interfere with work, family, or other responsibilities

  6. Continuing to drink alcohol even though it causes problems with your family or friends

  7. Giving up on important activities or interesting hobbies that you once liked in order to drink alcohol instead

  8. Getting into unsafe or risky situations while or after drinking, such as walking in a dangerous area, fighting, swimming, driving, or having unsafe sex

  9. Drinking even though it makes you feel depressed or anxious, causes memory loss from blackouts or contributes to any other health problems

  10. Drinking much more to get the effect you want or noticing that your usual number of drinks has less of an effect than usual

  11. Experiencing withdrawal symptoms, like insomnia, irritable mood, upset stomach, or even a seizure, after the alcohol wears off

Alcohol use disorder can range in severity, depending on how many criteria are applicable.

  • Mild AUD: two to three symptoms

  • Moderate AUD: four to five symptoms

  • Severe AUD: six or more symptoms

However, mild AUD can progress over time and become more difficult to manage. This is why it’s so important to engage in treatment as soon as possible.

It can be difficult to admit to potential problems with your own behavior but recognizing the signs early on is a crucial first step towards a successful, long-term recovery. No matter what your challenges are with alcohol, addiction treatment can help you regain control over alcohol and rebuild your confidence throughout the recovery journey.

Are you worried you or a loved one may need help to manage alcohol use? Find out more by taking this quiz about alcohol use.

If you need help with your substance use disorder, we are here to help you build your confidence and momentum towards the future you want. We provide treatment services for adults with alcohol, opioid, and other substance use disorders. We are currently located in Louisiana, Massachusetts, North Carolina, New Jersey, Ohio, and Washington.