Disclaimer: The material and information contained on this website is for educational purposes only.

What Is DSM 5 Alcoholism?

Understanding the DSM 5 classification of alcoholism can help you gain a better understanding of your situation and find the support you need.

What Is DSM 5 Alcoholism?

Alcohol Use Disorder (AUD) is a term used to describe a chronic and relapsing condition characterized by a problematic pattern of alcohol consumption. It is a recognized mental health disorder that can have significant negative impacts on an individual's physical and mental well-being. Understanding AUD and its criteria is crucial in recognizing and addressing the challenges associated with alcohol misuse.

What is Alcohol Use Disorder (AUD)?

Alcohol Use Disorder, as defined by the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5), is a diagnostic category that encompasses a range of alcohol-related issues. It is characterized by impaired control over alcohol consumption, leading to significant distress and functional impairment in various areas of life.

Individuals with AUD may experience symptoms such as:

  • Craving or a strong desire to consume alcohol
  • Difficulty in controlling or cutting down alcohol consumption
  • Continued alcohol use despite negative consequences
  • Spending significant time obtaining, using, or recovering from alcohol's effects
  • Neglecting or reducing important social, occupational, or recreational activities due to alcohol use

The severity of AUD is determined by the number of symptoms present, ranging from mild to severe.

Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5)

The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition (DSM-5), is a widely-used manual published by the American Psychiatric Association (APA) that provides criteria for diagnosing mental health disorders. It serves as a valuable resource for clinicians and researchers in the field of psychiatry.

Within the DSM-5, AUD is classified under the category of Substance-Related and Addictive Disorders. The manual outlines specific criteria for diagnosing AUD, helping healthcare professionals assess the severity and impact of alcohol misuse on an individual's life.

The DSM-5 criteria for AUD include various aspects related to alcohol consumption, such as the presence of withdrawal symptoms, tolerance, and unsuccessful efforts to quit or cut down drinking.

Understanding AUD and its criteria is an important step towards recognizing and addressing the challenges associated with alcohol misuse. Seeking professional help and support networks can provide individuals with the guidance and resources needed to cope with AUD effectively.

DSM-5 Criteria for Alcohol Use Disorder

To effectively diagnose and understand Alcohol Use Disorder (AUD), mental health professionals refer to the criteria outlined in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition (DSM-5). This manual provides a standardized framework for identifying and assessing AUD. Let's explore the overview of DSM-5 criteria and the assessment of severity levels.

Overview of DSM-5 Criteria

The DSM-5 criteria for AUD consist of 11 symptoms that indicate the presence and severity of the disorder. To receive a diagnosis of AUD, an individual must meet at least two of the following criteria within a 12-month period:

  • Alcohol is often taken in larger amounts or over a longer period than intended.
  • There is a persistent desire or unsuccessful efforts to cut down or control alcohol use.
  • A great deal of time is spent in activities necessary to obtain alcohol, use alcohol, or recover from its effects.
  • Craving or a strong desire or urge to use alcohol.
  • Recurrent alcohol use resulting in failure to fulfill major obligations at work, school, or home.
  • Continued alcohol use despite having persistent or recurrent social or interpersonal problems caused or exacerbated by the effects of alcohol.
  • Important social, occupational, or recreational activities are given up or reduced because of alcohol use.
  • Recurrent alcohol use in situations in which it is physically hazardous.
  • 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.
  • Tolerance, as defined by either:
  • A need for increased amounts of alcohol to achieve the desired effect.
  • A diminished effect with continued use of the same amount of alcohol.
  • Withdrawal, as manifested by either:
  • The characteristic withdrawal syndrome for alcohol.
  • Alcohol is taken to relieve or avoid withdrawal symptoms.

Meeting two to three criteria indicates a mild AUD, four to five criteria indicate a moderate AUD, and six or more criteria indicate a severe AUD. It's important to note that the severity of AUD does not solely depend on the number of criteria met but also on the impact it has on an individual's life.

Assessing Severity Levels

The severity of AUD is assessed based on the number of criteria met, as mentioned above. This assessment helps clinicians understand the level of dysfunction and impairment caused by the disorder. Additionally, the severity level informs treatment decisions and helps individuals and their healthcare providers devise appropriate intervention strategies.

The severity levels for AUD are as follows:

Severity Level Criteria Met
Mild 2-3
Moderate 4-5
Severe 6 or more

Understanding the DSM-5 criteria and assessing the severity levels of AUD is crucial for accurate diagnosis and treatment planning. If you suspect you or someone you know may have AUD, it is important to seek professional help from a qualified healthcare provider.

Coping with Alcohol Use Disorder

Coping with Alcohol Use Disorder (AUD) is a journey that often requires support and professional assistance. It's important for individuals struggling with AUD to seek help, explore treatment options, and build a network of support. In this section, we will delve into seeking professional help, treatment options and approaches, as well as support networks and resources.

Seeking Professional Help

Seeking professional help is a crucial step in coping with Alcohol Use Disorder. Mental health professionals, such as psychologists, psychiatrists, and addiction counselors, can provide guidance and support throughout your recovery journey. They possess the expertise to assess your unique situation, provide diagnosis based on the DSM-5 criteria, and create personalized treatment plans. These professionals can help you address the underlying factors contributing to your alcohol use and develop effective coping strategies.

If you are unsure where to start, consult your primary care physician who can refer you to specialists in addiction medicine or mental health. Additionally, organizations such as the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) offer helplines and directories to help you find treatment providers in your area.

Treatment Options and Approaches

Various treatment options and approaches are available to assist individuals coping with Alcohol Use Disorder. The most suitable approach depends on the severity of the disorder and individual circumstances. Some common treatment options include:

Treatment Option Description
Inpatient Rehabilitation Residential programs that provide intensive treatment and support in a structured environment.
Outpatient Programs Treatment programs that allow individuals to live at home while attending therapy sessions and support groups.
Medication-Assisted Treatment (MAT) The use of medications, such as disulfiram, naltrexone, or acamprosate, in combination with counseling and behavioral therapies.
Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy (CBT) A type of therapy that helps individuals identify and change unhealthy patterns of thinking and behavior associated with alcohol use.
12-Step Programs Support groups like Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) that follow a 12-step approach to recovery, emphasizing self-help and peer support.

It's important to work closely with your healthcare provider to determine the most appropriate treatment approach for your specific needs.

Support Networks and Resources

Building a network of support is crucial for individuals coping with Alcohol Use Disorder. Surrounding yourself with understanding and empathetic individuals can provide encouragement, accountability, and valuable insights. Consider reaching out to:

  • Support groups: Joining support groups, such as Alcoholics Anonymous (AA), can connect you with others who have experienced similar challenges. These groups provide a safe space to share your struggles, gain support, and learn from the experiences of others. You can find local AA meetings through their official website or by contacting your healthcare provider.
  • Online communities: Online forums and communities dedicated to addiction recovery can offer support, resources, and a sense of belonging. Participating in these communities can help you connect with individuals who are going through similar experiences and provide a platform to share advice and encouragement.
  • Family and friends: Leaning on the support of your loved ones can be invaluable. Openly communicate with them about your journey, seek their understanding, and ask for their support. Their encouragement and involvement can make a significant difference in your recovery.

Remember, you are not alone in your journey. There are numerous resources available to help you cope with Alcohol Use Disorder. By seeking professional help, exploring treatment options, and building a network of support, you can empower yourself to navigate the challenges of AUD and work towards a healthier, alcohol-free life.

Empowering Change

Recovering from Alcohol Use Disorder (AUD) requires determination, effort, and a commitment to change. Empowering oneself is an essential step towards long-term recovery. In this section, we will explore self-help strategies, setting realistic goals, and building a healthy lifestyle to support individuals on their journey to recovery.

Self-Help Strategies for Coping with AUD

While professional help is crucial, individuals with AUD can also take steps on their own to cope with their condition. Self-help strategies can complement formal treatment and empower individuals to actively participate in their recovery. Some self-help strategies for coping with AUD include:

  • Educating oneself: Learning about AUD, its effects, and the recovery process can provide valuable insights and help individuals understand their condition better. Online resources, support group meetings, and books can be excellent sources of information.
  • Identifying triggers: Recognizing the situations, emotions, or people that trigger alcohol cravings can help individuals develop strategies to avoid or manage these triggers effectively.
  • Practicing stress management techniques: Stress is often a trigger for drinking. Engaging in stress-reducing activities such as exercise, meditation, deep breathing exercises, or pursuing hobbies can provide healthy alternatives to cope with stress.
  • Building a support system: Surrounding oneself with supportive and understanding individuals can make a significant difference in the recovery process. Connecting with support groups, friends, or family members who are empathetic and non-judgmental can provide a strong network of encouragement.
  • Engaging in healthy distractions: Finding new interests, hobbies, or activities that do not involve alcohol can help fill the void left by drinking. Exploring new passions or rediscovering old ones can provide a sense of fulfillment and purpose.

Setting Realistic Goals

Setting realistic goals is an integral part of the recovery journey. It allows individuals to break down the process into manageable steps and celebrate achievements along the way. When setting goals, it is crucial to consider the following:

  • Specificity: Clearly define the goal to make it tangible and measurable. For example, instead of setting a vague goal like "I want to drink less," set a specific goal such as "I will limit my alcohol consumption to two drinks per week."
  • Attainability: Ensure that the goal is realistic and achievable within a reasonable timeframe. Setting overly ambitious goals can lead to frustration and setbacks. Gradual progress is key to sustainable change.
  • Accountability: Hold oneself accountable by tracking progress and seeking support. Consider sharing goals with a trusted friend, family member, or support group to stay motivated and receive encouragement.
  • Flexibility: Remain open to adjusting goals as needed. Recovery is a dynamic process, and adapting goals to changing circumstances can help maintain momentum and prevent discouragement.

Building a Healthy Lifestyle

Building a healthy lifestyle is an essential component of recovery from AUD. Adopting positive habits and making healthy choices can contribute to overall well-being and support long-term sobriety. Some considerations for building a healthy lifestyle include:

  • Physical well-being: Prioritize regular exercise, sufficient sleep, and a nutritious diet. Physical activity can reduce stress, improve mood, and provide a healthy outlet for emotions. A balanced diet supports overall health and can aid in reducing alcohol cravings.
  • Emotional well-being: Seek healthy ways to manage emotions and stress, such as therapy, mindfulness practices, or journaling. Engage in activities that bring joy, relaxation, and fulfillment.
  • Social connections: Cultivate healthy relationships and surround oneself with supportive individuals who understand and respect the recovery journey. Engaging in fulfilling social interactions can provide a sense of belonging and reduce feelings of isolation.
  • Avoiding high-risk situations: Identify situations or environments where alcohol use is prevalent and actively avoid them. Developing strategies to navigate social gatherings or events without alcohol can help maintain sobriety.

By implementing self-help strategies, setting realistic goals, and building a healthy lifestyle, individuals can empower themselves on their path to recovery from AUD. Remember, each person's journey is unique, and what works for one may not work for another. It's essential to find strategies and approaches that resonate with individual needs and preferences.

Maintaining Sobriety

Once individuals with Alcohol Use Disorder (AUD) have taken steps towards recovery, it is essential to focus on maintaining sobriety in the long term. This section will explore key strategies and techniques to help individuals stay on the path of sobriety.

Relapse Prevention Techniques

Relapse prevention is a critical aspect of maintaining sobriety. It involves identifying potential triggers and developing strategies to avoid or cope with them. By recognizing high-risk situations and implementing effective techniques, individuals can reduce the likelihood of relapse.

Some common relapse prevention techniques include:

  • Identifying Triggers: Understanding the specific people, places, or emotions that might trigger the desire to drink is crucial. By recognizing these triggers, individuals can develop strategies to avoid or manage them effectively.
  • Building Coping Skills: Developing healthy coping mechanisms is vital for managing stressors and cravings. Techniques such as deep breathing exercises, mindfulness, engaging in hobbies, or seeking support from loved ones can be helpful in navigating challenging situations.
  • Implementing a Support System: Building a strong support system is crucial for maintaining sobriety. This may involve attending support group meetings such as Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) or establishing a network of friends and family who can provide encouragement and understanding.

Developing and Implementing Coping Skills

Developing effective coping skills is essential for individuals in alcohol recovery. Coping skills help individuals handle stress, manage cravings, and navigate challenging situations without turning to alcohol. Here are some coping skills that can be beneficial:

  • Healthy Distractions: Engaging in activities that divert attention away from cravings or negative emotions can be helpful. This may include exercise, reading, listening to music, or pursuing creative outlets.
  • Self-Care: Prioritizing self-care is crucial for overall well-being. Engaging in activities that promote physical and mental health, such as getting enough sleep, eating nutritious meals, and practicing relaxation techniques, can support sobriety.
  • Seeking Therapy: Therapeutic interventions, such as cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) or motivational interviewing, can provide individuals with valuable tools and strategies to cope with triggers, manage stress, and maintain sobriety. Seeking professional help can be instrumental in developing and implementing effective coping skills.

Creating a Supportive Environment

Creating a supportive environment is key to maintaining sobriety. Surrounding oneself with individuals who understand and respect the journey of recovery can provide a strong foundation for long-term success. Here are some ways to create a supportive environment:

  • Open Communication: Encouraging open and honest communication with friends and family about the challenges and victories of recovery can foster understanding and support. Sharing feelings and experiences can strengthen relationships and build a network of individuals who are invested in one's sobriety.
  • Avoiding Triggers: Minimizing exposure to environments or people that can trigger cravings is essential. This may involve making changes to social circles or avoiding situations where alcohol is present.
  • Building New Habits: Engaging in activities and hobbies that do not involve alcohol can help individuals establish a new routine and create a sense of purpose and fulfillment.

By implementing these strategies and techniques, individuals can increase their chances of maintaining sobriety and living a healthier, alcohol-free life.


Is alcoholism a choice or a disease?

While initially consuming alcohol may be a choice, the development of alcoholism is not. Research suggests that genetics and environmental factors can both play a role in the development of alcoholism.

Can you have a few drinks and still be considered an alcoholic?

The amount of alcohol consumed is not necessarily indicative of whether someone has an Alcohol Use Disorder. It is more about the inability to control one's drinking despite negative consequences.

Can someone recover from alcoholism?

Yes, recovery from alcoholism is possible with proper treatment and support. It may be a lifelong process, but many people are able to lead fulfilling lives in recovery.

Is it possible to drink socially after recovering from alcoholism?

This varies from person to person and should be discussed with a healthcare professional. For some individuals, even one drink can trigger a relapse, while others may be able to drink in moderation without issue.

Are there any medications available for treating alcoholism?

Yes, there are several medications that can be used to treat Alcohol Use Disorder. These medications work by reducing cravings or making drinking unpleasant. It is important to discuss medication options with a healthcare professional.


Alcoholism is a serious condition that can have a significant impact on one's health and life. Understanding the DSM 5 criteria for alcoholism can help individuals identify if they have a problem and seek appropriate treatment. If you think you may have a problem with alcohol, it is important to seek help from a healthcare professional who can provide you with the support and guidance you need to overcome your addiction. Remember, you are not alone, and help is available.


Recent Articles

Have Questions or Ready to Get Help Today?


We're ready to assist 24/7 with any questions about treatment for you or a loved one.

There is no cost or obligation to enter treatment when you speak with one of our admissions representatives.