Defining When Your Drinking Has Become Alcoholism

Gabrielle Applebury
Man drinking alone at the bar

Alcoholism, otherwise known as alcohol use disorder, now encompasses alcohol abuse and alcohol dependence in its official diagnosis criteria. According to the Diagnostic and Statistics Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM), alcoholism can be described as mild, moderate, or severe.

DSM Diagnostic Parameters

The DSM V lists 11 symptoms and signs to look for when determining whether alcohol has become a problem area for the user. Use the following questions to help determine if alcohol may be a problem for you or a loved one:

  1. Have there ever been times where you drank more than you had planned?
  2. Have you ever wanted to cut down on your drinking but were unable to do it? Has this happened more than once?
  3. Have you spent a lot of time drinking or recovering from a hangover?
  4. Have you ever fixated on drinking and were unable to focus on anything else?
  5. Has drinking or being hung over negatively interfered with your job, school, or home life?
  6. Have you continued to drink despite it causing issues with family and friends?
  7. Have you ever experienced withdrawal symptoms such as shakiness, restlessness, difficulty sleeping, sweating and a racing heart?
  8. Has your alcohol tolerance increased?
  9. Have you continued drinking despite it causing symptoms of anxiety, depression, or another health problem?
  10. Are you choosing to drink instead of engaging in activities you once enjoyed?
  11. Are you engaging in riskier situations during or after drinking such as unprotected sex, driving under the influence or swimming under the influence?

Mild, Moderate or Severe Symptoms

If you answered yes to at least two of these questions, you may qualify as having alcohol use disorder. This means that your alcohol use may have gone from problematic to diagnosable. Responding yes to two to three questions indicates mild alcohol use disorder. Answering yes to four to five questions qualifies as moderate alcohol use disorder. Answering yes to six or more symptoms is indicative of severe alcohol use disorder.

Only a professional, such as a therapist, counselor, psychiatrist, or doctor can diagnose alcoholism and provide appropriate treatment and referrals.

Seeking Help

Group therapy session

It can be really challenging to deal with symptoms of alcoholism alone. If you've answered yes to the diagnostic questions above and are worried about your health, it's a good idea to reach out to a professional who can help you work through the specific challenges that come with alcohol use. A counselor or a therapist specializing in alcohol use can be a great resource for you or a loved one experiencing these uncomfortable symptoms. You can also investigate:

  • Detox centers, if you need medical or professional assistance processing the alcohol out of your system
  • Inpatient rehab, if you are interested in intensive therapy, support and resources in a protected, closed off environment
  • Outpatient rehab, if you want intensive treatment just during the day a few times a week (and up to seven days a week)
  • Individual therapy, if you want to see a counselor and process your alcohol use once to a few times a week
  • Group therapy, if you want to engage in a professionally run group counseling session
  • Support groups, if you want to process alcohol use with peers in a non-professional setting

Dealing With Alcoholism

If you believe your drinking has gone from casual to uncontrollable and stressful, you may want to consider seeking appropriate treatment, talking to supportive friends and family members, and notifying your doctor of your potential health concerns. Although it can be difficult to begin treatment, taking care of yourself, re-engaging in the activities that make you happy, and reconnecting with loving individuals in your life can be a great end goal to prioritize.

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Defining When Your Drinking Has Become Alcoholism