How do you know if someone is an alcoholic?

Danielle Joel
Danielle Joel
Compassionate Mental Health Care

The clinical term for alcoholism is “Alcohol Use Disorder,” which is defined by the American Psychological Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 5th Edition (known as the “DSM-5”). There are 11 symptoms that are described in this diagnostic tool to help health care providers determine whether their patients suffer from an alcohol use disorder. 

11 Signs of an Alcohol Use Disorder

  1. You drink more alcohol or you drink over a longer period of time than you intend to.
  2. You have persistently wanted to and/or tried to cut down the amount of alcohol that you drink or stop drinking completely, but you have been unsuccessful.
  3. You spend a great deal of time seeking out alcohol, using alcohol, and recovering from the effects of alcohol.
  4. You find yourself having strong cravings, desires, or urges to use alcohol.
  5. Your use of alcohol leads to your inability to fulfill your obligations at work, home, or school.
  6. You continue to use alcohol even after your drinking has caused problems in your social life or interpersonal relationships.
  7. Your use of alcohol leads to a reduction in or disengagement with important social, occupational, or recreational activities.
  8. You find yourself recurrently using alcohol in situations that are physically hazardous to you.
  9. You continue to use alcohol despite your awareness that your drinking has caused or exacerbates a physical or psychological problem.
  10. You have developed tolerance to alcohol, which is defined as needing larger amounts of alcohol to obtain the desired intoxication level or feeling a reduced effect when you drink the same amount of alcohol.
  11. You develop withdrawal symptoms when you don’t drink alcohol, or you use alcohol (or a closely related substance) in order to prevent withdrawal symptoms. Withdrawal symptoms include: sweating, fast pulse rate, hand tremor, insomnia, nausea or vomiting, hallucinations or illusions (visual, tactile, or auditory), psychomotor agitation, anxiety, generalized tonic-clonic seizures.
  • A person who has 2 to 3 of the above symptoms is considered to have a “mild” alcohol use disorder.
  • A person who has 4 to 5 of the above symptoms is considered to have a “moderate” alcohol use disorder.
  • A person who has 6 or more of the above symptoms is considered to have a “severe” alcohol use disorder.
The information above is intended as general information...  (more)The information above is intended as general information based on minimal information, and does not constitute health care advice. This information does not constitute communication with a counselor/therapist nor does it create a therapist-client relationship nor any of the privileges that relationship may provide.   If you are currently feeling suicidal or are in crisis, call 911 or proceed to your local emergency room.

Wikipedia states, Alcoholism In a medical context, alcoholism is said to exist when two or more of the following conditions is present: a person drinks large amounts over a long time period, has difficulty cutting down, acquiring and drinking alcohol takes up a great deal of time, alcohol is strongly desired, usage results in not fulfilling responsibilities, usage results in social problems, usage results in health problems, usage results in risky situations, withdrawal occurs when stopping, and alcohol tolerance has occurred with use.  Hope that helps.  

The information above is intended as general information...  (more)The information above is intended as general information based on minimal information, and does not constitute health care advice. This information does not constitute communication with a counselor/therapist nor does it create a therapist-client relationship nor any of the privileges that relationship may provide.   If you are currently feeling suicidal or are in crisis, call 911 or proceed to your local emergency room.
Sobha Vakhariya
Sobha Vakhariya
Oakland County Psychotherapist

Our culture "normalizes" drinking but a psychotherapist can diagnose someone with an alcohol problem.  They can use various scales as well as the diagnostic manual ICD-10 to assist them in making the proper diagnosis.


The information above is intended as general information...  (more)The information above is intended as general information based on minimal information, and does not constitute health care advice. This information does not constitute communication with a counselor/therapist nor does it create a therapist-client relationship nor any of the privileges that relationship may provide. If you are currently feeling suicidal or are in crisis, call 911 or proceed to your local emergency room.
Lauren Ostrowski, MA, LPC, NCC, DCC, CCTP
Lauren Ostrowski, MA, LPC, NCC, DCC, CCTP
I tailor my therapeutic approach to each client's strengths and goals

Basically, being an alcoholic means that someone really depends upon alcohol and does not function well or becomes sick if they do not have it.

There is also this acronym that may help:

  1. Have you ever felt you needed to Cut down on your drinking?
  2. Have people Annoyed you by criticizing your drinking?
  3. Have you ever felt Guilty about drinking?
  4. Have you ever felt you needed a drink first thing in the morning (Eye-opener) to steady your nerves or to get rid of a hangover?

There is an online assessment from the National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence: https://www.ncadd.org/get-help/take-the-test/am-i-alcoholic-self-test There is other information on this site as well.

The information above is intended as general information...  (more)The information above is intended as general information based on minimal information, and does not constitute health care advice. This information does not constitute communication with a counselor/therapist nor does it create a therapist-client relationship nor any of the privileges that relationship may provide. If you are currently feeling suicidal, as if you want to hurt or kill yourself or someone else, or are in crisis, call 800-273-8255 (24 hours a day, 7 days a week), call 911, or proceed to your local emergency room.

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