What is an Alcohol Use Disorder?

By David Joel Miller, MS, Licensed Therapist & Licensed Counselor.


Alcoholic beverages.
Photo courtesy of Pixabay.com

How is Alcohol Use Disorder different from Alcoholism?

Used to be a time when doctors treated medical issues, Therapists treated mental illness, Social services treated poverty-related issues, and – well – no one exactly wanted to do anything with drug addicts and alcoholics. Times are changing.

Turns out that no matter where you are and who you work with there is a good chance that people around you are being affected by chemicals, alcohol in particular, long before they reach the “alcoholic” or “Chemically Dependent” stage.

In Drug and Alcohol counseling we used to spend a lot of time debating what made you an alcoholic or addict. Turns out the lines are fuzzy. One estimate is that 90% of alcoholics have full-time jobs. Some people do not drink that often. Half the adult U. S. population did not drink in the last thirty days.

Even if you only drink once a year, say for New Year, if you have gotten into fights while drinking, gotten DUI’s several times, then your only drink once a year is not of much import. If when you drink, bad things happen, then you have an Alcohol Use Disorder. The DSM uses the expression “Problematic Pattern of Alcohol Use.”

What we discovered was that it was not so much what you drink or when you drink that matters when it comes to Alcohol Use Disorders, it is what happens when you drink that is significant.

The Symptoms of Alcohol Use Disorder.

The new DSM-5 has switched to the use of the term “Alcohol Use Disorder” to indicate someone whose use of alcohol is causing them problems whether they are “Alcoholic” or not and lists 11 criteria for Alcohol Use being a problem. Here is my plain language version of those Criteria.

  1. Once you start drinking you drink more than you planned on and/ or keep drinking longer than planned.
  2. You keep trying to cut down on your drinking. In other Alcoholism texts, this is also described as efforts to control your drinking or to quit drinking. See, people do not try to cut down, control, or quit drinking unless it is a problem.
  3. Drinking eats up a lot of your time.
  4. You have cravings for alcohol when you are not drinking.
  5. Drinking gets in the way of work, school, home life, or recreation. A real Alcoholic cuts out this other stuff so they can concentrate on their drinking.
  6. You know that when you drink bad stuff happens but you keep drinking anyway.
  7. You start cutting out other parts of your life to spend more time drinking.
  8. You try to get away with drinking even when you know it makes the situation dangerous.
  9. You keep drinking even though you now realize it is causing you problems.
  10. Your body starts building up tolerance. (See post “What is Tolerance” in the “What is” section.)
  11. You experience “withdrawal” when you stop drinking and the blood alcohol level starts dropping. (See post “What is Withdrawal” in the “What is” section.)

These problems with Alcohol can come in mild, moderate or severe. Mild Alcohol Use Disorder would have 2-3 of these symptoms, Moderate has 4-5 symptoms and severe has 6 or more.

If you or someone you know is exhibiting these symptoms think about treatment and or self-help groups. The sooner Alcohol Use Disorder gets treated the better the life prognosis. While sooner is better it is never too late to get treatment for an alcohol use disorder as long as you are alive.

Terms and their meaning can differ with the profession using them. The literature from the Rehab or AOD (Alcohol and Other Drug) field may be very different from that in the mental health field. There is still a large gap between recovery programs, AOD professionals, and the terms and descriptions used in the DSM.

FYI These “What is” sometimes “What are” posts are my efforts to explain terms commonly used in Mental Health, Clinical Counseling, Substance Use Disorder Counseling, Psychology, Life Coaching, and related disciplines in a plain language way. Many are based on the new DSM-5; some of the older posts were based on the DSM-IV-TR, both published by the APA. For the more technical versions please consult the DSM or other appropriate references.

Staying connected with David Joel Miller

Seven David Joel Miller Books are available now!

My newest book is now available. It was my opportunity to try on a new genre. I’ve been working on this book for several years, but now seem like the right time to publish it.

Story Bureau.

Story Bureau is a thrilling Dystopian Post-Apocalyptic adventure in the Surviving the Apocalypse series.

Baldwin struggles to survive life in a post-apocalyptic world where the government controls everything.

As society collapses and his family gets plunged into poverty, Baldwin takes a job in the capital city, working for a government agency called the Story Bureau. He discovers the Story Bureau is not a benign news outlet but a sinister government plot to manipulate society.

Bumps on the Road of Life. Whether you struggle with anxiety, depression, low motivation, or addiction, you can recover. Bumps on the Road of Life is the story of how people get off track and how to get your life out of the ditch.

Dark Family Secrets: Doris wants to get her life back, but small-town prejudice could shatter her dreams.

Casino Robbery Arthur Mitchell escapes the trauma of watching his girlfriend die. But the killers know he’s a witness and want him dead.

Planned Accidents  The second Arthur Mitchell and Plutus mystery.

Letters from the Dead: The third in the Arthur Mitchell mystery series.

What would you do if you found a letter to a detective describing a crime and you knew the writer and detective were dead, and you could be next?

Sasquatch. Three things about us, you should know. One, we have seen the past. Two, we’re trapped there. Three, I don’t know if we’ll ever get back to our own time.

For these and my upcoming books; please visit my Author Page – David Joel Miller

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2 thoughts on “What is an Alcohol Use Disorder?

  1. Pingback: What are Alcohol-Related Disorders? | counselorssoapbox

  2. Pingback: Will four beers get you drunk? | counselorssoapbox

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