Understanding the Terms ‘Alcohol Use Disorder’ and ‘Alcoholism’

The terms used to define drinking-related problems have changed over time, making it confusing for individuals to know what to call their specific condition when seeking treatment.

Alcoholism, alcohol dependence, alcohol abuse, alcohol use disorder — these are just some of the many terms used to describe an unhealthy relationship with alcohol.

When you visit a treatment facility or check out AA meetings in Traverse City, Michigan, you’ll come across two terms that are used most often by medical professionals and individuals in recovery when referring to drinking-related problems: alcohol use disorder (AUD) and alcoholism.

In 2015, The National Survey on Drug Use and Health reported that 15.1 million adults and 623,000 of adolescents (between 12 to 17 years old) also suffered from some form of AUD.

But what really is AUD and how does it differ from alcoholism? In this guide, we take a closer look at those two terms to reduce confusion and help individuals find the right treatment.

What is Alcohol Use Disorder (AUD)?

DSM-5 cites 11 criteria that can be used to identify a person with AUD and indicate whether it’s mild, moderate, or severe.

An individual with at least two of the symptoms listed below can indicate that there is an alcohol use disorder.

  1. The individual drinks in larger amounts or over a longer period than intended.
  2. Inability to cut down or control alcohol consumption even when desired.
  3. Spending a great deal of time searching for, recovering from, or drinking alcohol.
  4. Inability to fulfill major obligations at work, at home, or in school.
  5. Reducing or giving up time on important and recreational activities.
  6. Strained relationships with friends or family members due to alcohol use.
  7. Inability to focus or concentrate due to alcohol cravings.
  8. Increased exposure to dangerous situations, often as a result of drinking.
  9. Continuing to drink even when it has likely caused physical or psychological problems such as depression, anxiety, or recurrent blackouts.
  10. A need to drink more as a result of tolerance to alcohol.
  11. Experiencing withdrawal symptoms or drinking more alcohol to relieve symptoms of withdrawal.

Having two to three symptoms is considered a mild case while four to five symptoms indicates a moderate case of AUD. Severe causes of alcohol use disorder manifest six or more symptoms.

Getting Help for Someone With AUD

If you’re worried that you or someone you love has several of the symptoms listed above, know that you are not alone. Help is available to you and recovery is indeed possible.

You can search for local Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) meetings, consult a doctor, or consider going to a treatment facility where professionals can help you recover in a safe and controlled environment.

When being assessed for a drinking problem, a doctor will ask questions to see if you have any of the 11 symptoms listed in the DSM-5 to diagnose if you have alcohol use disorder.

What is Alcoholism?

You’ll also encounter the term “alcoholism” a lot when attending AA meetings. In fact, you’ll rarely hear someone use “alcohol use disorder” to describe a drinking-related problem. Even the National Institutes of Health refer to “alcoholism” and “alcohol use disorder” as being the same condition.

However, many medical professionals also prefer to use the term alcohol use disorder over alcoholism because the latter is commonly used by people in their everyday vocabulary, and  it is more of a catch-all term to describe someone with an unhealthy relationship with alcohol.

This means someone with alcoholism may also be referred to as someone with AUD so long as they have at least two of the symptoms listed in the DSM-V criteria.

Getting Help for Someone With Alcoholism

Because alcoholism is often not an official diagnosis, it’s best to consult with a medical professional to see whether your alcohol consumption has indeed become or is becoming a problem.

You may also attend an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting and enroll in their 12-step program. If, however, you find that the problem is more severe, you can find a treatment center and choose from their many treatment options for individuals with alcoholism.

A long-term stay in an in-patient facility can last up to 90 days. You may then be recommended to follow an outpatient program that includes several hours of intensive therapy.

For recovering alcohol users, the 12-step program offered by Alcoholics Anonymous is a great way to stay committed to your post-treatment goals and regain control over your life.

Recovery Is Possible for Individuals with Alcohol Use Disorder and Alcoholism

It can be difficult, or even dangerous, to attempt to quit alcohol use on one’s own. Withdrawal symptoms can trigger an onset of seizures, tremors, and more. This is why it’s best to seek out advice from a medical professional or approach a treatment facility for better information and resources on how to deal with alcoholism or alcohol use disorder.

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A drinking-related problem is not a life sentence. And you can start the journey towards personal healing for yourself or a loved one who is suffering from alcoholism, AUD, or whatever label is used to describe someone with an unhealthy relationship with alcohol.

 

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