Problem drinking that becomes severe is given the medical diagnosis of alcohol use disorder (AUD). An estimated 16 million people in the US have AUD. It is characterized by compulsive alcohol use, loss of control over alcohol intake and a negative emotional state when not drinking alcohol.

To be diagnosed with AUD, you must meet criteria outlined in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM). Anyone meeting any two of the 11 criteria below during the same 12-month period is diagnosed with AUD, according to the DSM-5, the current version of the DSM. The severity of AUD—mild, moderate or severe—is based on the number of criteria met. 

To assess whether you or a loved one may have AUD, here are some questions to ask. In the past year, have you…

  • 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?
  • Spent a lot of time drinking? Or being sick or getting over the aftereffects?
  • Experienced craving—a strong need, or urge, to drink?
  • 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, irritability, anxiety, depression, restlessness, nausea or sweating? Or sensed things that were not there?

If you have any of these symptoms, your drinking may already be a cause for concern. The more symptoms you have, the more urgent the need for change. To see if AUD is present, visit a health professional so a formal assessment of your symptoms can be done.

Source: Excerpted from “Alcohol Use Disorder” by the National Institutes of Health/National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism.