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Are you drinking too much alcohol?

Alcoholic beverages are a “social lubricant.” At holiday and other parties, bouts of excessive drinking can seem like part of the celebration. But here’s something to think about as you raise your glass: drinking too much alcohol at a party — or at any time — can be a sign of alcohol use disorder (AUD).

What is AUD?
AUD is the umbrella term for problem drinking that stems from alcohol abuse or alcohol dependence. While both are marked by problems stopping or controlling alcohol use, they’re not the same.

“Alcohol abuse causes significant problems in your life at home or at work, but it doesn’t involve physical addiction. So maybe you show up late for work once a week because of your drinking, and people around you are upset. Or maybe you’re having trouble sleeping because of your drinking. Alcohol dependence is different. It’s a physical addiction to alcohol. You have withdrawal symptoms if you stop drinking,” explains Dr. Robert Doyle, a psychiatrist with Harvard-affiliated Massachusetts General Hospital and co-author of the book Almost Alcoholic.

Types of AUD
There’s no specific amount of alcohol or frequency of drinking that determines the nature of AUD. That’s unique to everyone, Dr. Doyle notes. For example, even if you drink only on weekends, you may still have AUD if your drinking is causing trouble.

Instead, AUD is classified as mild, moderate, or severe, depending on the number of symptoms a person exhibits (for a list of the symptoms, see “Alcohol use disorder criteria”).

Mild AUD is diagnosed when a person has two to three symptoms. This may indicate alcohol abuse. Moderate AUD is diagnosed when a person has four to five symptoms. This may be caused by alcohol abuse or dependence. Severe AUD is diagnosed when a person has six or more symptoms. This is caused by alcohol dependence.

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