What Are the Criteria for Alcoholism?

What Are the Criteria for Alcoholism?

Persistent strong cravings and urges to consume alcohol are a sign of alcoholism

The 2012 National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH) estimated that 52% of Americans aged 12 or older are current alcohol drinkers, and 23% engaged in binge drinking in the past 30 days. Another 7% also reported binge drinking on at least five days in the past 30, which helps explain why alcohol is a $60 billion a year industry, per the Chicago Tribune in 2012. People consume alcohol for various reasons, including interest in craft beer, food and wine pairings, celebrations and simply to relax. However, genetic and environmental influences make some drinkers susceptible to alcoholism, which is the leading form of substance abuse in the country.

Diagnostic Criteria for Alcohol Abuse

Published by the American Psychiatric Association (APA) in 2013, the fifth edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-V) is widely regarded as the industry standard for mental health. According to the DSM-V, an alcoholism diagnosis applies to people who meet two of 11 specific criteria during a 12-month period, which are as follows:

  • Alcohol is regularly consumed in larger amounts for longer periods than intended
  • Persistent desire and attempts to limit alcohol use are repeatedly unsuccessful
  • Significant amounts of time are spent obtaining, using and recovering
  • Persistent strong cravings and urges to consume alcohol
  • Alcohol use regularly results in failure to fulfill work, family or school responsibilities
  • Continued alcohol use plays a role in social and interpersonal problems
  • Social, work and recreational activities are reduced or eliminated due to alcohol abuse
  • Alcohol is regularly consumed in situations that may cause physical hazard
  • Inability to curb use despite knowing alcohol caused a physical or psychological problem
  • Increased tolerance for which more alcohol is needed to produce the same effects
  • Stopping use results in characteristic withdrawal symptoms or the need to take a depressant drug to relieve symptoms

The DSM-V has three classifications of alcohol abuse – mild, moderate and severe – that relate to the number of criteria a person meets. Furthermore, it is important to note that the criteria apply to an alcohol use disorder, which is different than simply drinking too much. Addiction is a disease that causes physical changes and dysfunction in the brain reward system. A person might abuse alcohol by binge drinking for an entire week, and that might contribute to an addiction, but that behavior alone does not meet the criteria for alcoholism. Rather, alcohol addicts have intense cravings, overpowering thoughts and obsessive behavior that drive them to drink.

Alcoholism Recovery Help

Released in 2012, the National Survey on Substance Abuse Treatment Services (N-SSATS) collected data from 2007 to 2011, and the findings showed that 60% to 65% of all admissions involved alcohol abuse. Alcoholism is by far the most treated form of substance abuse, and potential rehab services include the following:

  • Supervised detoxification with options to minimize withdrawal symptoms
  • Integrated treatment for co-occurring physical and mental health disorders
  • Individual and group counseling sessions that include relapse-prevention strategies
  • Behavioral and motivational therapies that improve thought patterns and attitude
  • Applicable life tools like stress management, conflict resolution and coping skills

The Addiction journal published a study on alcohol addiction relapse in 2006 that noted a connection between the severity of abuse and short-term relapse rates. The implication is that recovery outcomes are generally more positive the sooner an addict receives treatment.

Our admissions coordinators can answer questions and provide information 24 hours a day about alcoholism, treatment and rehab facilities. We can even check health insurance plans for rehab benefits. If you or a loved one may have a problem, please call our toll-free helpline now.