Alcohol use disorder (AUD) involves a pattern of alcohol use that causes problems that may include excess drinking and interference with relationships or work. Recognizing signs of AUD is the first step in getting treatment.

A person's hand holding an empty wine glass. Signs of alcohol use disorder include drinking more than intented.Share on Pinterest
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In the past, people referred to someone with an addiction to alcohol as an “alcoholic.” Healthcare professionals revised the term to avoid stigmatizing the condition, and the preferred term is now alcohol use disorder (AUD).

To determine whether a person has AUD, healthcare professionals refer to the criteria from the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 5th edition, text revision (DSM-5-TR).

A person must meet two or more DSM-5-TR criteria to be diagnosed with AUD. But severity is based on the number of criteria they meet:

  • Mild: A person meets two to three criteria.
  • Moderate: A person meets four to five criteria.
  • Severe: A person meets six or more criteria.

The article below discusses each of these criteria, treatment, and where to find support.

An infographic detailing signs of alcohol use disorder.Share on Pinterest
An infographic detailing the signs of alcohol use disorder. Infographic by Jason Hoffman.

One of the signs of AUD is difficulty stopping alcohol use, even if it causes adverse effects.

A person with AUD may want to cut down on drinking alcohol or have tried to in the past but could not stop.

Learn more about AUD.

AUD may also lead to problems with family and friends. A 2021 study found that AUD may disrupt social events and cause financial difficulties in families.

It may also lead to increased psychological distress among the partners and children of individuals with AUD. People with the disorder may recognize these issues are present but continue to drink alcohol.

Learn more about how to help someone with AUD.

Drinking more than intended may include drinking larger amounts of alcohol or drinking longer than a person planned to.

A person who misuses alcohol may think or say they will have one drink of alcohol but then go on to have several.

Learn more about alcohol intoxication.

People with AUD may experience withdrawal symptoms if they stop drinking. Symptoms of alcohol withdrawal symptoms may include:

About 50% of people with AUD develop withdrawal symptoms after they stop drinking. However, not everyone has severe symptoms that require hospitalization.

Anyone who is considering stopping drinking alcohol should speak with a healthcare professional.

Learn more about detoxing from alcohol.

AUD and its effects may take up much of a person’s time. Someone with the disorder may spend a great deal of time drinking or thinking about drinking.

People may want a drink so much that it is all they think about. In other instances, they may spend time recovering from excess drinking.

Learn more about the short-term and long-term effects of alcohol.

Another possible sign of AUD is if a person has built up a tolerance to alcohol.

People with AUD may have to drink increasingly larger amounts of alcohol to get the same effects as they used to with fewer drinks.

Excessive drinking can increase a person’s risk of health issues, such as:

Learn more about the potential risks of chronic heavy drinking.

AUD can interfere with a person’s daily responsibilities. They may neglect family obligations, child care duties, schoolwork, or employment.

For example, possible employment-related issues may include loss of productivity and on-the-job injuries.

A person with AUD may give up or cut back on hobbies or activities they used to enjoy.

For instance, someone who loved to exercise might suddenly stop. Alcohol use may take priority and replace activities that once brought fulfillment.

People with AUD may continue to drink alcohol despite it causing them to feel anxious or depressed or to experience a memory blackout.

Alcohol is a central nervous system depressant, which means it can slow down brain activity. This can affect a person’s mood, self-control, and behavior.

According to a 2019 study, people with AUD have a heightened risk for depressive disorders. These are the most common co-occurring psychiatric disorders.

Another sign of AUD is someone drinking alcohol even though it may affect an existing health condition.

Learn more about alcohol and anxiety.

One sign of AUD is engaging in certain behaviors during or after drinking that may have harmful effects. For example, a person may engage in activities that risk unwanted or harmful consequences while drinking alcohol.

Activities could include:

  • driving or operating machinery
  • swimming
  • having sex without a condom or other barrier method
  • walking in a dangerous area

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), about 27% of traffic injuries involve alcohol use.

Learn more about how long alcohol stays in a person’s system.

Treatment for AUD can help someone recover. Options may include a combination of psychiatric support, medication, or alcohol misuse support groups.

A person should speak with a healthcare professional if they are experiencing symptoms of AUD. Medical professionals can provide information about treatment, prescribe medication, and refer them to specialists.

We explore treatment options in further detail below.


The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has approved three medications among the treatments for AUD. They include:

  • Naltrexone (Vivitrol): An injection given once per month by a healthcare professional that blocks the craving for alcohol.
  • Acamprosate (Campral): This medication can block alcohol cravings and may also help improve cognitive function in people with brain damage from alcohol misuse.
  • Disulfiram (Antabuse): This medication aims to deter people from drinking alcohol by causing unpleasant side effects with even a small intake of alcohol, such as nausea and vomiting.

Behavioral treatments

Behavioral treatment may include counseling or talk therapy. This aims to help people with AUD change their behavior around drinking alcohol.

They may learn to manage cravings, deal with emotions, and develop skills to prevent a relapse.

Support groups

Participation in support groups may help people develop strategies to deal with the urge to drink alcohol. Peer support may also help in coping with emotions that may have led to alcohol misuse.

AUD involves the continued use of alcohol despite the adverse effects it may have on a person’s life.

Signs of AUD may include an increased tolerance to alcohol, loss of interest in hobbies, and interference with interpersonal relationships.

Treatment may involve medication, behavior therapy, and support groups.