Am I An Alcoholic?

That you ask this question suggests that you (or others) have some concerns about your drinking. Let me answer by first giving you some context about the word “alcoholic.”

Alcoholism or being an alcoholic has not been a diagnosis for over 38 years now. The problem with the term, aside from the stigma, is that it begs a yes or no answer and assumes that heavy drinking and alcohol problems are all or nothing. That could not be further from the truth.

The diagnosis first shifted from alcoholism to alcohol abuse and dependence in 1980. The shifting diagnoses recognized that there are many people with less severe problems compared to the severely dependent. That distinction though was still not nuanced enough and now we have the term Substance Use Disorder (SUD). With this new diagnostic system (In 2013), one’s clinical picture can range from mild to severe (a function of how many symptoms one has).

The diagnosis of SUD is now on a continuum. It’s like hypertension. You can have a little elevation in your blood pressure at the low end to severely high blood pressure at the high end.

What’s interesting and contrary to media portrayals of heavy drinkers is that the vast majority of people with alcohol problems are not at the severe end of the spectrum. Actually there are 4-5x as many people on the lower end of the spectrum than at the severe end of the spectrum.

So the answer to your question isn’t a yes or no. Instead the answer lies somewhere on the continuum of none to mild to moderate, to severe.

To give you some objective feedback, we have a free screening available around the clock at CheckUp & Choices. The Alcohol Use Disorder Identification Test (AUDIT) we have there was developed by the World Health Organization (WHO) and has been validated in clinical trials around the world. So if you’re wondering where you lie on the spectrum, click here to take the free screener and get some objective feedback.

Dr. Reid K. Hester, PhD,  is a clinical psychologist who has been at the forefront of alcohol abuse research and treatment for over forty years. He is the Director of the Research Division of CheckUp & Choices.

His clinical research, funded by National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) and National Institute of Health (NIH) since 1992, has focused on developing digital interventions to help people with alcohol and drug problems.  Dr. Hester has published more than 60 papers and 3 books on addiction.