If you are looking for a medical definition of alcoholism then this is the right page.  Below is the latest medical definition of what the medical profession call Alcohol Use Disorder.  This latest definition caused considerable controversy as it bundled Alcohol Abuse (regular heavy drinking) with Alcohol Dependence (what we would previously have called alcoholism). 

There is a scale for diagnosis at the end.

DSM-5 CRITERIA:  ALCOHOL USE DISORDER (Medical definition of alcoholism)

The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 5th edition (DSM-5) is the handbook used by health care professionals in the United States and much of the world as the authoritative guide to the diagnosis of mental Medical diagnosis of alcoholismdisorders. DSM contains descriptions, symptoms, and other criteria for diagnosis, and provides a common language for clinicians to communicate about their patients. It also establishes consistent and reliable diagnoses that can be used in the research of mental disorders.

The presence of at least 2 of these symptoms occurring within a 12-month period indicates an alcohol use disorder (AUD):

  • Alcohol is often taken in larger amounts or over a longer period of time than intended.
  • There is a persistent desire or unsuccessful effort to cut down or control alcohol use.
  • A great deal of time is spent in activities necessary to obtain alcohol, use alcohol, or recover from its effects.
  • Craving, or a strong desire or urge to use alcohol.
  • Recurrent alcohol use resulting in a failure to fulfill major role obligations at work, school, or home.
  • Continued alcohol use despite having persistent or recurrent social or interpersonal problems caused or exacerbated by the effects of alcohol.
  • Important social, occupational, or recreational activities are given up or reduced because of alcohol use.
  • Recurrent alcohol use in situations where it is physically dangerous.
  • Alcohol use is continued despite knowledge of having a persistent or recurrent physical or psychological problem that is likely to have been caused or exacerbated by alcohol.
  • Tolerance as defined by either of the following: a) a need for markedly increased amounts of alcohol to achieve intoxication or desired effect, b) a markedly diminished effect with continued use of the same amount of alcohol.
  • Withdrawal as manifested by either of the following: a) the characteristic withdrawal syndrome for alcohol,  b) alcohol (or a closely related substance, such as a benzodiazepine) is taken to relieve or avoid withdrawal symptoms.

The severity of the AUD is defined as:

  • Mild: 2-3 symptoms.
  • Moderate: 4-5 symptoms.
  • Severe: 6 or more symptoms.

You may find the medical definition of alcoholism a bit technical and difficult to follow.  For an alternative way of deciding if alcohol is a problem check out this page.