Alcohol consumption is a social norm in the United States. It is widely accepted and often even expected during social gatherings, from casual outings to significant life events. However, the widespread acceptance of drinking alcohol blurs the lines between moderate and excessive drinking, making it difficult for someone to recognize when they have a drinking problem, otherwise known as alcoholism or alcohol use disorder (AUD).
The 2021 National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH) reports that over 84% of people ages 18 and older have drunk alcohol at some point in their lives. Moreover, 28.6 million adults ages 18 and older have AUD.
What are Alcoholism and Alcohol Use Disorder?
While the terms “alcoholism” and “alcohol use disorder” are often used interchangeably, they are technically two different conditions related to drinking alcohol. Alcoholism refers to a person who is severely dependent on alcohol to the point that it takes a toll on their physical and mental health. However, “alcoholism” is not a diagnostic term. Instead, medical professionals use the terms alcohol dependence and alcohol use disorder (AUD). Conversely, AUD is a diagnosis in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Disorders – 5th edition (DSM-V).
The three levels of AUD can help one determine the severity of their disorder:
This mild stage of AUD is often tricky to identify because the person may not show symptoms of AUD. However, they may be drinking more and have strong cravings or a desire to drink.
At this stage, the symptoms of alcoholism increase in number and intensity. An individual may continue drinking despite it causing social or interpersonal problems. Additionally, the exacerbated effects of alcohol may increase the chances of getting hurt or killed.
Severe AUD includes pronounced symptoms. A person’s drinking habits affect their obligations and relationships at work, school, and home, yet they will continue to drink. High tolerance and withdrawal symptoms are telltale signs of severe AUD.
Signs and Symptoms of Alcoholism and AUD
The ubiquity of alcohol in American life makes understanding the warning signs and symptoms of alcohol use disorder even more critical.
Signs and symptoms of alcohol addiction include:
- Excessive sweating
- Memory loss
- Frequent hangovers
- High blood pressure
- Weight gain or loss
- Isolating from others
- Devoting large amounts of time to drinking
- Mood swings
- Having alcohol poisoning
- Risky behavior while drinking, such as driving or having unprotected sex
- Trouble cutting back on or quitting drinking
- Increasing the amount of alcohol to get the same effect
Risk Factors of Alcoholism and AUD
Not everyone who drinks alcohol will develop an addiction. Certain risk factors can make addiction more likely in some than others, such as combining alcohol with drugs like opioids, underlying mental health concerns, and genetic predisposition.
When one ponders the question, “Am I an alcoholic?” one may wonder about the root causes of alcoholism. While the causes of AUD aren’t 100% known, they likely stem from a combination of risk factors that increase a person’s susceptibility.
Additionally, underlying mental health disorders, such as anxiety or depression, can also play a critical role in the development of alcohol dependency, as individuals may turn to alcohol as a form of self-medication.
The most common risk factors of alcoholism and AUD include:
Scientists have found specific genes can factor into a person developing a drinking problem. Studies show that this gene is inherited about 60% of the time. Therefore, someone who has a family history of alcoholism can likely repeat the behavior in their own life.
People raised in families with at least one alcoholic parent are at greater risk of having an AUD. Living among people who regularly drink heavily can influence them. Hence, it can make alcoholism seem normal.
Mental Health Conditions
Certain mental health conditions can lead to an increased risk of becoming an alcoholic. These conditions include depression, anxiety, PTSD, and ADHD. People may use alcohol to cope with these disorders.
Drinking at an Early Age
Studies find that the earlier a person begins drinking alcohol, the more likely they are to abuse it. For example, one study on people aged 26 and older who started drinking before age 15 proved 5 times as likely to have an AUD compared to those who waited until age 21 or older. The risk is even higher for women.
The Difference Between a Heavy Drinker and an Alcoholic
There are two different types of excessive drinking: heavy drinking and binge drinking. Heavy drinking refers to how much a person drinks throughout a week. While drinking refers to drinking a lot of alcohol in a short amount of time.
A person who is a heavy drinker or a binge drinker may wonder, “Am I an alcoholic?” Generally, heavy drinking is having two or more drinks a day or over 14 drinks in one week. However, keep in mind that alcohol affects everyone differently depending on things like weight, tolerance, and gender. For men, binge drinking is 5 or more drinks in 2 hours. For women, it’s considered binge drinking to drink 4 or more drinks within 2 hours.
While excessive drinkers and binge drinkers might have alcohol use disorder, it’s not a given. The difference is what happens when they stop drinking. For instance, someone who drinks heavily and then stops will feel better overall once the buzz and inevitable hangover wear off. Without the effects of alcohol, they will feel healthier and more energetic.
On the other hand, someone with AUD will not be able to stop drinking as easily. Even if they stop for a while after recognizing that it is a destructive habit, relapsing and falling back into it is sadly always possible. Alcohol addiction has likely set in, causing one to be emotionally, psychologically, and physically dependent on alcohol.
Are You An Alcoholic?
Recognizing alcoholism in oneself can be challenging due to denial and the progression of the disorder. You may wonder if your drinking has gotten out of control. Taking an “Am I an alcoholic?” quiz can help you determine what signs and symptoms of alcohol use disorder you are showing.
Ask yourself the following questions about your drinking habits:
- Do you often drink more or longer than you planned?
- Do you spend a lot of time drinking or recovering from hangovers?
- Have you tried to stop drinking, or even drink less, but couldn’t?
- Does your drinking affect your ability to perform at work or school?
- Does your drinking impact your ability to care for your family?
- Do you think about alcohol when you are not drinking?
- Do you spend a lot of time and/or money getting alcohol?
- Have you given up hobbies or other activities to drink instead?
- Do you drink even though it makes you feel depressed or anxious?
- Does drinking make any existing health problems worse?
- Do you have to drink more to feel the effects of the alcohol?
- Do you have alcohol withdrawal symptoms if you stop drinking?
All of the above are common warning signs of alcohol use disorder (AUD). If you have asked yourself the question, “Am I an alcoholic?” and answered yes to two or more of these questions, you may have a drinking problem.
Treatment for Alcohol Addiction and AUD
If you’ve asked yourself, “Am I an alcoholic?” and determined through self-assessment that the answer is “yes,” it’s time to confront alcoholism and reclaim your life. It’s important to remember that AUD is a chronic and relapsing health condition. Whether it’s for you or a loved one, know that seeking help is a sign of resilience, not weakness.
Tulip Hill Recovery in Tennessee is here as you take that crucial first step to recovery, and we’ll be there for you long after. Our professional and compassionate staff is eager to hear from you. Contact Tulip Hill Recovery today.