Understanding The Criteria For Alcohol Use Disorder

Alcohol use disorder (AUD), also known as alcoholism, is a complex and multifaceted condition characterized by an inability to control alcohol consumption despite negative consequences. It involves heavy or frequent drinking that leads to emotional distress or physical harm. This disorder can range from mild to severe and is associated with various risks and health issues. Although drinking alcohol is a widely accepted social practice, those with an alcohol use disorder (AUD) drink to excess, often endangering both themselves and others. Alcohol use interferes with their work, school, family, and other responsibilities, yet they are unable to abstain from drinking despite the negative consequences.

alcohol use disorder

Factors Responsible For Increasing Alcohol Use Disorder (AUD):

Several factors that can increase the risk of developing alcohol use disorder are:

  • Genetic predisposition
  •  Early age of drinking
  • Mental health conditions
  • Environmental influences

Symptoms Of Alcohol Use Disorder (AUD):

The symptoms of alcohol use disorder include:

  • Unsuccessful attempts to cut down on drinking
  • Spending a lot of time drinking
  • Craving alcohol
  • Continuing to drink despite the problems it causes


Healthcare and addiction professionals use the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition (DSM-5) when diagnosing an AUD. The DSM-5 is the American Psychiatric Association’s definitive reference on mental health, consisting of information on over 150 mental health conditions. It was crafted through decades of research by mental health experts.

The manual describes 11 criteria or symptoms that assess the severity of alcohol misuse. The presence of two of these criteria indicates an alcohol use disorder. The severity is graded mild (2-3 criteria) moderate (4-5 criteria) and severe (6 or more criteria). Determining the level of the substance use disorder helps healthcare professionals develop the best treatment plan moving forward. 

The DSM-5 criteria are as follows:

  1. Alcohol is often taken in larger amounts or over a longer period than was intended.
  2. There is a persistent desire or unsuccessful efforts to cut down or control alcohol use.
  3. A great deal of time is spent in activities necessary to obtain alcohol, use alcohol, or recover from its effects.
  4. Craving, or a strong desire or urge to use alcohol.
  5. Recurrent alcohol use results in a failure to fulfil major role obligations at work, school, or home.
  6. Continued alcohol use despite having persistent or recurrent social or interpersonal problems caused or exacerbated by the effects of alcohol.
  7. Important social, occupational, or recreational activities are given up or reduced because of alcohol use.
  8. Recurrent alcohol use in situations in which it is physically hazardous.
  9. Alcohol use is continued despite knowledge of having a persistent or recurrent physical or psychological problem that is likely to have been caused or exacerbated by alcohol.
  10. Tolerance, as defined by either of the following: a) A need for markedly increased amounts of alcohol to achieve intoxication or desired effect; b) A markedly diminished effect with continued use of the same amount of alcohol.
  11. Withdrawal, as manifested by either of the following: a) The characteristic withdrawal syndrome for alcohol (refer to criteria A and B of the criteria set for alcohol withdrawal); b) Alcohol (or a closely related substance, such as a benzodiazepine) is taken to relieve or avoid withdrawal symptoms.

If you recognize any of these criteria in yourself or a loved one, it may be time to consider seeking treatment. There are many effective treatments for AUD including an array of behavioural therapies to help patients follow through with treatment plans. These may include Motivational Interviewing (MI), Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT), 12-step Facilitation Therapy, Person-Centred Therapy and Wellness Coaching. Although addiction treatment is not a “one size fits all” approach, early professional help can pave the way for successful recovery.

Recovery852 assists individuals and families struggling with addiction and other mental health issues like anxiety and depression. Our primary goal is to help clients break free from harmful behaviors and to shift from a life of chaos, conflict, and crisis to recovery and wellness. Contact us now.

Psychology Today “What Are the Eleven Symptoms of Alcohol Use Disorder?”

Addiction Policy Reform “DSM-5 Criteria for Addiction Simplified”