Alcohol Use Disorders (19) What is the definition of Alcohol Use Disorders?

6 February, 2024

WHO estimates that there are 280 million people worldwide who have Alcohol Use Disorders. This suggests that there is a clear definition of Alcohol Use Disorders, but I have found this to be elusive. I located a paper called Classification of Alcohol Use Disorders from 2003. This did not itself propose a definition, but referred to various definitions described by others.

The US National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism defines AUD as 'a medical condition characterized by an impaired ability to stop or control alcohol use despite adverse social, occupational, or health consequences'.

DSM-5 criteria are as follows: 'A maladaptive pattern of substance use leading to clinically significant impairment or distress, as manifested by 2 or more of the following, occurring at any time in the same 12-month period: Alcohol is often taken in larger amounts or over a longer period than was intended.'

The above definitions would appear to exclude most people who are heavy social drinkers - those who drink well over the recommended limits, but who do not (as yet) show significant impairment or distress. Our local pub/bar is full of such people, and I often drink a pint there myself after work (it is just across the road from my office!)

Is there an agreed definition that we can all use?

HIFA profile: Neil Pakenham-Walsh is coordinator of HIFA (Healthcare Information For All), a global health community that brings all stakeholders together around the shared goal of universal access to reliable healthcare information. HIFA has 20,000 members in 180 countries, interacting in four languages and representing all parts of the global evidence ecosystem. HIFA is administered by Global Healthcare Information Network, a UK-based nonprofit in official relations with the World Health Organization. Email: