Do I drink too much? It’s a question that everyone asks themselves at some point and to our surprise it’s one that causes quite the discussion. We know there is such a thing as drinking too much but where does the line between casual drinking and alcohol addiction begin? If you’ve ever asked yourself if you drink too much or if you’ve worried about a friend or loved one’s drinking behaviors, you’ve come to the right place. Today’s blog is all about clearing the confusion about casual drinking, alcohol abuse, and alcohol addiction.
From Casual Drinking to Alcohol Addiction
What makes someone an alcoholic? Because alcohol is a legal substance, people can’t quite get their minds around what constitutes addiction.
I came across this article in the Washington Post which had a chart demonstrating the drinking patterns in American adults over 18 years of age. It stated that 30% of Americans don’t drink at all. That’s more people than I thought indefinitely but what was the most shocking was not the amount of people who do drink – but how much they drink. For example, the top 30% of Americans who drink alcohol are drinking anywhere from 6.25 to 73.85 drinks per week. This means that a lot of Americans are either heavy drinkers or they are abusing alcohol.
There is nothing inherently wrong with drinking. In fact, it’s perfectly fine – in moderation. Countless studies have been conducted on the benefits of that daily glass of red wine. On the other hand, there have been even more studies on the negative affects of alcohol. These studies have added a troublesome dialogue about the affects of drinking alcohol and have contributed to the general confusion about alcohol addiction.
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For men under age 65, heavy drinking means having four drinks a day or more than 14 drinks in a week. For women and men over age 65, heavy drinking is more than three drinks a day or more than seven drinks in a week.1
Binge drinking is drinking a large amount of alcohol at one time. According to SAMHSA, binge drinking is defined as drinking 5 or more alcoholic beverages for men and 4 or more for women.
Alcohol abuse is when someone drinks alcohol at an excessive rate. People who drink excessively and are abusing alcohol are at great risk of developing an addiction to alcohol. However, even though alcohol abuse can have grave effects on your body and your life, many people drinking excessively on a regular basis don’t become addicted to alcohol.
Alcohol addiction is a physical and/or psychological compulsion to consume alcohol at an excessive rate. They are obsessed with drinking it and when they aren’t actively drinking, they are thinking about (or scheming) their next drink. It’s not all about the amount that they are drinking but more about their relationship with alcohol.
Side note: People who are addicted to alcohol don’t know how to drink in moderation. Even if they go to treatment, they likely will never know how to drink in moderation.
What is the Difference Between Alcoholism and Alcohol Abuse?
Many people use the terms alcoholism and alcohol abuse interchangeably but they actually hold very different meaning.
Alcohol abuse is when someone drinks alcohol at an excessive rate. Alcoholism (or alcohol addiction) is a physical and/or psychological compulsion to consume alcohol at an excessive rate.
We can also refer to what the definition of addiction is. According to the American Society of Addiction Medicine:
Addiction is a primary, chronic disease of brain reward, motivation, memory and related circuitry. Dysfunction in these circuits leads to characteristic biological, psychological, social and spiritual manifestations. This is reflected in an individual pathologically pursuing reward and/or relief by substance use and other behaviors. Addiction is characterized by inability to consistently abstain, impairment in behavioral control, craving, diminished recognition of significant problems with one’s behaviors and interpersonal relationships, and a dysfunctional emotional response. Like other chronic diseases, addiction often involves cycles of relapse and remission. Without treatment or engagement in recovery activities, addiction is progressive and can result in disability or premature death.2
Signs, Side Effects, and Symptoms of Alcohol Addiction
“Drinking alcohol has a lot more risks than many people realize,” says CDC Director Thomas Frieden. Excessive drinking is responsible for about 88,000 deaths each year making alcohol the fourth leading cause of preventable death in the country. In addition, alcohol consumption costs the U.S. economy about $224 billion a year, according to the CDC.
Are there any surefire signs that someone is addicted to alcohol? There are many factors to consider however, most assessments narrow it down to these four questions:
1. Have you ever felt you should cut down on your drinking?
2. Have people annoyed you by criticizing your drinking?
3. Have you ever felt bad or guilty about your drinking?
4. Have you ever had a drink first thing in the morning to steady your nerves or get rid of a hangover?
If you answered yes to two or more of these questions, you could be abusing alcohol and putting yourself at risk for alcohol addiction.