The term Alcohol Use Disorder is a relatively new one, explains Lewis Nelson, MD, of NYU Langone Medical Center in New York City. Listed in the recently updated Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (known as the DSM-V), published in May, 2013 by the American Psychiatric Association, the term brings together several forms of problematic alcohol use.

“Patients with excessive or dangerous alcohol use are now given the medical diagnosis of ‘alcohol use disorder,’" says Nelson, who is board-certified in addiction medicine. “Depending on how many criteria a person meets, he may be diagnosed as having mild, moderate, or severe alcohol use disorder.”

Prior to the introduction of AUD as a single disorder, patients could be diagnosed with either alcohol abuse or the more serious alcohol dependence. AUD offers a less rigid way to define and think about problematic alcohol use.

How Common is AUD?

Very common. Statistics from the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism show that approximately 7.2 percent of adults in the United States age 18 or older had an alcohol use disorder (AUD) in 2012. The disorder affects around 11.2 million men and 5.7 million women.

It's also estimated that 68.5 million Americans will have an alcohol use disorder (AUD) at some time in their lives, according to data collected by the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism.

A recent study in the journal JAMA Psychiatry states that alcohol use disorder has become a “highly prevalent, highly comorbid, disabling disorder that often goes untreated in the U.S."

Who Is at Risk for AUD?

“If you are having a couple of drinks every day, you have a problem with alcohol,” says Scott Krakower, DO, assistant unit chief of psychiatry at Hillside Zucker Hospital in Glen Oaks, N.Y. “There are different levels of risk, and even if you are at a lower risk, it can still be a concern.”

If you worry that you or someone close to you could have an AUD, there are a variety of criteria in the DSM-V that enable you to find out. Among the 11 questions to ask yourself are:

  • Have you had times when you ended up drinking more, or longer, than you intended?
  • Do you continue to drink even though it’s causing problems with family or friends?
  • Have you more than once wanted to cut down or stop drinking, or tried to, but couldn’t?

Individuals who meet any two of the 11 questions get a diagnosis of AUD. See the full list at the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism website

Additionally, a self-assessment method that lets you learn whether you have a drinking problem may be found online at Rethinking Drinking, a National Institute of Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism website that provides information about drinking and how to do it safely.

Is Recovery Possible?

Is it possible to get over an alcohol use disorder? “The outcomes are variable but overall helpful,” Nelson says. “Remission and relapse rates remain high, but many patients can resume successful family relationships and careers.”

In terms of treatment, therapy should be individualized, he says, and while some people respond best to psychological intervention and others to a medication-based form of therapy, most patients receive both, Nelson notes. “An alcohol use disorder is a lifelong concern for everyone who completes the initial therapy,” he says. “Maintenance therapy of some form is almost always required.”

Scott Krakower, DO, reviewed this article.


Krakower, Scott, DO. Phone interview July 9, 2015.

Nelson, Lewis. Email interview July 10, 2015.

“Alcohol Use Disorder.” National Institute on Alcohol Use and Alcoholism. Date accessed: July 18, 2015.

“Rethinking Drinking.” National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. National Institutes of Health. Accessed July 18, 2015.

“Alcohol Use Disorder Affects ‘1 in 3 Americans’ in Their Lifetime.” Medical News Today. June 4, 2015.

Grant, Bridget F. et al. “Epidemiology of DSM-5 Alcohol Use Disorder: Results From the National Epidemiologic Survey on Alcohol and Related Conditions III.” JAMA Psychiatry. June 3, 2015.

“The Alcohol Use Disorders Identification Test.” World Health Organization. Department of Mental Health and Substance Dependence. Accessed July 18, 2015.