Am I An Alcoholic?

Addiction comes in many forms: drugs/alcohol, food, sex, money, work, etc., etc. In some respects I do believe we live in an addictive society. It’s like we can never be satisfied with what we have. We have to have more. Often this can produce disastrous results. When you consider the costs associated with addiction, the losses are in the billions of dollars. Healthcare, work productivity, and the legal/penal system are overburdened as a result.

But what about on a personal level? After all, isn’t this where it all begins? 15 million people in the U.S. are affected by alcohol abuse or dependence. So let’s take a look at alcohol addiction from a purely clinical definition. In addiction treatment we determine if a person falls into either an abuse or dependence category. The criteria used to determine this is found in the DSM-IV TR (the DSM V will be released in May 2013 ). Essentially, when evaluating someone for either abuse or dependence we are looking at how the individual’s use has affected a variety of major life areas within a 12 month period.. At least three of the following criteria have to be met:

  • Tolerance
  • Withdrawal symptoms or clinically defined Alcohol Withdrawal Syndrome
  • Use in larger amounts or for longer periods than intended
  • Persistent desire or unsuccessful efforts to cut down on alcohol use
  • Time is spent obtaining alcohol or recovering from effects
  • Social, occupational and recreational pursuits are given up or reduced because of alcohol use
  • Use is continued despite knowledge of alcohol-related harm (physical or psychological)

Another diagnosis used is that of alcohol abuse which is not as severe as alcohol dependence. Alcohol abuse can, however, be a pre-cursor for alcohol dependence. One of the following criteria must be met:

  • Recurrent alcohol use resulting in a failure to fulfill major role obligations at work, school, or home (e.g., repeated absences or poor work performance related to alcohol use; alcohol-related absences, suspensions, or expulsions from school; neglect of children or household)
  • Recurrent alcohol use in situations in which it is physically hazardous (e.g., driving an automobile or operating a machine when impaired by alcohol use)
  • Recurrent alcohol-related legal problems (e.g., arrests for alcohol-related disorderly conduct)
  • Continued alcohol use despite having persistent or recurrent social or interpersonal problems caused or exacerbated by the effects of the alcohol (e.g., arguments with spouse about consequences of Intoxication, physical fights)

Despite the criteria used or the clinical definition of alcoholism, an individual must look at oneself and examine how his use has impacted his life. The person may be in denial or use other defense mechanisms to protect one’s use. But since alcoholism is a progressive disease, in most cases there will be negative consequences unless the person stops drinking.

So, are you an alcoholic? In the end, you have to be the one to answer that question.

APA Reference
Shallowhorn, K. (2013, March 18). Am I An Alcoholic?, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2024, May 30 from

Author: Karl Shallowhorn, MS, CASAC

March, 23 2013 at 2:11 pm

Good stuff, Karl.

Am I Mentally Ill? | Breaking Bipolar
March, 21 2013 at 9:33 am

[...] Karl Shallowhorn of our Debunking Addiction blog wrote a post called, Am I An Alcoholic? This got me to thinking about another question that people ask: Am I mentally [...]

Ernie Richards
March, 21 2013 at 3:14 am

Yes I am an alcoholic and have been for many years. Recently I was diagnosed with bipolar and am working on staying dry so I can learn to deal with the bipolar. It is not easy as I am also a drug addict.

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