What is the definition of Alcohol Use Disorder?

In its most simple definition, Alcohol Use Disorder is a mental disorder that occurs when you engage in a problematic pattern of alcohol use that leads to significant impairment or distress.

To meet criteria according to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, a manual used for the assessment and diagnosis of mental disorders, you need to experience at least two of the following symptoms within a 12-month period (American Psychiatric Association,2013): 

  1. Alcohol is often taken in larger amounts or over a longer period than was intended
  2. There is a persistent desire or unsuccessful efforts to cut down or control alcohol use.
  3. A great deal of time is spent in activities necessary to obtain alcohol, use alcohol, or recover from its effects.
  4. Craving, or a strong desire or urge to use alcohol.
  5. Recurrent alcohol use resulting in a failure to fulfill major role obligations at work, school, or home.
  6. Continued alcohol use despite having persistent or recurrent social or interpersonal problems caused or exacerbated by the effects of alcohol.
  7. Important social, occupational, or recreational activities are given up or reduced because of alcohol use.
  8. Recurrent alcohol use in situations in which it is physically hazardous.
  9. Alcohol use is continued despite knowledge of having a persistent or recurrent physical or psychological problem that is likely to have been caused or exacerbated by alcohol.
  10. Tolerance, as defined by either of the following: a) A need for markedly increased amounts of alcohol to achieve intoxication or desired effect, or b) A markedly diminished effect with continued use of the same amount of alcohol.
  11. Withdrawal, as manifested by either of the following: a) The characteristic withdrawal syndrome for alcohol b) Alcohol (or a closely related substance, such as a benzodiazepine) is taken to relieve or avoid withdrawal symptoms.

When a person is diagnosed with Alcohol Use Disorder, the severity of the condition is also recorded and is determined by the number of symptoms they have. 

Mild: 2-3 symptoms present

Moderate: 4-5 symptoms present

Severe: 6 or more symptoms present

Is alcoholism genetic?

Research has shown that genes play a large part in determining the risk levels of alcoholism. Although people can inherit alcoholic tendencies, the development of an alcohol use disorder is also dependent on social and environmental factors.

What treatment options are available?

Depending on how severe it is, the treatment for Alcohol Use Disorder will vary. We recommend that you talk to your GP or local doctor as their job is to identify a tailored plan that is just right for you.

The following are some types of treatment that may be available:

Medication: There are particular drugs that may help prevent you from drinking. While some don’t stop your urge to drink, they cause physical reactions including flushing, nausea, vomiting and headaches if you do drink. Others can block the good feelings that alcohol causes.

Detoxification/rehab facilities: In these programs withdrawal symptoms may be medically managed. A formal detox program is normally done through an in-patient treatment centre or hospital.

Behavioural treatment: Counselling and therapy in group or individual formats can help you better understand your relationship with alcohol, your triggers, and how to combat your urges, as well as address any unhelpful thinking patterns.

Alcohol is a drug that has immediate effects, but also has an influence on the body over the long term. For more info, please talk to your GP or consult the alcohol guidelines from the National Health & Medical Research Council.