October 12, 2021

Alcohol Use Disorder – When to Worry

Throughout the pandemic, many of my clients expressed concern about an increase in their drinking habits. Truth be told, our society was already highly alcohol-friendly beforehand. Who hasn’t heard of Wine O’Clock? Mommy juice? Happy hour? 

But when does alcohol go from carefree fun to harmful habit? And when does that harmful habit become the DSM diagnosis known as AUD: Alcohol Use Disorder?

First, new research indicates that AUD is more widespread than we might think. To meet the DSM criteria for this condition, you don’t need to drive a car into a tree or be arrested for a DUI. Many Americans with AUD seem, to the outside world (and often to themselves), perfectly “normal.” For that reason, it is important that we educate ourselves about what AUD is, so we can understand when to get help.

Below are the 11 symptoms of Alcohol Use Disorder. If at least two of these symptoms are present, AUD is indicated. 

  1. Alcohol is consumed in larger amounts or over a longer period of time than was intended.
  2. There is an unsuccessful and persistent desire to cut down on alcohol use.
  3. Purchasing, drinking, and recovering from drinking alcohol consumes a great deal of time.
  4. Craving or strong desires to drink.
  5. Recurrent alcohol use that results in a failure to fulfill major life obligations.
  6. Continued alcohol use despite persistent social or interpersonal problems caused or made worse by alcohol. 
  7. Important responsibilities and recreational activities are given up or reduced because of alcohol.
  8. Recurrent drinking in dangerous situations.
  9. Alcohol use is continued despite knowledge of having a persistent or recurrent physical or mental issue that is likely to have been caused by alcohol.
  10. Tolerance.
  11. Withdrawal.

Note also that AUD presents in a range: mild (2-3 symptoms), moderate (4-5 symptoms), and severe (6 or more symptoms). 

So why is this so important? Alcohol isn’t a “serious” substance like cocaine or meth—right? 

Wrong. Globally, AUD is one of the most prevalent mental-health disorders and a leading cause of illness and death. In the United States in particular, binge drinking, heaving drinking, and AUD are skyrocketing. And if that isn’t enough to get your attention, consider that a 2015 study led by Bridget Grant of the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism and the National Institutes of Health found that approximately 29 percent of the American population—68.5 million adults—have exhibited the symptoms of AUD at some time.  

If you or someone you love is exhibiting signs of AUD, you can get help. And while folks often assume the only route to recovery is through a 12-step program, that isn’t true. Approximately 50% of people with AUD recover outside the 12-step setting. Partnering with a therapist is an excellent way to begin.