Am I an Alcoholic?: The Difference Between Casual Alcohol Use and Addiction – According to the 2015 National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH), nearly 87% of people aged 18 or older reported that they consumed alcohol at some point in their lives. About 70% said that they drank in the past year and more than half (56%) reported that they drank alcohol in the past month.
Some people use the terms “alcohol abuse” and “alcoholism” interchangeably. Neither of these terms is all that clinically helpful, however. Most health providers use specific diagnostic criteria and the term “alcohol use disorder,” which encompasses a spectrum of problem drinking ranging from mild to severe.
The term “alcoholic,” however, is commonly used to refer to someone who is addicted to alcohol and has developed physical and psychological dependence. Alcohol addiction is hallmarked by dependence and the development of tolerance, as well as excessive drinking despite the harm it is causing. There are two types of excessive drinking known as “heavy alcohol use” and “binge drinking” and a person abusing alcohol may engage in one or both of these behaviors regularly.
Am I an Alcoholic?: Self-Evaluation
If you have one or more of the above symptoms and you would like to investigate further, there are self-screening tests that are confidential and free to help you better understand your drinking habits. One is the CAGE Alcohol Assessment Quiz, which, although only four questions long, is said to identify 9 out of 10 alcoholics.
Another is the AUDIT Alcohol Assessment Quiz, which was designed by the World Health Organization (WHO) and consists of 10 multiple-choice questions.
Am I an Alcoholic?: Warning Signs
Behavioral Signs of Alcoholism
Some behaviors are strong indicators that an alcohol abuse problem is developing or in progress. Specific signs, habits, and behaviors to look for include the following:
Neglect of Important Responsibilities
Failure to attend to critical responsibilities might include, but are certainly not limited to, poor performance at school or work, neglect of family members (including children), not paying bills on time, and avoiding social commitments due to being drunk or hungover.
Risk-Taking and Encountering Legal Issues
Alcoholics often take risks that they otherwise would not if they were sober. In addition to drinking and driving, they might drink alcohol while taking medication that recommends against it, engage in dangerous activities such as swimming while drunk or performing stunts, or showing up to events intoxicated to the horror and embarrassment of loved ones. As a result of DUIs, charges for public intoxication or participating in domestic violence, alcoholics tend to have brushes with the law due to their risky behavior and sometimes illegal activities.
Drinking to Relieve Stress
Many cultures normalize the desire to have a drink or two after work or before bed to wind down, de-stress, and relax. The problem is that this “want” can turn into a “need” as a person develops a psychological dependence on alcohol. Alcohol abusers often think of this type of drinking as a personal right and a reward that may or may not actually be warranted.
Drinking in Spite of Strained Relationships
Alcoholics usually encounter personal problems due to their drinking habits. Some people take these problems seriously, and when addressed, decide to cut back, quit, or seek help.
Many individuals, however, apologize repeatedly but do not change their habits or behavior. Some simply keep reassuring others that they WILL change or that everything’s okay. Still others begin hiding alcohol in places that only they know and drink in secret hoping that those concerned will not notice and leave them alone.
Other warning signs of alcoholism include the following:
- Loss of interest in activities that were once found to be enjoyable
- Having cravings for alcohol
- Withdrawal symptoms upon cessation of use (sweating, anxiety, etc.)
- Extreme moodiness, irritability, and agitation
- Feelings of guilt associated with drinking habits
- Drinking first thing in the morning to stave off a hangover or withdrawal symptoms (hair of the dog)
- Inability to reduce the amount of alcohol that is consumed or stop entirely
The 5 Types of Alcoholics
When many people picture an alcoholic, they imagine a stereotype that seems nothing like themselves. They may think a homeless person begging on the street for money in order to drink, or someone who has lost everything to alcoholism. Unfortunately, this is the exception and not the rule.
While some severe, end-stage alcoholics may fit this profile, most alcoholics haven’t hit true “rock bottom,” or at least they don’t remain there. In reality, there are several different types of alcoholics of varying ages and levels of functioning.
If you are dependent on alcohol, you may recognize yourself as fitting into one of the following subtypes:
Young Adult Subtype and Young Antisocial Subtype
People who fall into the young adult subtype make up about 31% of alcoholics in the United States. They tend to drink less frequently than other subtypes, but when they do drink, they’re likely to binge and engage in risky behavior. Surprisingly, these individuals often come from families with relatively low rates of alcoholism.
More than half (54%) of this subtype have a psychiatric disorder known as Antisocial Personality Disorder (ASPD), a mental illness that’s hallmarked by irresponsible behavior and criminal activity that includes fights and assaults, a lack of remorse and regard for others, deceitfulness, and impulsivity. Many people with ASPD also have other substance addictions or mental health conditions such as anxiety or depression.
The high-functioning alcoholic makes up nearly 20% of all alcoholics in the United States. This profile is the furthest from the alcoholic stereotype, leading those who suffer and their loved ones to be in denial about their problem. They’re often successful, highly-educated, and hold down stable jobs and take care of families. In fact, nearly two-thirds (62%) of functional alcoholics have full-time employment, and 26% have earned a college degree.
Intermediate Familial Subtype
This subtype is only slightly less common (19%) than those considered to be high-functioning. They are, on average, about 38 years old and usually employed. About half of these individuals are from families with a long history of alcoholism, and about the same amount (50%) have also experienced clinical depression. Also, 20% have bipolar disorder, and many smoke tobacco and/or engage in other substance abuse, including that involving cocaine or marijuana.
Chronic Severe Subtype
This is the rarest of all subtypes, making up only 9% of alcoholics. Most people in this group are middle-aged and experiment with drinking at an early age. Of the five subtypes, these individuals rate highest for other psychiatric conditions and abuse of other substances. About 80% are from families with a lengthy history of alcoholism.
Getting Treatment for Alcoholism
Whether you or a loved one is struggling with alcohol addiction, it’s important to be aware of the signs and realize that you (or your loved one) are not alone.
Discovering that you or someone you love is facing an alcohol abuse problem can be shocking and extremely worrisome. But with each drink, you continue to give away your freedom to a lie that if left unchecked, will probably continue to take from you until you have almost nothing left to give but your life.
Thousands of people battle alcoholism every day, and many make the decision to seek help. Harmony Recovery Centers offers comprehensive designed to treat alcoholism and other substance use disorders. We provide a variety of therapeutic services vital to the recovery process, including psychotherapy, counseling, and group support, among others.
Please contact us today to discuss treatment options. Discover how we help people reclaim their sanity and learn to lead healthy, fulfilling lives, free of alcohol or drug use!
Related: What Is a 12-Step Program?