Identifying and Diagnosing Alcoholism

August 27, 2015 Becky Doyle

Therapists and counselors use specific addiction diagnostic criteria when considering alcoholism or addiction in their clients. However, they only know as much as you, the patient, tell them. Therefore, you are really the only person who can determine whether or not identifying or diagnosing alcoholism is appropriate for you (take the Alcoholism Test).

Identifying I Was an Alcoholic

I had to become really comfortable with the concept that I had to decide for myself if I was an alcoholic or not. Partially because a doctor had already diagnosed me with alcoholism per the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders criteria, but also because I did not yet understand what was wrong with me.

It didn't help that multiple people tried to diagnose me themselves. Since I sobered up just before my 24th birthday, well-meaning people downplayed my drinking problem to be simply the result of "a phase" of excessive drinking because most heavy drinkers are not alcohol dependent (See How To Help An Alcoholic for better responses).

Stereotypes Are Not Diagnostic Criteria for Alcoholism

A drug and alcohol counselor actually said to me once, "I don't think you're an alcoholic. I think you just got into trouble."

At the point that conversation took place, she really only knew what I, and others, had told her about my past. She had not worked with me yet, so her comment was merely a judgment based on external indicators. I let that opinion affect my self perception for about 10 days before I realized she was totally wrong. I realized she was totally wrong because through self-examination, I discovered that I was powerless over alcohol.

Identifying and diagnosing alcoholism is a critical step in getting better but only one person can really diagnose and identify alcoholism in you.

While it was out of line, I can't really blame her for the presumption. I did not fit in any of the stereotypes associated with alcoholics or addicts. I was a well-educated female, barely 24 years old, who had never been in trouble, I was not someone you pictured when diagnosing an alcoholic. I did not come from an abusive or alcoholic family and had no obvious scars indicating trauma. By all normal, societal standards, I was just a silly 20-something girl who made some bad choices.

Diagnosing and Identifying Alcoholism

After I had been sober about five or six months, one of my therapists called me out. He said, "Becky, you are just like a trash can. You make the outside so neat, pretty, and clean, no one would ever know what a mess was inside."

What he meant was that there were no external signs that showed how I felt inside. The reason I drank was to find relief from the fear, anxiety, and sadness that plagued me, but I hid it all very well. I never talked about why I wanted to drink and I never indicated the real feelings I carried with me every day.

You are the only person who truly knows all of the feelings, thoughts, and experiences that impact (or result from) your drinking habits. That is why the only person who can truly diagnose you as an alcoholic is yourself.

Don't let anyone else's judgments or opinions change your self diagnosis. In most cases, they are more worried about what it would say about them if you were an alcoholic. Critically analyze your drinking stories with one question in mind, "Can I reliably predict what will happen after I start drinking?" If you never know how the night will end, whether or not you will blackout, or you never know how much you will drink, you might be an alcoholic. If these examples resonate with you, I suggest you take a look at these alcoholism symptoms.

Image courtesy of Flickr user Ivy Dawned.

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APA Reference
Doyle, B. (2015, August 27). Identifying and Diagnosing Alcoholism, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2024, July 13 from

Author: Becky Doyle

September, 5 2015 at 2:07 pm

It cannot be that your Dr diagnosed you with Alcoholism from the DSM. The DSM makes no mention of alcoholism and there is not criterion for alcoholism in the DSM.
Alcoholism is not a recognised diagnosis and it has no fixed description. It is effectively a media term.
Most likely you were diagnosed with Alcohol Dependency which is in the DSM and does have specific diagnostic criteria.
Please do not misunderstand me. I am not lessening the terrible problems that come from alcohol addiction and I am not down-playing your or anybodies difficult path to recovery but if you were given a diagnosis of "alcoholism" you were inaccurately diagnosed.

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