How to Tell if You Have an Alcohol Use Disorder
Alcohol use is prevalent worldwide, and for many individuals, it can be a pleasurable and social activity. However, for some, alcohol use can develop into an addiction, leading to detrimental physical, emotional, and social consequences. Alcohol use disorder (AUD) is a term used to describe a spectrum of drinking behaviors that range from mild to severe. This article will discuss the symptoms and signs of AUD, how to diagnose it, and how to seek help.
Overview of Alcohol Use Disorder
AUD is a medical condition characterized by a persistent pattern of alcohol consumption that causes significant distress or impairment. The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition (DSM-5) lists 11 criteria for diagnosing AUD. These criteria are classified into two categories: alcohol use and alcohol-related problems.
Alcohol Use Criteria
- Drinking more than intended. The individual often drinks more alcohol than they planned or intended.
- Difficulty cutting down. The individual has tried to cut down or stop drinking but has been unsuccessful.
- Alcohol cravings. The individual has a strong desire or urge to drink alcohol.
- Tolerance. The individual needs to drink more alcohol to achieve the desired effect.
- Withdrawal symptoms. The individual experiences physical or psychological symptoms when they stop drinking or reduce their alcohol intake.
Alcohol-Related Problems Criteria
- Continued use despite problems. The individual continues to drink alcohol despite experiencing social, interpersonal, or physical problems related to their drinking.
- Reduced activities. The individual reduces or stops engaging in activities that were previously important or enjoyable to them.
- Drinking in hazardous situations. The individual drinks alcohol in hazardous situations, such as driving or operating machinery.
- Legal problems. The individual experiences legal problems related to their drinking, such as DUI charges or arrests.
- Social or interpersonal problems. The individual experiences social or interpersonal problems related to their drinking, such as arguments or conflicts with family or friends.
- Health problems. The individual experiences physical or mental health problems related to their drinking.
Diagnosis of Alcohol Use Disorder
Diagnosing AUD involves a comprehensive assessment of an individual’s drinking behavior and its impact on their physical, emotional, and social well-being. The diagnosis is made based on the criteria listed in the DSM-5, and the severity of AUD is classified as mild, moderate, or severe.
Healthcare professionals use various tools to diagnose AUD, including interviews, questionnaires, and laboratory tests. The most commonly used questionnaire is the Alcohol Use Disorders Identification Test (AUDIT). The AUDIT consists of ten questions that assess an individual’s alcohol use and related problems.
Healthcare professionals also use laboratory tests to assess an individual’s liver function and other health indicators related to alcohol use.
Seeking Help for Alcohol Use Disorder
Medications used to treat AUD include naltrexone, acamprosate, and disulfiram. These medications work by reducing the craving for alcohol, reducing the symptoms of withdrawal, or making an individual feel sick if they drink alcohol.
Psychotherapy involves various approaches, including cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT), motivational enhancement therapy (MET), and contingency management. These therapies help individuals change their behavior, cope with triggers for drinking, and develop healthy coping strategies.
Support groups, such as Alcoholics Anonymous (AA), provide a safe and supportive environment for individuals to share their experiences, receive support, and learn from others who have gone through similar experiences. AA follows a 12-step program that emphasizes spirituality, self-reflection, and making amends for past mistakes.
Alcohol use disorder is a serious medical condition that can have detrimental effects on an individual’s physical, emotional, and social well-being. The diagnosis of AUD is based on the criteria listed in the DSM-5 and involves a comprehensive assessment of an individual’s drinking behavior and its impact on their life.
Seeking help for AUD is essential and typically involves a combination of medication, psychotherapy, and support groups. It is important to remember that recovery from AUD is a lifelong process and requires a commitment to changing behavior and developing healthy coping strategies.
- What is considered a “drink” of alcohol? A standard drink of alcohol is defined as 14 grams of pure alcohol, which is roughly equivalent to 12 ounces of beer, 5 ounces of wine, or 1.5 ounces of distilled spirits.
- How do I know if my drinking is becoming a problem? If you find yourself drinking more than you intended, having difficulty cutting down, experiencing cravings, or experiencing withdrawal symptoms when you stop drinking, you may have an alcohol use disorder. It is essential to seek help if you are experiencing any of these symptoms.
- Can AUD be cured? There is no cure for AUD, but it can be effectively managed with treatment and support. Recovery from AUD is a lifelong process and requires a commitment to changing behavior and developing healthy coping strategies.
- Can I still have a social life if I have AUD? Yes, it is possible to have a social life while managing AUD. However, it is important to develop healthy coping strategies and to avoid situations that may trigger drinking.
- How can I help a loved one who has AUD? Encourage your loved one to seek help and support them in their recovery. Avoid enabling their drinking behavior and be patient and supportive throughout their journey to recovery.
American Psychiatric Association. (2013). Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders (5th ed.). https://doi.org/10.1176/appi.books.9780890425596
National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. (2021, January). Alcohol use disorder. https://www.niaaa.nih.gov/alcohol-health/overview-alcohol-consumption/alcohol-use-disorders
Saitz, R. (2018). Introduction to alcohol withdrawal. In M. R. Liepman, D. K. Yao, & R. L. Adelman (Eds.), UpToDate. Retrieved March 8, 2023, from https://www.uptodate.com/contents/introduction-to-alcohol-withdrawal
Savage, J. E., Salvatore, J. E., Aliev, F., Edwards, A. C., Hickman, M., Kendler, K. S., & Macleod, J. (2018). Polygenic risk score prediction of alcohol dependence symptoms across population-based and clinically ascertained samples. Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research, 42(3), 520–530. https://doi.org/10.1111/acer.13594
U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. (2020). Helping patients who drink too much: A clinician’s guide (Updated 2020 ed.). National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. Retrieved March 8, 2023, from https://www.niaaa.nih.gov/publications/clinical-guides-and-manuals/helping-patients-who-drink-too-much-clinicians-guide
According to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition (DSM-5), alcohol use disorder (AUD) is a medical condition characterized by a persistent pattern of alcohol consumption that causes significant distress or impairment (American Psychiatric Association, 2013).
The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) identifies 11 criteria for diagnosing AUD, which are classified into two categories: alcohol use and alcohol-related problems (National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, 2021).
Saitz (2018) explains that healthcare professionals use laboratory tests to assess an individual’s liver function and other health indicators related to alcohol use.
Treatment for AUD typically involves a combination of medication, psychotherapy, and support groups (U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 2020).
Savage et al. (2018) found that a polygenic risk score can predict the development of alcohol dependence symptoms.