You might be surprised to learn that there is no official diagnosis for chronic alcoholism. Although the condition quite clearly exists – there is no refuting – what has been termed as alcoholism within the wider mainstream has simply been referred to as “severe alcohol abuse disorder’ by the DSM-5. If you present with two or more of the associated symptoms presented as being consistent with alcoholism, you’ll find yourself falling somewhere on the spectrum of alcohol addiction.
However, what it means to resort to chronic alcohol abuse is very much misunderstood. People who are mentally well-adjusted can fall into the binge drinking category and switch the behavioural mechanism on and off seemingly at will. They don’t need to drink; they simply enjoy – to excess. The dependent drinker on the other hand, often does so in response to some form of trauma, self-identified deficiency in character or perhaps another issue relating to self-esteem.
Associated Symptoms with Alcohol Abuse
As with most substance abuse disorders, most people will insist that, ‘They’re fine,’ and have everything under control as their life falls apart around them. People will defend their misuse of alcohol as, in most cases, it becomes their only ally, the one constant they can depend on, despite the negative effects it has on them. There are 11 associated symptoms that indicate a case of alcoholism. The more of the symptoms you identify with, the more severe and urgent is your need to seek help.
- Alcohol is often ingested in larger amounts than was originally intended
- There a continued effort required and attempted cut back to maintain a functioning lifestyle, which often results in failure
- A disproportionate amount of times spent on activities relating to alcohol – to obtain it, to use it, and recover from its effects
- There is a carving or strong desire/urge to use alcohol
- The use of alcohol results in the failure to fulfil important obligations at work, home or school
- There is continued alcohol use despite it causing recurrent and/or persistent social and interpersonal problems that are caused by or exacerbated by the effects of alcohol
- Important and once meaningful social, occupational, or recreational activities are given up or reduced due to the use of alcohol
- There is recurrent alcohol use in situations that would be described as hazardous
- Alcohol use is continued despite knowledge of it having a persistent or recurrent physical and/or psychological problem which is increased by the intake of more alcohol
- There is increased tolerance which is marked by both a decreased effect of what is currently being ingested and the need to ingest larger quantities to achieve the same effect as before
- There are withdrawal symptoms when a detox is attempted only for there to be a rebound effect.
What Does an Alcohol Abuse Diagnosis Look Like?
In UK, there an estimated 568,780 dependent drinker with only approximately 18% of those receiving any kind of support or treatment. To be diagnosed with an alcohol use disorder (AUD), individuals must experience two of the following eleven criteria during the same 12 month period, according to the DSM-5:
- Drinking more than intended
- Trying to quit without success
- Increased alcohol-seeking behaviour
- Missing work or school due to drinking
- Interference with important activities
- Craving for alcohol
- Drinking despite experiencing social or personal problems
- Continued use despite health problems
- Drinking in hazardous situations
- Build up of tolerance
- Withdrawals when trying to quit
Sub-Types of Alcohol Abuse
Alcohol use disorder is also divided into sub-classifications the are mild, moderate and severe:
Mild: If you’re only presenting with two to three of the eleven symptoms, you would be classed as having a mild disorder.
Moderate: If you have four to five symptoms, you would likely be classed as having a case moderate of alcohol use disorder
Severe: If you have six or more of the symptoms, you have severe case of alcohol abuse disorder
What Treatments are Available for Alcohol Dependent Individuals?
A big part of recovering from AUD is working with a trained professional who can help you better understand your relationship with alcohol. As AUD is often a symptom itself of something much larger that is mostly likely underpinning the condition, behavioural therapy is a great way to address those co-occurring mental health issues that are preventing you from making a full recovery by yourself. Here are some of the main options:
- Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT): The aim of CBT is to help you recognise and avoid the situations that are serving as your main triggers and are causing you to choose alcohol instead of sobriety.
- Motivational Enhancement Therapy: This form of therapy aims to help you improve your motivation and stop drinking.
- Family Therapy: This aims to help the affected family of the individual in the midst of alcohol abuse get touch with their own needs, and can often help prevent substance abuse from being passed down from one generation to the next.
- Interventions: This aims to get the individual to question their own behaviour by having people they know and care about relate to them what they’re doing to themselves and what they’re putting at stake by continuing down the path they’re going.
Managing Your Alcohol Abuse Independently
In addition to seeking the appropriate treatment to help you make a full recovery, there of course needs to be an element of managing your dependency in between therapy sessions and any other form of face-to-face support you may receive. There has to be an element of personal accountability and self-regulation. And that comes from knowing your triggers and taking the appropriate steps to avoid them.
Some common triggers include:
- Emotional Distress
- Environmental cues that cause cravings
- Seeing people who are using drink and drugs
- Relationship turmoil
- Job issues or financial stress
About the author:
Dr Becky Spelman is a leading UK Psychologist who’s had great success helping her clients manage and overcome a multitude of mental illnesses.
***If you’re struggling with alcohol use disorder and think you might benefit from speaking to someone, we offer a FREE 15-MINUTE CONSULTATION with one of our specialists to help you find the best way to move forward. You can book yours here
Heathline (29th Sept 2018) What is alcoholism, or alcohol use disorder? Retrieved on 23rd June 2021 from, https://www.healthline.com/health/alcoholism/basics
Psychology Today (3rd Dec 2020) Alcohol Use Disorder. Retrieved on 23rd June 2021 from, https://www.psychologytoday.com/gb/conditions/alcohol-use-disorder
Very Well Mind (30th Aug 2019) What an Alcohol Use Disorder Diagnosis Means. Retrieved on 23rd June 2021 from, https://www.verywellmind.com/diagnosis-alcohol-use-disorder-67880