Is Alcoholism Classified as a Mental Illness?

More is known about alcoholism now than was ever known in the past. That’s because doctors have had hundreds of years to study it. They understand the triggers that cause it more than ever.

Those who would be considered alcoholics are sometimes diagnosed as having co-occurring disorders if a doctor ever examines them. Whether that’s the case or not, if you’re having problems with alcohol, you may want to learn more about it. Getting the facts about alcohol might be part of what lets you change your behavior patterns and start living a healthier life.

As you start on your journey to learn more about alcohol use, you may wonder whether the medical community considers alcoholism a mental illness. Let’s take a moment and talk about that.

What Exactly is Alcoholism?

First, it’s helpful to have a working definition of alcoholism. Just because you drink habitually, that doesn’t necessarily mean you fall into this category of individuals.

For someone to be considered an alcoholic, they need to be physically addicted to alcohol. If someone drinks every day, they may be an alcoholic, but that is not necessarily the case.

Usually, differentiating between someone who’s a habitual drinker and someone who’s experiencing alcoholism is determined by whether they go into physical withdrawal if they stop drinking.

Cocktail Party

Is Alcoholism Technically a Mental Illness?

In 1980, a new version of the DSM-3 came out. The DSM is regarded as the authoritative textbook defining mental illnesses. It classified alcoholism at that point as a subset of a mental health disorder.

The latest version of this text is the DSM-5. It stopped using the term alcoholism, instead calling it alcohol use disorder. This version of the text says alcohol use disorder is a mental disorder that presents with both mental symptoms and physical ones. This means that if doctors don’t consider alcoholism a mental illness, it’s right next door to one.  

What Should You Do if You Receive This Diagnosis?

Some people who abuse alcohol don’t think about it as being very serious or dangerous. They might have several alcohol drinks every day and think nothing of it. If a doctor tells them they technically qualify as having a mental illness, though, or at least a mental disorder, they may start to take things a bit more seriously.

If a doctor tells you that you qualify as having alcohol use disorder, you should not shrug that off and continue with the behavior. If you’ve reached that point, your drinking is likely harming your health. It won’t just be hurting you, though. It’s also probable that your drinking is harming those around you.

You should regard a diagnosis of having alcohol use disorder as a wake-up call. You can take steps to change your life from that moment forward. If that means time spent in an inpatient or outpatient facility, that might be the best move. It would make sense to talk to your family members about it to see if they support such a decision.

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