When are you considered an alcoholic? Signs, Drinking Levels, Causes, Effects & Treatment
Alcohol plays a small role in some people’s lives and a much larger one in others. How problematic alcohol use becomes depends on many factors. When drinking starts to cause serious consequences, the question becomes when are you considered an alcoholic? There are several ways to think about the answer to this question. To better understand the many facets of alcoholism, let’s look at some of the most common signs that someone might be an alcoholic.
When You Want to Stop Drinking but Can’t
A hallmark of alcoholism is the desire to stop drinking and the inability to do so. If you’re concerned about your alcohol consumption, set a period in which you don’t want to drink. If you can’t achieve that goal, then you might have, at the very least, psychological dependence on alcohol.
When You Are Physically Dependent on Alcohol
When are you considered an alcoholic? If you need alcohol to feel normal or to alleviate withdrawal symptoms, you are dependent on alcohol. Physical dependence is a clear indicator of addiction. If you become ill once alcohol leaves your system, then you are likely dependent. Signs of alcohol dependency include tremors, nausea, irritability, and intense cravings for alcohol.
When Your Life Is Repeatedly Being Affected by Drinking
Whether you are struggling to do your job, or your relationships are being affected by drinking, you could have an alcohol addiction. Here again, the recognition that alcohol is dramatically affecting your life combined with an inability to stop drinking is a major sign of alcoholism.
When You Make Plans to Accommodate Drinking
If you make plans based strictly on drinking, be mindful that this is often a sign of alcoholism. You might be reluctant to go to events or engage with others if you won’t be able to have a drink. You might avoid activities because you know that they take place during a time that you will be intoxicated. If alcohol takes up this much space in your life, it is a warning sign of an alcohol use disorder.
When You Drink Alone
People often start drinking for social reasons, but as an addiction to alcohol progresses, one might start regularly drinking in solitude. Drinking alone isn’t just a sign of alcoholism, it can also be a sign of depression. Drinking alone could isolate you from others, increase feelings of depression, and put you at risk of a serious injury.
When are you considered an alcoholic?
If you are questioning how alcohol is affecting your life, the chances are good that alcohol is causing unwanted consequences. “When are you considered an alcoholic?” is a question that people ask when they are noticing a troubling trend in their own lives or the lives of a loved one. It’s important to understand that alcohol affects people differently. Some might be physically dependent on it. Others might not experience withdrawals when they don’t drink, yet still, have a very unhealthy relationship with alcohol that they want to address.
If you want to stop drinking and you can’t, know that help is always available. Some people might believe that they are incapable of quitting alcohol, but it’s important to realize that no one is beyond help.
Drinking Levels Defined
Drinking in Moderation
According to the “Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2020-2025,” U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and U.S. Department of Agriculture, adults of legal drinking age can choose not to drink or to drink in moderation by limiting intake to 2 drinks or less in a day for men and 1 drink or less in a day for women when alcohol is consumed. Drinking less is better for your health than drinking more.
- The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), which conducts the annual National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH), defines binge drinking as 5 or more alcoholic drinks for males or 4 or more alcoholic drinks for females on the same occasion (i.e., at the same time or within a couple of hours of each other) on at least 1 day in the past month.
- NIAAA defines binge drinking as a pattern of drinking alcohol that brings blood alcohol concentration (BAC) to 0.08 percent – or 0.08 grams of alcohol per deciliter – or higher. For a typical adult, this pattern corresponds to consuming 5 or more drinks (male), or 4 or more drinks (female), in about 2 hours.
Heavy Alcohol Use
- NIAAA defines heavy drinking as follows:
- For men, consuming more than 4 drinks on any day or more than 14 drinks per week
- For women, consuming more than 3 drinks on any day or more than 7 drinks per week
- For men, consuming more than 4 drinks on any day or more than 14 drinks per week
- SAMHSA defines heavy alcohol use as binge drinking on 5 or more days in the past month.
Patterns of Drinking Associated with Alcohol Use Disorder: Binge drinking and heavy alcohol use can increase an individual’s risk of alcohol use disorder.
Certain people should avoid alcohol completely, including those who:
- Plan to drive or operate machinery, or participate in activities that require skill, coordination, and alertness
- Take certain over-the-counter or prescription medications
- Have certain medical conditions
- Are recovering from alcohol use disorder or are unable to control the amount that they drink
- Are younger than age 21
- Are pregnant or may become pregnant
Causes of Alcoholism
It is common to think this condition arises from a person who simply does not know how to control their alcohol consumption and is trapped in a vicious circle, but according to the scientific piece ‘The many causes of Alcoholism’ Cohen, S. Published on the Drug Abuse & Alcoholism Newsletter, there are three main causes of this disease: biological, physiological, and sociocultural.
- Biological causes may be:
- Genetic: “inherited susceptibility to alcohol’s acute effects, impaired ability to catabolize ingested alcohol, or difficulty in dealing with anxiety, frustration, and depression”.
- Biochemical: insulin sensitivity, episodes of spontaneous hypoglycemia, or adrenal insufficiency.
- Or endocrine: persistently low levels of androgenic hormones.
- Among the psychological causes of Alcoholism are:
- Need for tension relief and anxiety control
- Personality disorders
- Psychodynamic factors
- Learning: tension reduction from drinking provides a positive reinforcement to continue drinking
- Role modeling: peer example or occupational pressures
- Culture-specific drinking traditions and those stresses and conflicts experienced by certain subcultures also contribute to overindulgence in alcohol
Alcohol’s Effects on the Body
The effects of a drink of alcohol can vary a lot from one person to the next, but it usually takes about an hour for your body to metabolize one drink. Alcohol stays in the body for different periods depending on how much you drank, your body weight, and your sex. Factors that influence how quickly alcohol leaves the system include your age, height and weight, and amount of food in your stomach at the time you drink.
But Alcoholism can affect multiple organs of the body, including the brain, heart, liver, pancreas, and even the immune system.
- Brain: Alcohol interferes with the brain’s communication pathways, and can affect the way the brain looks and works. These disruptions can change mood and behavior, and make it harder to think clearly and move with coordination.
- Heart: Drinking a lot over a long time or too much on a single occasion can damage the heart, causing problems including:
- Cardiomyopathy – Stretching and drooping of the heart muscle
- Arrhythmias – Irregular heartbeat
- High blood pressure
- Liver: Heavy drinking takes a toll on the liver, and can lead to a variety of problems and liver inflammations including:
- Steatosis, or fatty liver
- Alcoholic hepatitis
- Pancreas: Alcohol causes the pancreas to produce toxic substances that can eventually lead to pancreatitis, a dangerous inflammation and swelling of the blood vessels in the pancreas that prevents proper digestion.
- Immune System: Drinking too much can weaken your immune system, making your body a much easier target for disease. People who drink chronically are more liable to contract diseases like pneumonia and tuberculosis than people who do not drink too much. Drinking a lot on a single occasion slows your body’s ability to ward off infections – even up to 24 hours after getting drunk.
Alcohol Addiction Treatment
When it comes to Alcoholism treatment, it is normal to think of 12-step programs or 28-day inpatient rehab, but it becomes difficult to think of more options of treatment for this condition. There are a variety of treatment methods currently available. According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, there are three types of treatment:
- Behavioral Treatments: are aimed at changing drinking behavior through counseling. They are led by health professionals and supported by studies showing they can be beneficial.
- Medications: Three medications are currently approved in the United States to help people stop or reduce their drinking and prevent relapse. They are prescribed by a primary care physician or other health professional and may be used alone or in combination with counseling.
- Mutual-Support Groups: Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) and other 12-step programs provide peer support for people quitting or cutting back on their drinking. Combined with treatment led by health professionals, mutual-support groups can offer a valuable added layer of support. Due to the anonymous nature of mutual-support groups, it is difficult for researchers to determine their success rates compared with those led by health professionals.
Reclaim Your Life From Alcoholism
“When are you considered an alcoholic?” is a question that people ask when they are noticing a troubling trend in their own lives or the life of a loved one. Alcoholism is a serious disease that should not be taken lightly. We Level Up California rehab institute can provide you, or someone you love, the tools to recover from alcoholism with professional and safe treatment. Feel free to call us to speak with one of our counselors. We can inform you about this condition by giving you relevant information. Our specialists know what you are going through. Please know that each call is private and confidential.
 Loeber S, Duka T, Welzel H, Nakovics H, Heinz A, Flor H, Mann K. Impairment of cognitive abilities and decision making after chronic use of alcohol: the impact of multiple detoxifications. Alcohol Alcohol. 2009 Jul-Aug;44(4):372-81.