Definition of An Alcoholic: Evaluating Oneself

Medically Reviewed By Kayla Loibl | Last Edited : December 03 , 
| 4 Sources

How Do You Know if You Have a Problem?
Self Test

The most basic definition of an alcoholic is “a person whose drinking habits cause problems in his life.” There is no alcoholic definition that says an alcoholic must drink a certain number of drinks per week or that an alcoholic must drink every day.

Approximately 38 million adults in the United States drink too much, but most are not considered alcoholics. Typically you are not considered to be a true alcoholic or to have a real addiction to alcohol unless you have developed tolerance to alcohol, meaning you have to drink more and more in order to get a buzz or you can drink more than other people without even getting drunk, and you have withdrawal symptoms if you go too long without drinking, like getting the shakes or becoming anxious and irritable.

Even if you don’t seem to meet that strict definition of an alcoholic, though, you might have a drinking problem if your drinking interferes with your family, your job, or other aspects of your daily life.

Definition of an Alcoholic

How Do You Know if You Have a Problem?

The progression of alcohol dependence is a dynamic and complex process. If you’re wondering if you meet the definition of an alcoholic or if you really have a drinking problem, consider how your drinking is affecting your life.

If you answer yes to one or more of these questions, you might meet the alcoholic definition of “a person for whom alcohol causes problems in his life.”

  • Have you tried to quit drinking but found you can’t?
  • Do you sometimes end up drinking more than you meant to drink?
  • Do you sometimes do things while under the influence of alcohol that you wouldn’t normally do or that you later regret?
  • Do you get in arguments with family or friends about your drinking?
  • Do you keep drinking even though you know it’s having a negative effect on your marriage or other relationships?
  • Have you missed work or school, or gotten into trouble at work or school, because of your drinking or due to being hung over?
  • Do you keep drinking even though you know it’s causing you health problems, like liver problems, ulcers, high blood pressure, heart disease, or seizures?
  • Has your doctor told you that you need to stop drinking to prevent health problems or keep health problems from getting worse?
  • Do you plan social activities around alcohol and avoid family gatherings or other social activities where you won’t be able to drink?
  • Do you avoid hanging out with friends that don’t drink in favor of drinking buddies?
  • Have you lost touch with old friends because of your drinking?
  • Do you feel anxious or stressed out when you can’t have a drink?
  • Have you had any legal problems, including charges of “driving while intoxicated,” related to your drinking?

What if You’re Not Sure?

Definition of an Alcoholic

If you’re not sure if you meet the definition of an alcoholic, you’re not alone. Many people aren’t sure. It’s a scary thing to think you might have a serious problem and denial is a common reaction. You don’t have to face this question alone, though, and you don’t have to guess whether or not you have a problem. See a qualified professional for an assessment.

A professional can tell you if you meet the alcoholic definition and advise you about the type of treatment recommended for someone with your level of dependence on alcohol. You can also follow this link to learn more about the MAST and CAGE screening tests.

If you’re concerned about a loved one, not yourself, of course you can talk with a professional about that, as well. A professional cannot make a diagnosis without actually seeing or speaking to the person in question, but he or she can answer questions and let you know if you have cause to be concerned, Contact a professional todayAlcoholism, more than other diseases, needs the integration of family and social history, physical signs and symptoms, as well as laboratory data to make a concrete diagnosis. Click here for more information on alcoholism recovery.

Lead Writer/Reviewer : Kayla Loibl

Licensed Medical Health Professional 


I am a Mental Health Counselor who is licensed in both New York (LMHC) and North Carolina (LCMHC). I have been working in the Mental Health field since 2015. I have worked in a residential setting, an outpatient program and an inpatient addictions program. I began working in Long Island, NY and then in Guelph, Ontario after moving to Canada. Read More


PubMed. Alcoholism: early diagnosis and intervention. Nov-Dec 1987.

Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services. Warning Signs of Alcoholism.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Alcohol Screening and Counseling.

NCBI. Alcohol Dependence, Withdrawal, and Relapse. 2008.

For more information on the definition of an alcoholic, the causes of alcoholism or the stages of alcoholism, just follow the links.

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