Alcoholism is a non-clinical term that people use to describe a problem with alcohol abuse. The correct medical term is alcohol use disorder. About 14 million American adults had an alcohol use disorder in 2017. Only 6.5 percent of them have received treatment in the past year. Understanding symptoms of alcoholism and alcohol use disorder may help you learn whether you need help.
The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, or DSM, indicates that someone has an alcohol use disorder when they have experienced several of the following symptoms of alcoholism within the past year:
• Drinking more heavily or for a longer period of time than they intended
• Being unable to reduce the amount of alcohol that they drink
• Experiencing illness from drinking too much
• Having cravings that make it hard to concentrate
• Having trouble maintaining daily obligations and duties because of drinking
• Continuing to consume alcohol even though it’s causing problems
• Participating less frequently in activities that they once valued
• Experiencing dangerous situations as a result of consuming alcohol
• Maintaining the habit even though it contributes to health problems
• Developing a tolerance that makes them drink more to achieve the same buzz
• Experiencing withdrawal symptoms when they don’t drink
If you’ve experienced two or three of these symptoms within a 12-month period, you have mild alcohol use disorder. Moderate alcohol use disorder is diagnosed when you’ve had four to five symptoms within that time frame. Having six or more symptoms within a year indicates that you have severe alcohol use disorder.
Alcoholism may refer to people who have developed a physical dependence on alcohol. The substance slows down your system. In an effort to help you feel normal, your central nervous system responds to regular alcohol use by speeding up your heart rate and communication between neurons. If you stop drinking, you experience withdrawal symptoms because your body can’t adapt to the lack of alcohol that quickly.
If you’re an alcoholic, you have many of the symptoms of alcoholism that are included in the DSM criteria. You might drink every day. Perhaps you refrain from drinking during the week but binge on the weekends. Either way, you may have a problem.
One of the philosophies of Alcoholics Anonymous is that only you can diagnose yourself with alcoholism. However, a qualified medical professional can diagnose you with alcohol use disorder.
If you’re worried that you have a problem, you can begin by going through the DSM questions yourself. Contact a medical professional if you have two or more symptoms. You should also talk to your doctor if you experience withdrawal symptoms when you stop drinking. You might be able to prevent a bigger issue by addressing it now.
If you’re already struggling with your alcohol use or withdrawal symptoms, you may have a little voice in your head that tells you that you need help. Don’t ignore it.
Seeking treatment for alcohol use disorder can be scary. Many people believe that there is a stigma associated with needing substance abuse counseling. Having a problem with alcohol doesn’t mean that you are weak. It just means that a chemical has changed the way that your brain and body work.
Some people avoid getting help for a substance abuse disorder because they’re afraid of withdrawal symptoms. Withdrawal symptoms from alcohol can range from uncomfortable to life-threatening. You may not experience them if you have only used alcohol periodically. But heavy drinkers may experience withdrawal symptoms such as:
• Rapid heart rate
• Rapid breathing
It can be difficult for you to manage withdrawal symptoms on your own. That’s why it’s so important to begin with an alcohol detox program that addresses the physical and psychological side effects that occur when you stop drinking.
Safely eliminating the toxic chemicals from your system allows you to begin the healing process. Once your central nervous system begins to adapt to the lack of alcohol, your withdrawal symptoms may diminish. Then, you can also start to work on other factors, such as social and emotion triggers of alcohol use.
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Understanding symptoms of alcoholism and alcohol use disorder may help you learn whether you need help.
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