Alcohol Use Disorder: How It Is Diagnosed

Alcohol Use Disorder: How It Is Diagnosed

It can be hard to know if you have a drinking problem. Adding to the confusion are the different terms, such as alcohol abuse and alcoholism, that are frequently used to describe drinking problems. Even if you know you have a problem, seeking treatment can be complicated by not knowing exactly what your symptoms mean.

Denial is common, as well as failing to recognize the signs of an alcohol disorder. Here, we’ll walk you through the main symptoms of alcohol use disorder, to help you know if you or a loved one has a problem.

Medical Definition

The American Psychiatric Association (APA) made changes in 2013 that combined what had been called alcohol abuse and alcohol dependence into one category, called alcohol use disorder, that was meant to more comprehensively describe and diagnose drinking problems. This category does not include alcoholism, which is treated separately. Alcoholism involves specific symptoms, such as intense physical dependence, that are not always present in cases of alcohol use disorder. However, they are very similar conditions, with many of the same symptoms.

The APA then go on to list over ten symptoms commonly found in alcohol abuse disorder. They then break in down into three separate groups: mild, moderate, and severe.

How Bad Is It?

Which category you fall into depends on how many symptoms from the list you have. If you have 2-3 of the symptoms, you are put in the mild category. If you show 4-5, you are classified as moderate. If you display 6 or more, you are said to have severe alcohol use disorder. These classifications are not an exact science, but they give a rough idea about the severity of an individual’s drinking problem.

These are the symptoms listed by the APA:

1.    You drink more alcohol than you planned or for longer than you planned

2.    You try to stop, but you can’t, and have got through periods of sobriety only to return to drinking

3.    You spend a good deal of time trying to find alcohol, drinking it, or recovering from it

4.    You have a strong urge to drink that is difficult to resist

5.    Your drinking causes problems with your loved ones, friends, or people at work

6.    You are failing to fulfill essential obligations because of your drinking

7.    Drinking has affected your social life

8.    You use alcohol when you should not, such as while driving

9.    You have symptoms of mental illness caused by drinking, such as anxiety or depression, but you don’t stop drinking, or drink more to try to make the symptoms go away

10.    You have developed a tolerance to alcohol so that you have to drink more and more to get drunk

11.    You have withdrawal symptoms if you don’t drink

What About Alcoholism?

The above symptom list is used to classify alcohol use disorder and was not meant to be a clinical tool to diagnose alcoholism. However, many of them describe the behaviors involved in alcoholism. These conditions have a lot in common and are often approached with similar treatment strategies.

Getting Help

Whether you have alcohol use disorder or alcoholism, the AA of Los Angeles is here to help you every step of the way toward your recovery. Developing a supportive community and network of fellow drinkers looking to recover, you’ll meet people who understand what it’s like to have a problem with alcohol. Our meeting groups will give you the support you need to get clean and live a healthy life.

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