Am I an Alcoholic?

Published on 12/4/13
Categorized in Alcohol Addiction
Am I an Alcoholic?

According to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), 15 percent of Americans identify as problem drinkers, while between 5 to 10 percent of male and 3 to 5 percent of female drinkers could be diagnosed as alcohol dependent. The line of separation between a moderate or social drinker and someone with a drinking problem can appear blurry and difficult to interpret. There are many definitions to describe what determines an alcoholic, but not all factors are clear cut.

Defining an Alcoholic

According to Alcoholics Anonymous UK, alcoholism may be characterized as a physical compulsion, together with a mental obsession. Aside from experiencing an intense craving for alcohol, an alcoholic succumbs to that craving at inappropriate and devastating times. An alcoholic cannot ascertain neither when nor how to stop drinking.

Alcoholics become obsessed with drinking, unable to limit the amount of alcohol they consume no matter the consequences. Other indicators include, someone who consistently introduces alcohol into an inappropriate situation, such as, a movie theater or workplace.

We Want Beer, Prohibition, Alcoholism

Signs and Symptoms of Alcoholism

Most often, an alcoholic is in denial of their substance abuse issue and will be the last person to accept and confront their drinking problem. Typically occurring signs and symptoms of alcoholism include:

  • Drinking alone or in secret

  • Inability to control the amount of consumption

  • Blacking out (not being able to remember whole periods of time)

  • Ritual drinking (drinks before/during/after daily events)

  • Losing interest in hobbies/activities one previously enjoyed

  • Feeling an urge to drink

  • Irritability when unable to drink

  • Hiding stashes of alcohol in unlikely places

  • Drinking just to get drunk

  • Social/legal/monetary issues caused by drinking

  • High tolerance to alcohol

  • Nausea/sweating/shaking when not drinking

Alcoholic, Sneaking alcohol in coffeeThe Functioning Alcoholic

Although there are some clear characteristics that many alcoholics share, they don’t all wear the hallmarks of one. Alcoholics are sometimes generalized or stereotyped as someone who lives in the park and begs for money in order to get their next fix. This is simply not the case for most.

A functioning alcoholic is someone who doesn’t fit the obvious mold. Someone who is dependent on alcohol but who also maintains a job, a home and a family. The functioning alcoholic rarely misses work and tends to ignore or make light of the negative consequences created by their drinking. They avoid making public blunders, such as driving under the influence or general disorder in order to mask the issue at hand and remain in denial.

Diagnosing Alcoholism

All drinkers are unique, and not every person who drinks is an alcoholic. With so many different types of drinkers, it can be challenging to determine whether one has an obvious or problematic drinking pattern. In the USA, a person must meet the criteria outlined in the DSM (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders), in order to be identified as an alcoholic. The person should experience at least three of the patterns below during the past 12 months:

  • Alcohol tolerance- a large quantity of alcohol is need in order to feel intoxicated

  • Withdrawal symptoms- abstaining from alcohol causes tremors, insomnia, nausea or anxiety

  • Beyond intentions- drinking more alcohol, or drinks for a longer period than intended

  • Unsuccessfully attempting to cut down alcohol consumption

  • Time consumption- spending a lot of time obtaining, using or recovering from alcohol

  • Withdrawal from recreational, social or occupational activities

  • Persistence- continuing to consume alcohol even though the person is aware of its harmful consequences

Alcohol Treatment

The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that at least 140 million alcoholics exist in the world; unfortunately, the majority of them go untreated. The first step in the recovery process occurs when the person acknowledges they have an alcohol dependency problem.

The next step involves finding the appropriate approach to addressing one’s individual needs and finding suitable treatment. Treatment options include: counseling, residential inpatient programs, detoxification, outpatient programs and support groups during/after recovery.

pouring alcohol out, quit drinkingThe issues linked to alcohol dependence are extensive and can yield detrimental complications, including jarring mental, physical and social risks. Drinking alcohol can become a compulsion for some, taking precedence over everything else in one’s life. Although alcoholism may go undetected for years, it’s never too late to begin the process of recovery. If you or a loved one suspect their alcohol use is becoming a problem and persisting beyond the acceptable social standards, these tests may help:

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