Am I an Alcoholic?
Written by Jonathan Strum
Millions of Americans are impacted by alcohol use each day. In 2020, 50% of people over the age of 12 consumed alcohol in a one-month period. Around 44% of these individuals were binge drinkers.
Since so many Americans drink alcohol, it is important to learn about the effects of alcohol use and the signs and risks of alcoholism. It is also important to understand that there are many forms of treatment available for alcohol addiction, and recovery is possible.
Do I Drink Too Much?
Drinking is very common, and people consume many different types of alcohol in various amounts and frequencies. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) measures one drink as 0.6 ounces of pure alcohol. Drinks containing 0.6 ounces of alcohol include:
- A 12-ounce serving of beer (5% alcohol content)
- An 8-ounce serving of malt liquor (7% alcohol content)
- A 5-ounce glass of wine (12% alcohol content)
- A 1.5-ounce shot of 80-proof liquor (40% alcohol content), such as tequila, rum, vodka or whiskey
Moderate drinking for an adult over the age of 21 consists of two or fewer drinks per day for men and one or fewer drinks per day for women. However, some people drink alcohol excessively. The CDC classifies excessive alcohol use in categories that include binge drinking and heavy drinking.
Binge drinking is defined as five or more drinks in one sitting for men and four or more in one sitting for women. Binge drinking leads to a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) of .08% or higher, and it generally describes a two-hour period of time.
Heavy drinking is defined as 15 or more drinks per week for men and eight or more drinks per week for women. In addition, any amount of alcohol use by pregnant women or people under 21 is considered excessive alcohol use.
What Is an Alcoholic?
People often use the term “alcoholic” to describe people with an alcohol use disorder (AUD), or alcohol addiction. AUD is a true medical condition that affects how the brain functions. A person with AUD:
- Drinks frequently and has difficulty stopping or controlling alcohol use, even when the drinking has led to problems with relationships, careers, finances and health
- Has built a tolerance to alcohol and needs to drink more to experience the same effects as before
- Has such a strong desire to drink that it’s hard to think about other things
Many individuals struggle with AUD. A 2019 national survey recorded that 14.1 million people over the age of 18 and 414,000 adolescents aged 12 to 17 were diagnosed with AUD. In addition, the CDC has reported that one out of every six adults engages in binge drinking.
I Drink Every Weekend; Does That Make Me an Alcoholic?
Not everyone who drinks excessively develops an alcohol use disorder or becomes an alcoholic. Approximately 90% of people who drink to excessive levels will not meet the criteria for a diagnosis of AUD.
The Difference Between Casual Drinking, Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism
Not everyone who drinks alcohol becomes an alcoholic. Casual drinkers consume alcohol in moderation and have control over how much and how often they drink. A casual drinker may be referred to as a “social drinker.” They might drink at social occasions or when spending time with other people.
Alcohol abuse involves excessive or heavy drinking, binge drinking, or drinking when it is dangerous to do so, like when you know you’ll be driving or when you’re pregnant or operating heavy machinery. Some people may occasionally abuse alcohol and be able to maintain some control over their drinking. However, when someone abuses alcohol regularly, they are at a high risk for developing an alcohol addiction or alcohol use disorder (AUD).
When someone has alcoholism or an alcohol addiction, they have a medical diagnosis of AUD.
Alcohol consumption becomes the primary purpose of the person’s daily life; they have become dependent on alcohol and do not have control over how much or how often they drink. The person has also developed a physical dependence on alcohol, and they will experience withdrawal symptoms when they stop drinking. At this point, they need help to treat the disease.
People who abuse alcohol regularly or have a diagnosed alcohol use disorder may have negative consequences related to their alcohol use, but the drinking continues. For example, they may have trouble at work or school, and they may not meet their obligations to friends, family members or loved ones. Legal issues may develop, such as an arrest. These problems persist in their lives, but they continue to drink excessively.
5 Types of Alcoholics
A 2007 national study of people with alcohol use disorder defined five specific clusters (subtypes) of alcoholics. The study explored characteristics related to the members of each subtype. Using these subtypes, addiction specialists are able to develop a more comprehensive and individualized treatment plan for each client.
Young Adult Subtype
The Young Adult Subtype is the most common subtype in the classification system. People in this subtype are typically around 25 years old, and around 71% are men. On average, they develop alcoholism at the age of 20. Compared to other subtypes, they have fewer legal problems, are much more likely to be men and are less likely to have co-occurring mental health conditions. They also drink less frequently than those in other subtypes, but they are moderately likely to smoke cigarettes or use marijuana.
Young Antisocial Subtype
Those in the Young Antisocial Subtype also tend to be men (76%) and are typically around 26 years old. However, they begin drinking at a much earlier age — usually around 15 or 16 — and develop AUD at around 18 years old. Compared to other subtypes, they have the highest likelihood of co-occurring mental health disorders like depression and bipolar disorder. They also tend to have more antisocial behaviors than those in other subtypes, and they are more likely to also struggle with other drugs. However, these individuals are more likely to seek help for alcohol abuse.
People within the Functional Subtype are around 41 years old, on average. They begin drinking when they are around 18 years old, and they generally develop alcoholism near the age of 37. Compared to other subtypes, these individuals start drinking and develop alcohol addiction at an older age. They are slightly more likely to be male (60%), and they are somewhat likely to have depression. Alcohol and cigarettes tend to be the only substances they are addicted to.
Intermediate Familial Subtype
People in the Intermediate Familial Subtype are typically around 38 years old and tend to be male (64%). On average, they begin drinking at the age of 17 and develop alcoholism at 32. Around half of the people in this subtype develop major depressive order at some point, while around one-fourth develop bipolar disorder. They are also more likely to smoke cigarettes and develop addictions to marijuana and cocaine. Compared to those in other subtypes, these individuals are the most likely to have full-time jobs.
Chronic Severe Subtype
The Chronic Severe Subtype is the least common cluster. People in this subtype begin drinking earlier than most other subtypes, typically around the age of 16. Additionally, they often develop alcohol addiction at a later age, typically around 29 years old. They tend to be around 38 years old, on average, and they are somewhat more likely to be male (65%). Individuals in this group have the highest rate of co-occurring mental health conditions, particularly depression. Compared to those in other subtypes, they are less likely to hold full-time jobs and more likely to divorce. They are also more likely to smoke cigarettes and develop addictions to substances like marijuana, cocaine and opioids. However, these individuals are much more likely to seek help for alcohol abuse and addiction.
Warning Signs of Alcoholism
It is important to become familiar with the warning signs of alcohol addiction. Knowing the signs can help you identify whether you or someone you care about may need help for alcohol abuse.
Some warning signs include:
- Experiencing blackouts (not remembering what happened) after drinking
- Drinking alcohol despite the problems it causes for oneself and others
- Consuming more alcohol than initially intended
- Frequently feeling hungover or sick after drinking
- Not doing important, interesting or fun activities because of drinking
- Repeatedly engaging in behaviors that are risky or dangerous due to drinking (e.g., driving, using machines, sexual behaviors)
- Finding it hard to think of anything other than wanting to drink
- Wanting to stop or cut down on drinking but being unable to do so
- Needing to drink more and more to get the same effect
- Inability to control the amount of alcohol consumed or go periods without drinking
- Experiencing withdrawal symptoms when not drinking
Questions To Ask An Alcoholic
Many people wonder about their alcohol consumption levels and question whether they may have an alcohol use disorder. Answering these 20 questions can help to give some guidance and direction on this issue:
- Am I experiencing cravings for alcohol, the act of drinking or the act of being drunk?
- Is thinking about alcohol or having a drink at the forefront of my mind a lot of the time?
- Have I ever felt like I should cut back on my alcohol consumption levels?
- Am I hiding how much I am drinking from anyone close to me?
- Do I feel shame and guilt around my drinking patterns?
- Am I drinking alone regularly?
- Is alcohol in any way controlling my life or schedule?
- Do I experience blackouts when I drink?
- Do I drink more heavily based on my emotions or stress levels?
- Have friends or family expressed concern toward my drinking habits?
- Have I tried to switch the types of alcohol or brands I consume in an effort to control my drinking?
- Has there ever been a time that I tried to quit drinking or promised myself that I would stop, but could not manage to do so for more than a couple of days?
- Does drinking affect my personal life in any way, such as missing work or having arguments with people?
- Do I ever wonder what my life would look like if I did not drink?
- Have I been in trouble with the law while under the influence?
- Do I become a different person when I drink, such as a daredevil, angry, violent or more extroverted?
- Do I binge drink or drink heavily on a regular basis?
- Am I able to have a couple of drinks at happy hour and call it a night easily, or do I tend to gravitate toward keeping the partying going once alcohol is in my system?
- Do I compromise on my morals or values while drinking?
- Do I experience any type of alcohol withdrawal symptoms, such as shaking, anxiety, depression or vomiting in the morning when I don’t drink for a couple of days?
Answering “yes” to several of these questions suggests the possibility that a drinking problem could be present. A good rule of thumb is that if someone is questioning whether they have an alcohol problem, it likely means they do. Many people face this question, and learning the answer can be the first step toward seeking help and finding treatment.
See Related: Signs You Should Go To Rehab
Who Is at Risk for Developing an Addiction to Alcohol?
Many factors can put someone at risk for developing an alcohol use disorder, and they affect everyone differently. However, excessive consumption is often the biggest risk factor in the development of alcohol addiction. Other risk factors can include:
- Frequency and amount consumed: Heavy use and binge drinking over a period of time can increase the risk of developing AUD.
- Age of you began drinking: A national survey reported that people who started drinking younger than 15 years old were at least five times more likely to have AUD than those who didn’t start drinking until at least age 21.
- Genetics and family history: A family history of AUD can increase your risk of developing it by 60%. However, the risk is not solely dependent on genetics; environment also plays a role. Just because someone in the family develops AUD does not mean that everyone in the family will develop it.
- Pre-existing mental health conditions or exposure to traumatic experiences: Some mental health diagnoses have a strong link to AUD, including major depressive disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder.
What Are the Long-term Effects of Alcohol Addiction?
- Slower reaction times
- Loss of balance
- Loss of motor coordination
- Slurred speech
- Dilation of blood vessels, which makes a person feel warm even though their body is rapidly losing heat
This impairment can contribute to a higher rate of injuries and violent acts. For example, people are more likely to have an auto accident, fall down or drown. Excessive alcohol use is also linked to higher rates of firearm accidents and injuries, homicides, suicides and abuse toward others. The impairment can also lead to other risky behaviors, such as unprotected sex or sex with multiple partners.
Excessive drinking can also lead to many long-term health problems, including:
- Liver diseases
- High blood pressure
Other long-term health problems associated with AUD include:
- Stomach diseases
- Brain damage
- Memory loss
- Worsening of mental illness symptoms
- Development of new mental health concerns
Finding Treatment for Alcohol Abuse and Addiction
Alcohol addiction negatively affects the lives of millions of people each year. However, most individuals cannot successfully stop drinking and maintain sobriety without the support of professional treatment. Full-service rehab facilities like the Orlando Recovery Center can help you or someone you love find lasting recovery through evidence-based treatment and a full continuum of care.
Orlando Recovery Center offers several levels of individualized care, including:
- Medical detox
- Inpatient rehab
- Outpatient rehab
- Intensive outpatient services
- Partial hospitalization programming (PHP)
- Long-term aftercare
We are an in-network provider with many major insurance companies, including BCBS/Florida Blue, Cigna, Aetna and others.
If you or someone you love is struggling with alcohol abuse and addiction, the Orlando Recovery Center can help. We offer a wide variety of treatment options designed to help address your addiction and its underlying causes, allowing you to begin the healing journey toward lifelong recovery. Contact us today to learn more about alcohol addiction treatment programs that can work well for your situation.