Learn / How Do I Know If I Have an Alcohol Problem

How Do I Know If I Have an Alcohol Problem

Dr. Malasri Chaudhery-Malgeri, Ph.D.
 March 16th, 2020

Alcohol is a substance that may become a problem in someone’s life regardless of how much alcohol one drinks or how frequently (although regular and heavy use generally indicate a problem). Alcohol misuse may mean drinking over the recommended guidelines, becoming physically dependent on alcohol, or drinking for emotional reasons. 

Alcohol use disorders are determined through an assessment by a health professional who has gone through training to diagnose based on standards provided by credited research.

What makes alcohol a problem?

Alcohol is so common and seemingly everyone drinks alcohol, so at what point can it become a problem?

A person may notice they have an alcohol problem if they start neglecting life responsibilities to consume alcohol. They may notice alcohol has become a problem in their life when they feel the need to drink alcohol to do daily functions, cope, grieve, or numb their emotions.

Another way someone may notice that alcohol has become a problem is if their behavior causes negative consequences in their life or the lives of others.

It is important to note that someone does not have to be an “alcoholic” to have a problem with alcohol. Alcohol use disorders are based on the individual’s assessment.

DSM-V and ICD-10 criteria for Alcohol Use Disorders

The table below features the DSM-V and ICD-10 criteria for an alcohol use disorder; both are beneficial to use as a guide for if alcohol may be a problem in your life or your loved one’s life. 

This table is not to be used as a self-diagnosis. Please seek help from a health professional for more detailed information and for a diagnosis about a possible alcohol use disorder that you or your loved one may be experiencing.

The presence of at least 2 of the symptoms in the chart below indicates an individual may have an Alcohol Use Disorder (AUD). The severity of the AUD is defined as: Mild: 2-3 symptoms, Moderate 4-5 symptoms, and Severe 6+ symptoms.The presence of 3 or more of the following should be present together for at least 1 month, or repeatedly during a 1 year period.
In the past year, have you?Have you had?
Had times when you ended up drinking more, or longer, than you intended?A strong desire or sense of compulsion to take the psychoactive substance (alcohol)?
More than once wanted to cut down or stop drinking, or tried to, but couldn’t?Difficulties in controlling substance-taking behavior in terms of its onset, termination, or levels of use?
Spent a lot of time drinking? Or being sick or getting over other aftereffects?A physiological withdrawal state when substance use has ceased or been reduced, as evidenced by: the characteristic withdrawal syndrome for the substance; or use of the same (or a closely related) substance with the intention of relieving or avoiding withdrawal symptoms? 
Wanted a drink so badly you couldn’t think of anything else?Evidence of tolerance, such that increased doses of the psychoactive substance are required in order to achieve effects originally produced by lower doses?
Found that drinking-or being sick from drinking-after interfered with taking care of your home or family? Or caused job troubles? Or school problems?Progressive neglect of alternative pleasures or interests because of psychoactive substance use?
Continued to drink even though it was causing trouble with your family or friends?Persistent substance use despite clear evidence of overtly harmful consequences (mental and/or physical?)
Given up or cut back on activities that were important or interesting to you, or gave you pleasure, in order to drink?
More than once gotten into situations while or after drinking that increase your chances of getting hurt (such as driving, swimming, using machinery, walking in a dangerous area?)
Continued to drink even though it was making you feel depressed or anxious or adding to another health problem? Or after having had a memory blackout?
Had to drink much more than you once did to get the effect you want? Or found that your usual number of rinks had much less effect than before?
Found that when the effects of alcohol were wearing off, you had withdrawal symptoms, such as trouble sleeping, shakiness, restlessness, nausea, sweating or racing heart?

DSM-V is a list of criteria that helps determine if an individual may have an Alcohol Use Disorder. The DSM-V is the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders developed by the American Psychiatric Association in 1952. As research and data continues, the APA updates the DSM with current information which is why there is the letter V for the 5th edition.

ICD-10 is a list of criteria that helps determine if an individual may have an Alcohol Use Disorder. The ICD-10 is the International Classification of Diseases developed by the United States National Center for Health Statistics (NCHS) in 1893. As research and data continues, the APA reviews and updates the ICD with current information which is why there is the number 10 for the 10th revision.

How Can You Find Out?

Many will say if you’re questioning, then that means you have an alcohol problem and should seek help. Here are a few other ways you can find out if you have an alcohol problem.

Talk to Your GP

Perhaps one of the best and easiest ways to find out if you have an alcohol problem is to candidly talk to your general practitioner about your alcohol use. GPs can conduct an assessment and refer you to another health professional or level of care if needed.

Get an Assessment with a Mental Health Professional

Another recommended way to know if you have an alcohol problem is to get an assessment with a mental health professional. Since they’re experts, they’ll be able to assess the severity of an alcohol use disorder and recommend the level of treatment you need. You can talk to your GP about an assessment or find other providers who can give one.

Try Minimizing or Stopping Alcohol

Note: this is NOT safe for everyone, especially if you consistently drink, as alcohol withdrawal can be life-threatening. If you casually drink though and think you may have a problem, see if you can go without alcohol or significantly reduce your alcohol intake. Does it cause anxiety? Are you struggling to stop? 

Take an Online Quiz

Here are a few common online quizzes regarding alcohol consumption. The general quizzes below are not meant to be a diagnosis, but a guide for alcohol use.

  • A 10 question quiz that helps determine if alcohol use in your life is causing you to be at low risk, medium-risk, or high risk for having an Alcohol Use Disorder. alcohol.org
  • A 15 question quiz that helps determine if alcohol use is a problem in your life. All questions are either true or false. allthetests.com
  • A 11 question quiz that uses the DSM-V approach to determine if you may have an alcohol use disorder. This quiz has the results of the answered questions on a spectrum of mild, moderate, or severe. menshealth.com

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