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  • Alcohol use disorder (or AUD) and alcoholism both refer to a wide-range of alcohol problems

    Alcohol use disorder is a professional medical term, used by doctors and medical texts such as the fifth Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5). Alcoholism is often used in non-medical settings if you are talking with family members or with a support group.

    Both terms can refer to a number of health problems caused by drinking alcohol, including alcohol dependency, alcohol addiction, and alcohol withdrawal. However, not every form of alcohol use disorder has all of these symptoms.

    Understanding The Term “Alcohol Use Disorder”

    “Alcohol use disorder” became an official medical diagnosis in the DSM-5, which was published in 2013. Before the DSM-5, mental health diagnoses concerning drinking problems were separated into alcohol abuse and alcohol dependence.

    Alcohol-related health conditions have been studied for centuries, but people struggling with an unhealthy pattern of drinking were historically shunned or treated poorly. 

    Only in the mid-20th century did health organizations start treating alcohol abuse as a serious health problem, coining terms such as “alcohol dependence.” Today, the term “alcohol use disorder” is widely used by medical professionals and certified websites.

    Understanding The Term “Alcoholism”

    Records of the word “alcoholism” vary, with its first uses coming somewhere in the late 1840s or early 1850s. It originally referred to a person who habitually drinks. This habitual drinking could be later diagnosed as an alcohol addiction or alcohol dependence.

    Today, you may hear the word “alcoholism” by non-medical professionals. It can even be used when talking about alcohol problems that are not AUDs, such as binge drinking and alcohol poisoning.

    The worldwide support group Alcoholics Anonymous uses the term to help bring people together and talk about their struggles with alcohol together.

    What Counts As An Alcohol Use Disorder?

    Alcohol use disorder is defined as an inability to stop drinking alcohol, even if you are experiencing the negative effects of alcohol. Common forms of alcohol use disorder include:

    • a physical alcohol dependence
    • withdrawal symptoms when you try to stop drinking
    • unhealthy long-term drinking habits, including constant heavy drinking
    • spending a lot of time thinking about drinking
    • continuing to drink despite health problems

    Health problems connected to AUDs include heart and liver damage, increased risk for certain types of cancers, and increased risk for other forms of substance abuse including opioids.

    Other problems related to drinking alcohol, such as binge drinking, blackouts, and legal problems, are not types of alcohol use disorders on their own.

    Treating Alcohol Abuse & Addiction 

    If you struggle with the amount of alcohol you consume on a regular basis, your family members or loved ones may suggest that you have alcoholism. These problems with drinking may be diagnosed as an alcohol use disorder by a medical professional.

    If you have a proper diagnosis, you may benefit from an inpatient treatment program where you can focus on your health. Even if you do not have a diagnosis yet, seeking treatment can put you on the path to recovery early.

    Abuse and addiction treatment programs for alcohol vary but often include a medically supervised detox, management of withdrawal symptoms, and psychotherapy. To find a treatment program that will benefit your health, talk to your healthcare provider or contact us today.

    Written by Ark Behavioral Health Editorial Team
    ©2023 Ark National Holdings, LLC. | All Rights Reserved.
    This page does not provide medical advice.

    Centers for Disease Control and Prevention - Excessive Alcohol Use
    Merriam-Webster - Alcoholism
    National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism - Alcohol Use Disorder: A Comparison Between DSM–IV and DSM–5
    National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism - Understanding Alcohol Use Disorder
    PubMed Central - The Classification of Substance Use Disorders: Historical, Contextual, and Conceptual Considerations

    Medically Reviewed by
    Manish Mishra, MBBS
    on August 9, 2022
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