Definition of alcoholism

The commonly known definition of alcoholism can be understood and presented differently. The currently accepted definition explaining what is the addiction to alcoholic beverages is the one by the American Psychiatric Association.

The definition of alcohol abuse and alcoholism, currently applicable worldwide, was announced in 1994 and, according to the American Psychiatric Association (DSM IV), is the most up-to-date standardization of the alcohol problem. According to the American Psychiatric Association, the definition of alcoholism refers to people whose alcohol consumption is so intensified that it ruins their health or destroys personal relationships and existence in society; or when drinking is the basis of functioning.

The definition of alcoholism, that is in force in Poland, was established in 1992. It changed the former name alcoholism to alcohol addiction syndrome, defined as a set of somatic, behavioral and cognitive symptoms in which drinking alcohol becomes a priority over other, previously more important, behaviors. According to the above definition of the disorder, to diagnose it three out of six symptoms of alcoholism have to be recognized during period of one year, which includes: a strong need – a hunger for drinking alcohol, the occurrence of alcohol tolerance, withdrawal syndrome or alternate consumption of alcohol and drugs with similar effects, limiting the possibilities of controlling one's behavior related to alcohol consumption, drinking alcohol despite knowledge of its harmfulness and neglecting other interests and pleasures. The above definition of alcoholism is therefore much broader than commonly adopted. It draws attention to three main aspects: physical dependence, psychological dependence and high tolerance.


Definition of alcoholism - a chronic disease that destroys the life of an addict

​Mark Keller, an outstanding American psychiatrist who specializes in addiction treatment, defines alcoholism as a chronic disease, manifested by repeated drinking, resulting in permanent damage to health, social and economic burden to the sick person. The abovementioned definition highlights stereotypes about alcoholism. Alcoholics are, after all, also wealthy people with high social status, so difficult social or economic situation is not always the cause of alcoholism, on the contrary: it happens that good economic and social situation that results in boredom from leading a comfortable life, ease of making money, lack of hobby, loneliness or workaholism is what triggers an excessive alcohol consumption and the development of alcoholism in well-off people widely recognized as social models. Another applicable definition is the American one, which recognizes that alcoholism is a set of physiological, behavioral and cognitive conditions that arises when alcohol consumption dominates the behavior that characterized the individual before becoming addicted. Instinctive reaching for alcoholic drinks, especially in stressful situations and under the influence of many stressors, appears as a result of a strong and irresistible desire to deliver a high dose of psychoactive agent to the body. This situation is often observed in people who relapse after many years of sobriety. Even after a long period of abstinence, there may be a relapse and re-occurrence of alcoholism symptoms, especially when the patient has only used one type of therapy.