What is AUD?

AUD stands for Alcohol Use Disorder, a medical diagnosis recognized by the American Psychiatric Association and worldwide.

To be diagnosed with AUD, a  person is asked a set of 11 questions. The severity of AUD – mild, moderate or severe – is then based on the number of criteria met.

In the past 12 month period, have you:

  • Had times when you ended up drinking more, or longer than you intended?
  • More than once wanted to cut down or stop drinking, or tried to, but couldn’t?
  • Spent a lot of time drinking? Or being sick or getting over the aftereffects?
  • Experienced craving — a strong need, or urge, to drink?
  • Found that drinking — or being sick from drinking — often interfered with taking care of your home or family? Or caused job troubles? Or school problems?
  • Continued to drink even though it was causing trouble with your family or friends?
  • Given up or cut back on activities that were important or interesting to you, or gave you pleasure, in order to drink?
  • More than once gotten into situations while or after drinking that increased your chances of getting hurt (such as driving, swimming, using machinery, walking in a dangerous area, or having unsafe sex)?
  • Continued to drink even though it was making you feel depressed or anxious or adding to another health problem? Or after having had a memory blackout?
  • Had to drink much more than you once did to get the effect you want? Or found that your usual number of drinks had much less effect than before?
  • Found that when the effects of alcohol were wearing off, you had withdrawal symptoms, such as trouble sleeping, shakiness, irritability, anxiety, depression, restlessness, nausea, or sweating? Or sensed things that were not there?

The severity of AUD is defined as:

Mild – the presence of 2 to 3 symptoms

Moderate – the presence of 4 to 5 symptoms

Severe – the presence of 6 or more symptoms

I had never even heard of the term AUD until I started researching alcoholism online. My first reaction was AUD seems a lot more society friendly compared to “alcoholism”. Maybe it being an acronym prevents us from fully processing the meaning behind it. Or that the term AUD is not strongly associated with our ideas of what an alcoholic is supposed to “look like” .

According to the National Institute of Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, approximately 17 million adults in the U.S. ages 18 and older had AUD in 2012. As well, an estimated 855,000 adolescents ages 12-17 had AUD.

I feel frustrated that I had never heard of this term before, not even from my doctor. When I thought about the term alcoholic, I thought it was someone who drank every day and was incapable of just having one drink. If it were not for my dad helping me see me that I was an alcoholic, I believe my denial would have continued for years.

The World Health Organization defines alcoholism as a term of long-standing use and variable meaning, generally taken to refer to chronic continual drinking or periodic consumption of alcohol which is characterized by:

  • Impaired control over drinking
  • Frequent episodes of intoxication
  • Preoccupation with alcohol
  • The use of alcohol despite adverse consequences

I realize now that the definition of alcoholism was always there for me to find, and I didn’t have to look up AUD to find it. There’s nothing in the WHO definition of alcoholism about drinking daily or in the mornings as a requirement.

When I read “the use of alcohol despite adverse consequences” I think of Step 1.

We admitted that we are powerless over alcohol – that our lives had become unmanageable. – BB pg. 21-24

Next I look at the diagnosis criteria for AUD and read the question, “More than once gotten into situations while or after drinking that increased your chances of getting hurt…”

When I think about why I can’t risk having “just one drink”, I think about how lucky I am to be alive and well today.

Today, I relate more to the term alcoholic. Because even once I no longer answer yes to the 12 diagnostic questions for AUD, my addiction to alcohol will not disappear.

I hope that through my recovery, I can help to change the dialogue about what alcoholism is.


National Institute of Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism – Alcohol Use Disorder 

NIH – Alcohol Use Disorder: A  comparison between DSM-IV and DSM-5

WHO – Lexicon of alcohol and drug terms

Twelve Steps – Step One 








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