Millions of Americans drink alcohol each year. SAMHSA’s National Survey on Drug Use and Health reports that in 2012, approximately 135.5 million Americans ages 12 and over, or 50 percent of that population, were current alcohol drinkers. But not everyone who drinks alcohol develops an abuse or dependence problem. It’s sometimes difficult to tell what qualifies as alcohol abuse or dependency, so it’s helpful to know exactly what the criteria for these disorders are.
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Alcoholism is the term that has traditionally been used to describe a condition in which a person has a severe addiction to alcohol, as well as complications that often result from alcohol addiction. The Mayo Clinic defines alcoholism as “a chronic and often progressive disease” that is often manifested in the following symptoms:
- Development of physical dependence
- Difficulty managing one’s level of alcohol intake
- Experiencing withdrawal symptoms when ending alcohol consumption
- Preoccupation with alcohol
Individuals suffering from alcoholism will also continue to use of alcohol despite the many negative consequences they may be experiencing in their lives.
Symptoms of Alcohol Abuse and Alcohol Dependence
The American Psychiatric Association (AMA) uses slightly different terminology and definitions for disorders related to alcohol. The fourth edition of the AMA’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-IV) distinguishes between two types of alcohol-related issues: alcohol abuse and alcohol dependence. It describes a person struggling with alcohol abuse as displaying the following characteristics:
- Consuming alcohol in dangerous situations
- Continued consumption of alcohol that results in difficulty or inability to successfully engage in responsibilities at school, work or home
- Development of difficulties with family members and friends as a result of the alcohol consumption
The DSM-IV also defines a person with alcohol dependence as exhibiting several specific symptoms, including:
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- Experiencing withdrawal symptoms whenever alcohol consumption ends
- Extreme changes in daily habits because of the effects of drinking
- Failing at attempts to control drinking
- Needing to consume increasingly larger amounts of alcohol in order to become intoxicated
As the explains, the latest edition of the AMA’s manual, the DSM-5, has combined the two definitions into one, now called “alcohol use disorders.” These disorders are then subdivided into mild, moderate or severe categories, which are distinguished as follows:
- Mild: the person exhibits two or three of any of the above-listed symptoms
- Moderate: the person has four or five symptoms
- Severe: the person has six or more symptoms
Regardless of the official terminology used to describe it, when drinking interferes with the daily functions of one’s life, he or she likely has some form of alcohol abuse problem.
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Causes of Alcohol Use Disorders
A person who has an alcohol use disorder may feel like her life is out of control and that no one is able to help her. She may also deny that a problem exists at all and try to control the condition on her own. But seeking out professional help with alcohol use disorders is the best way for a person to receive treatment and learn how to successfully manage her condition. It can be scary to admit to having an alcohol use disorder, but doing so takes away the power from the disorder and gives it back to the person struggling with it.
How to Get Help with an Alcohol Use Disorder
If you have found yourself struggling with an alcohol use disorder, or if you are unsure about whether your drinking patterns might signal a problem, we are here to help. Call our toll-free helpline today to talk with one of our admissions coordinators about the criteria for alcohol use disorders. We can also help you find quality treatment centers that will best fit your individual needs. Call us right now to begin the recovery process.