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Alcoholism – A Better Understanding Of The Disease

Some experts believe there is an inherent stigma attached to the labels alcoholism and alcoholic. The suggestion is that anyone suffering from the condition is beyond help, when, in fact, alcoholism is a treatable disease. Many healthcare professionals now prefer the classification Alcohol Use Disorder (AUD).

  • Alcohol consumption is responsible for an estimated 88,000 deaths a year. A staggering number of those deaths, 70 percent, are among working age adults.

In 2013, the 5th edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM–5) was issued by the American Psychiatric Association, which contained diagnostic criteria for alcohol use disorder different from the 4th edition of the DSM.

Comparing the DSM–4 vs. DSM–5 regarding the definition of alcohol use disorder finds the following differences:

  • In the DSM-IV, alcohol dependence and alcohol abuse are disorders clearly distinct from each other. The DSM-5 integrates alcohol dependence and alcohol abuse into one disorder–AUD– and offers sub-classifications of AUD (mild, moderate and severe).
  • In the DSM-IV, diagnostic particulars for dependence and abuse were clearly separate, with abuse and dependence criteria based on a 12-month period. According to the DSM-V, if someone meets just two of 11 criteria in a 12- month period, they would probably be diagnosed with alcohol use disorder.
  • One of the DSM-IV’s criteria for alcohol abuse and dependence is legal problems. Legal problems has been eliminated from the DSM-5. However, a new criterion, cravings has been included in the DSM-V for diagnosing AUD.


According to the Mayo Clinic, alcohol use disorder is defined as;

“Alcoholism is a pattern of alcohol use that involves problems controlling your drinking, being preoccupied with alcohol, continuing to use alcohol even when it causes problems, having to drink more to get the same effect or having withdrawal symptoms when you rapidly decrease or stop drinking.”

Because so much social interaction centers around the consumption of alcohol, either professionally or with friends and family, the symptoms of alcoholism are not always simple to spot. Not everyone, as the label “alcoholic” implies, hits a “rock bottom” moment where alcohol abuse has ruined every aspect of his or her life. Many problem drinkers are able to maintain the appearance of normalcy in their everyday lives.

Chronic alcoholism, though, inevitably ravages anyone’s physical and mental health. Individuals with AUD are more likely to suffer from depression as a result of drinking too much. Conversely, people suffering from mental illness, such as post-traumatic stress disorder, anxiety attacks or bipolar disorder, are more likely to self-medicate with alcohol and end up developing a dependency or addiction to it.

Health Risks

Physically, alcohol is linked to a vast number of deadly diseases. The National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence includes some of the following health risks:

  • Cancers, such as liver, mouth, throat, larynx and esophagus
  • Pancreatitis
  • Cardiovascular issues, such as high blood pressure and heart attacks
  • Dementia
  • Increase risk for strokes
  • Greater likelihood for unintentional injuries, such as car crashes, falls and drowning

There’s no shortage of information on the negative consequences of excessive alcohol consumption. A simple internet search on alcoholism will link to page after page of statistics and analysis. What a number of prominent therapists and healthcare professionals suggest is that instead of worrying about the label “alcoholic,” honestly examine your habits and relationship to alcohol.

If you suspect or have been told that you have issues because of alcohol, alcoholism might be a factor. It’s important to remember that there is help available and people of all different races, genders and walks of life have overcome their struggle and addiction to alcohol. You can too.

The popular 12-step belief holds that alcoholism is a lifelong, progressive sickness. In contrast, a survey by the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) found that nearly 40 percent of people that developed an addiction to alcohol more than one year in the past fully recovered.

Even with advances in medical technology and a better understanding of alcoholism than ever before, excessive alcohol use remains the leading cause of preventable death in the United States. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports;

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