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How alcohol addiction is defined by the American Psychological Association

Getting help for a drinking problem can be incredibly intimidating. For some people, heavy drinking might lead to a chronic condition that could lead them to the depths of homelessness, diseases such as cirrhosis and cancer or even death. Abusers of alcohol may not be aware of the negative consequences of their drinking until they are faced with an intervention. There are also daily drinkers that could live with or without alcohol. Everybody is different, and not everybody that drinks alcohol on a regular basis is necessarily considered an addict.  

The American Psychological Association (APA) is in charge of the development and application of psychology, as well as promoting research for improvement in developing ways to diagnose and treat mental health disorders and addictions. (APA 2015) In order to professionally treat addictions by medical and psychological standards, the APA utilizes a diagnosis system.

In the APA’s Diagnostic Statistical Manual 4th Edition (DSM-4), the alcohol addiction disorder is separated into two distinct categories: “Alcohol Abuse Disorder” and “Alcohol Dependence Disorder”. The new addition has combined the two and named it “Alcohol Use Disorder”. (NIAAA 2015) There has also been one other criterion added to the list of symptoms, as well as a gauging system. In an effort to appropriately determine the severity of the drinking problem, the label method that is used ranges from mild to moderate to severe Alcohol Use Disorders (AUDs). Mild Alcohol Use Disorder (Mild – AUD) involves the presence of two to three of the symptoms below. Moderate Alcohol Use Disorder (Moderate – AUD) involves the presence of four to five of the symptoms below and Severe Alcohol Use Disorder (Severe – AUD) involves the presence of six or more of the symptoms below.

Symptoms of an Alcohol Use Disorder

  • Craving alcohol, a strong desire or urge to use alcohol. (only new criterion to the DSM)
  • Continued use of alcohol even after seeing it result in neglect of major role obligations such as work, home or school. This could include absences relating to alcohol use, neglecting children or household.
  • Continued use of alcohol in unsafe environments where it could be hazardous to the person drinking as well as others (such as driving or operating machinery).
  • Recurring legal issues due to alcohol use (disorderly conduct, DUI).
  • Continuing to use alcohol despite recurrent interpersonal problems caused or exacerbated by the side-effects of alcohol (arguments, intoxication, headaches, irritability, lack of focus).
  • Tolerance to alcohol leading to increased amounts to achieve intoxication or the desired euphoric effect.
  • Tolerance to alcohol is so high that the effect of the alcohol diminishes with continued use of the same amount; also an increased amount of consumption is needed.
  • Withdrawal is manifested by characteristic withdrawal symptoms, such as a hangover, headache and grouchiness.
  • Alcohol is consumed to relieve or avoid withdrawal symptoms.
  • More alcohol is consumed than had been originally intended.
  • The drinker has a continued and persistent desire to quit drinking, or to at least cut down.
  • Much time is spent in activities necessary to obtain alcohol and feel its effects.
  • Social activities that are important to the drinker are no longer participated in due to drinking alcohol.
  • Despite having persistent and recurrent psychological and physical issues that have been caused by or exacerbated by alcohol, the person keeps drinking.

If you or a loved one has an addiction to alcohol, and you have experienced some of the aforementioned criteria, help is available and there is a perfect treatment program to fit your individual needs. The first step to living a life without problems due to drinking is to face the problem and find help as soon as possible. Professional therapists are a great resource to treat addiction to alcohol, as well as any other co-occurring disorders.

To find help for alcohol addiction you can contact the Drug and Alcohol Recovery Helpline at 855-441-4405 for more information.

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