Am I An Alcoholic?
By The Recovery Village
Medical Reviewer Jenni Jacobsen, LSW | Editor Theresa Valenzky
Last Updated: June 1, 2023
Editorial Policy | Research Policy
Someone who falls under the category of an alcoholic will meet the diagnostic criteria for an alcohol use disorder, which is the clinical term for alcohol addiction. An alcohol use disorder can range from mild to severe in intensity, but when a person has this condition, they will continue to drink, even when they experience significant consequences from alcohol misuse.
What Is Considered Alcoholism?
When people use the term “alcoholism,” they are referring to an alcohol use disorder (AUD), a legitimate condition listed in the DSM-5. An AUD is diagnosed when a person meets at least two diagnostic criteria. When a person has an AUD, lasting brain changes from alcohol misuse make it difficult for them to stop drinking, so they continue to drink, even when they experience consequences from drinking, such as poor health or relationship problems.
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Types of Alcoholics
It’s common for people who struggle with alcohol misuse to ask themselves, “How do I know if I am an alcoholic?” Several decades ago, experts began to classify “alcoholics” or people with alcohol addictions according to different categories:
- Young Adult Subtype: A person with this AUD category is, on average, 24.5 years old, and their alcohol problems began at an average age of 19.6 years old. This is the most common subtype, with 31.5% of people with AUD falling into this category. This subtype is moderately likely to have a family history of alcohol dependence and is likely to experience alcohol withdrawal symptoms.
- Functional Subtype: This subtype is, on average, 41 years old and more likely male than female. They are moderately likely to have a family history of alcohol dependence, and 24% of people in this subtype have depression. Those belonging to this subtype are unlikely to experience legal problems, and 62% work full-time. This subtype has the highest family income among people with AUD.
- Intermediate Familial Subtype: This category includes people around 38 years old, on average, and who began drinking around age 17. Problems with alcohol dependence start at age 32 in this subtype. Almost half of those in this category of alcohol misuse have first and second-degree relatives with a history of alcohol dependence. Co-occurring mental health disorders, including depression, bipolar disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder and generalized anxiety disorder, are common in this subtype.
- Young Antisocial Subtype: Young antisocials with alcohol use disorder are 26.4 years old, on average, and began drinking around the age of 15.5. Over half meet the criteria for antisocial personality disorder and report more antisocial behaviors than the other subtypes. They will likely have co-occurring mental health disorders, including depression, bipolar disorder, and obsessive-compulsive disorder. They are at elevated risk of experiencing problems with other substances, including marijuana, cocaine and opioids.
- Chronic Severe Subtype: This is the least common subtype of AUD, representing 9.2% of those with alcohol addiction. They are 37.8 years old on average and began drinking at the age of 15.9 years. People in this category report the second-highest number of antisocial behaviors among the five subtypes. Over three-fourths have first and second-degree relatives with a history of alcohol dependence. They are at high risk of co-occurring mental health conditions like depression and bipolar disorder. They are also at elevated risk of addiction to other substances, like cocaine and opioids. This subtype is the least likely to be employed but the most likely to seek treatment, and they report drinking an average of 247.5 days over a year.
Difference Between Casual Drinking and Alcohol Abuse
It’s important to understand the differences between alcohol abuse, alcohol use disorder and casual drinking. People who drink casually often fall under the drinking in moderation category, defined as up to two drinks per day for a man and one drink per day for a woman. Drinking within this limit reduces the risk of problems from alcohol consumption.
Alcohol abuse occurs when a person drinks excessively. Binge drinking, defined as four or more drinks on one occasion for a woman and five or more drinks for a man, falls under the category of alcohol abuse. Alcohol abuse also occurs with heavy drinking (eight or more drinks a week for a woman and 15 or more for a man). While not everyone who abuses alcohol has an AUD, alcohol abuse does increase the risk that a person will develop problems related to alcohol, including addiction.
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How Do You Know if You Are an Alcoholic?
The only way to accurately determine if you have an alcohol use disorder is to make an appointment with a physician or an addiction treatment professional who can diagnose such a condition. If you think you may have an AUD, your suspicions may be accurate if you cannot stop drinking, consume large amounts of alcohol and continue to drink, even when you experience consequences from alcohol misuse.
Warning Signs of Alcoholism
Early warning signs of alcohol use disorder can include:
- Inability to cut back on alcohol consumption (i.e., you’d like to cut down but have been unsuccessful, despite trying)
- Drinking, even when it causes problems with your family, friends or significant other
- Developing an alcohol tolerance so that large quantities are needed to feel its effects
- Giving up responsibilities as a result of alcohol use (i.e., neglecting your children or family when drinking)
Questions To Ask Yourself
If you’re concerned about your drinking, answering “yes” to the following questions suggests you may show symptoms of an alcohol use disorder, and you’d warrant following up with a professional for an assessment:
- Have you tried to cut back on drinking several times but been unsuccessful each time?
- Do your family members or significant other complain or express concern about your drinking?
- Do you continue to drink, even when it places you at risk of losing your job or neglecting your family?
- Have you developed a tolerance for alcohol, so you need large amounts just to feel a buzz?
- Do you experience withdrawal symptoms, like nausea, shakiness and sweating, when you haven’t had a drink in a while?
- Do you continue to drink, even when it causes or worsens a health problem, like high blood pressure?
- Have you continued to place yourself in danger due to drinking, such as driving when under the influence?
- Have you found yourself drinking much larger quantities of alcohol than intended?
- Do you experience intense alcohol cravings?
- Have you given up hobbies or activities you used to enjoy because you’re spending most of your free time drinking?
- Do you spend significant amounts of time drinking or recovering from the effects of a hangover?
Getting Help for Alcoholism
If you answered yes to a few or more questions, you might have an alcohol use disorder, the clinical term for alcoholism. Remember that only a doctor or addiction professional can diagnose an alcohol use disorder, so it’s important to reach out for professional treatment if you’re worried about your drinking.
The best course of treatment for alcohol use disorder differs for each person. Some people may benefit from inpatient treatment, where they live on-site at a treatment facility. Others may benefit from outpatient programs that allow them to continue to live in the community. Regardless of the treatment setting, recovery from alcohol use disorder usually involves participating in several treatments, including individual and group counseling and support groups. Some people may also take medication to reduce alcohol cravings.
For those in the New Jersey area, The Recovery Village Cherry Hill at Cooper offers a full continuum of alcohol addiction treatment services, including medical detox, inpatient services and intensive outpatient care. Our state-of-the-art inpatient facility features 55,000 square feet of space, a yoga room, multiple entertainment lounges and a fully-equipped fitness facility. Contact us today to learn more about our service offerings.
Our Recovery Advocates are ready to answer your questions about addiction treatment and help you start your recovery.
National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. “Understanding Alcohol Use Disorder.”>[…]Use Disorder.” April 2021. Accessed February 17, 2023.
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Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. “Alcohol Use and Your Health.”>” April 14, 2022. Accessed February 17, 2023.
Buu, A., Wang, W., Schroder, S. A., Kalaida, N. L., Puttler, L. I., & Zucker, R. A. “Developmental emergence of alcohol use d[…]ly adulthood.” Journal of Abnormal Psychology, 2012. Accessed February 17, 2023.