Problem Drinking


Problem drinking, in the context of addiction treatment, refers to the excessive, harmful and recurrent consumption of alcohol. It is an issue that impacts many individuals, families and communities. The term problem drinking to describe a range of symptoms and behaviors associated with alcohol misuse. These generally include an inability to control or limit your drinking, continued alcohol consumption despite negative consequences and difficulty functioning in daily life due to alcohol-related issues.

Problem drinking is a term used to describe an individual’s drinking habits when their drinking cause’s difficulties in their social, occupational, recreational, family and physical life.This is usually a stage people pass through on their way to becoming a fully fledged alcoholic (diagnosed with alcohol dependence).

Here are the DSM IV criteria for alcohol abuse and dependence (Addiction)

DSM-IV Criteria for Alcohol Abuse

A maladaptive pattern of alcohol abuse leading to clinically significant impairment or distress, as manifested by one or more of the following, occurring within a 12-month period:

  • Recurrent alcohol use resulting in failure to fulfil major role obligations at work, school or home (e.g., repeated absences or poor work performance related to substance use; substance-related absences, suspensions or expulsions from school; or 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).
    Recurrent alcohol-related legal problems (e.g., arrests for alcohol-related disorderly conduct).
  • Continued alcohol use despite 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 or physical fights).

These symptoms must never have met the criteria for alcohol dependence.

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DSM-IV Criteria for Alcohol Dependence

A maladaptive pattern of alcohol use, leading to clinically significant impairment or distress, as manifested by three or more of the following seven criteria, occurring at any time in the same 12-month period:

Tolerance, as defined by either of the following

A need for markedly increased amounts of alcohol to achieve intoxication or desired effect.
Markedly diminished effect with continued use of the same amount of alcohol.

Withdrawal, as defined by either of the following

  • The characteristic withdrawal syndrome for alcohol (refer to DSM-IV for further details).
  • Alcohol is taken to relieve or avoid withdrawal symptoms.
  • Alcohol is often taken in larger amounts or over a longer period than was intended.
  • There is a persistent desire or there are 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.
  • Important social, occupational or recreational activities are given up or reduced because of alcohol use.
  • 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 the alcohol (e.g., continued drinking despite recognition that an ulcer was made worse by alcohol consumption).

American Psychiatric Association. 1994. Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (4th ed.) (DSM-IV). Washington, D.C.: APA.

Problem drinking can have serious consequences on your physical and mental health. Chronic alcohol abuse can lead to liver damage, heart problems and increased risk of developing certain cancers. It can also contribute to the development of mental health disorders like depression and anxiety.

Recognising and acknowledging that you may have a problem with alcohol is an important first step towards recovery. Rehabs and addiction treatment centers use various evidence-based approaches to address problem drinking. These may include detoxification to safely manage withdrawal symptoms, therapy to address underlying issues and triggers and support groups to help individuals maintain sobriety.

Throughout history, the harmful effects of excessive alcohol consumption have been recognised. In fact, in the early 20th century, the prohibition movement in the United States aimed to ban the production, sale and consumption of alcohol due to the prevalent problem of alcohol abuse.

Terminology used within the addiction recovery community has evolved. While terms like “alcoholic” were previously used, they are now often replaced with more person-centered language, such as “person with alcohol use disorder” or “individual struggling with a drinking problem”. This shift in language aims to reduce stigma and emphasise that problem drinking is a condition that can be treated and overcome.

What is Problem Drinking? Get Addiction Help Now

Problem drinking is a term used to describe an individual’s drinking habits when their drinking cause’s difficulties in their lives. Get help from qualified counsellors.

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    Rehab care is a good option if you are at risk of experiencing strong withdrawal symptoms when you try stop a substance. This option would also be recommended if you have experienced recurrent relapses or if you have tried a less-intensive treatment without success.

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