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What Is Alcoholism?

An estimated 16 million people in the United States have Alcohol Use Disorder. Approximately 6.2 percent or 15.1 million adults in the United States ages 18 and older were diagnosed with alcoholism in 2015. This includes 9.8 million men and 5.3 million women. Adolescents can be diagnosed with Alcohol Use Disorder as well, and in 2015 an estimated 623,000 adolescents ages 12–17 were diagnosed.

The question of whether or not someone is an alcoholic is better answered by the person with the problem.  One has to take into consideration, though, that denial is a symptom of the disease of alcoholism and addiction. This is a problem, condition or disease that tells the person they don’t have a problem. The medical community has created diagnostic criteria to help professionals discern whether or not someone has a problem.

The diagnostic criteria for Alcohol Use Disorder is answered using the diagnostic questions below:

  • Have had times when you ended up drinking more, or longer, than you intended?
  • More than once wanted to cut down or stop drinking, or tried to, but couldn't?
  • A great deal of time is spent in activities necessary to obtain alcohol, use alcohol, or recover from its effects?
  • Spent a lot of time drinking? Or being sick or getting over other aftereffects?
  • Found that drinking, or being sick from drinking, often interfered with taking care of your home or family? Or caused job troubles? Or school problems?
  • Continued to drink even though it was causing trouble with your family or friends?
  • Given up or cut back on activities that were important or interesting to you, or gave you pleasure, in order to drink?
  • More than once gotten into situations while or after drinking that increased your chances of getting hurt (such as driving, swimming, using machinery, walking in a dangerous area, or having unsafe sex)?
  • Continued to drink even though it was making you feel depressed or anxious or adding to another health problem? Or after having had a memory blackout?
  • Had to drink much more than you once did to get the effect you want? Or found that your usual number of drinks had much less effect than before?
  • Found that when the effects of alcohol were wearing off, you had withdrawal symptoms, such as trouble sleeping, shakiness, restlessness, nausea, sweating, a racing heart, or a seizure? Or sensed things that were not there?

Scoring for diagnostic purposes is:

  • The presence of at least 2 of these symptoms indicates an Alcohol Use Disorder (AUD).

The severity of the AUD is defined as:

  • Mild: The presence of 2 to 3 symptoms
  • Moderate: The presence of 4 to 5 symptoms
  • Severe: The presence of 6 or more symptoms

The reasons why people start drinking or why they say they currently drink can vary.  Some of those reasons are to:

  • Relieve stress: Relying on alcohol to reduce daily life stressors can impact the likelihood of developing alcoholism. Since alcohol is a depressant and a sedative, drinking produces feelings of pleasure. However, frequent drinking builds tolerance, requiring you to consume more alcohol in order to achieve the same effects.
  • Feel good: Consuming alcohol can provide some people a break from reality. It offers a sense of relief from underlying issues your mind may be trying to escape from. However, continual alcohol use to get through the day or week can turn into a serious drinking problem.
  • Cope with loss: Losing a family member or friend can take a toll on you emotionally, physically and mentally. Alcohol can ease the grief you are feeling and is used to get through difficult times. Depending on alcohol, even temporarily, can spiral into a drinking problem.
  • Overcome anxiety: Some people are naturally anxious, causing them to perpetually worry. Drinking lowers an individual’s inhibitions and makes them more comfortable in social situations. Over time, though, this can lead to addictive behaviors.

How can I tell if someone in my life suffers from alcoholism?

Signs and Symptoms

  • Being unable to control drinking once it has started
  • Craving alcohol when you’re not drinking
  • Putting alcohol above personal responsibilities
  • Feeling the need to keep drinking more
  • Spending a substantial amount of money on alcohol
  • Behaving differently after drinking
  • Doing things when you’re drinking that you normally wouldn’t do
  • Problems at work or school because of drinking, or not showing up because of the consequences of drinking or being hungover
  • Having blackouts (blank spaces in your memory)
  • Family or friends commenting on how much or how often you are drinking
  • Continuing to drink in spite of health problems that are caused or made worse by drinking
  • Placing yourself in risky situations when drinking (driving, taking other types of medications that you shouldn’t be drinking with)
  • Feeling guilty after drinking
  • Making promises to stop and not being able to
  • Worrying you may not have enough or get enough alcohol to create the desired effect
  • Switching the type of alcohol you drink as an attempt to control the effects or prove something
  • Making excuses for your drinking or doing things to hide your drinking, such as buying alcohol at different stores

If you feel that you or someone you care about has a problem with alcohol, please call us at (813) 882-3003 or email us at