Scientific Criteria Defining Alcoholism

If you feel you or a friend or family member may be suffering from the disease of alcoholism, there are some questions you can ask yourself to help define the diagnosis.

In May 2013, the American Psychiatric Association published the 5th edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5). According to this new diagnostic threshold, anyone meeting any 2 of the 11 criteria within a single 12-month timeframe would be diagnosed with alcoholism.

The severity of the rating (mild, moderate, or severe) depends upon the number of criteria met.

  1. Alcohol is often taken in larger amounts or over a longer period than was intended.

An inability to control when or how much one drinks

  1. There is a persistent desire or unsuccessful efforts to cut down or control alcohol use.

An inability to stop drinking

  1. A great deal of time is spent in activities necessary to obtain alcohol, use alcohol, or recover from its effects.

“Substantial time is spent ‘seeking’ and using alcohol”

  1. Craving, or a strong desire or urged to use alcohol.

“Feeling an overpowering compulsion to drink”

  1. Recurrent alcohol use resulting in a failure to fulfill major role obligations at work, school, or home.

Alcohol interferes with other activities and responsibilities 

  1. Continued alcohol use despite having persistent or recurrent social or interpersonal problems caused or exacerbated by the effects of alcohol.

“Drinking even when it damages personal relationships”

  1. Important social, occupational, or recreational activities are given up or reduced because of alcohol use.

“Reduced interest in formerly-pleasant activities and hobbies; increased isolation”

  1. Recurrent alcohol use in situations in which it is physically hazardous.

“Poor decision-making; engaging in risky behavior because of alcohol”

  1. Alcohol use is continued despite knowledge of having a persistent or recurrent physical or psychological problem that is likely to have been caused or exacerbated by alcohol.

“An inability to grasp or an apathy about the effects of alcohol”

  1. Tolerance, as defined by either of the following:
  2. a) The need for markedly increased amounts of alcohol to achieve intoxication or desire to affect.
    b)  A markedly diminished effect with continued use of the same amount of alcohol.

“Needing to drink more and more in order to get drunk”

  1. Withdrawal, as manifested by either of the following:
  2.  a) The characteristic withdrawal syndrome for alcohol. b) Alcohol (or a closely-related, such as a benzodiazepine) is taken to relieve or avoid withdrawal symptoms.

“Suffering unpleasant and dangerous physical and psychological problems when the consumption of alcohol is ceased”

As is evidenced, a diagnosis of alcoholism does not depend upon any particular type of alcohol (liquor, wine, beer), how long a period of time a person has been drinking (several years or a few months), the amount of legal trouble a person gets in because of alcohol (DUI’s, public intoxication charges, etc.), or even how much a person drinks.

Alcoholism is chiefly characterized by a person’s uncontrollable and overpowering need to drink –  regardless of consequences and desire to stop, and there IS HELP.

Scientific Criteria Defining Alcoholism