According to the National Survey on Drug Use and Health, in 2018, 139.8 million Americans, aged 12 or older, were alcohol users.
But as you can imagine, not every single one of those individuals was, or is, a problem drinker or an alcoholic.
Different people have different relationships with alcohol and that causes there to be a spectrum of users. If you believe you or someone you know might have an alcohol use disorder, keep reading as we explore the different levels of alcohol consumption.
Understanding the Spectrum of Alcoholism
If you’ve read about alcoholism or watched any documentaries about it, you might have noticed that different terms are used to refer to different levels of alcohol use.
The truth is that, just like with any other addiction, no one starts drinking alcoholic beverages with the intention of becoming dependent on them.
Most people start with an innocent beer or glass of wine and with time, one turns into two, three, four and more.
When we think about this, it’s easy to understand why there’s a spectrum of alcoholism. But what are the different stages within that spectrum? Keep reading as we go through them.
Experimental and Social Use
Many of us have our first drink out of pure curiosity. We’ve seen our parents drink a glass of wine at dinner, heard about all the crazy cocktails people drink at parties, and seen young people in movies ordering beer after beer.
And well, once we’re old enough to do it, we order that first beer without thinking too much of it.
This is perfectly normal and not problematic at all.
What can be problematic is the path we choose to take after that first drink.
Some of us don’t understand what the fuss is all about and so we don’t touch alcohol again. Others enjoy that beer and start drinking occasionally, in social situations or after an exhausting day.
Others start seeing a different side to alcohol. They enjoy the effects more than the drink itself, and that’s when it becomes an issue.
Within this third group of people, there are two different subgroups and, by the title of this article, you can probably gather what they are. Let’s get into the difference between having a drinking problem and alcoholism.
What’s a Problem Drinker?
A problem drinkers binges, which means they drink large amounts of alcoholic beverages, with the sole goal of getting drunk, and not enjoying the drink.
This typically happens in two types of situations:
- First few months of drinking
When young people start to drink, they don’t always know their limits, which can easily lead to binge drinking. Plus, we all know how many parties happen on a daily basis. Teens don’t want to miss out and many times, they end up drinking day after day, after day.
- After a negative situation
Being broken up with, being fired, dealing with the death of a loved one… It’s not uncommon for people to turn to alcohol to cope with situations like this.
Red Flags of a Drinking Problem
It’s crucial to understand if you have a drinking problem because this can lead to negative decisions that can have a huge impact on your life. These are some common symptoms:
- Feeling depressed and angry.
- Avoiding friends and family members.
- Missing class or work.
- Spending too much money.
- Engaging in unsafe sexual relations.
- Blacking out.
- Driving under the influence.
What’s an Alcoholic?
Unlike the problem drinker, who doesn’t know their limits or drinks to cope with a specific situation, the alcoholic drinks because they need it to function.
This is the most severe stage in the spectrum of alcoholism, as the person is hooked on alcohol, and they most likely will need help to get off it.
Alcoholism isn’t just in your mind. It isn’t just your brain asking for a drink – it’s your body, which is what makes this problem that much more serious. Since your tolerance to drinks has increased considerably, you need a lot more to become intoxicated.
And of course, consuming alcohol at this level has major consequences on your mental and physical health. In some cases, it even becomes life-threatening.
Red Flags of Alcoholism
After reading a bit about alcoholism, it’s clear to see why you shouldn’t ignore any red flags that you might be struggling with this issue. The following are some common symptoms:
- Having to drink more to get the effect you’re looking for.
- Constantly being hungover.
- Always having alcohol in your mind.
- Quitting hobbies you used to enjoy.
- Finding yourself in dangerous situations while under the influence.
- Experiencing withdrawal symptoms when the alcohol effect starts wearing off.
Once you recognize you have a problem, it’s very important that you act on it. The right solution for you will depend on the degree of your problem, but independently of that, you should know that there’s always a way for you to quit drinking.
One thing that always helps, whether you’re a problem drinker or an alcoholic, is to reach out to someone you know and trust.
This way, you start building a strong support system that can help you stay on track in recovery.
From there, you’ll need to understand what’s the best way to go about your issue.
What’s the Next Step?
The answer to this question depends on which stage of the spectrum you’re in.
If you only drink occasionally, all you need to do is make sure you keep doing so.
If you believe you’re a problem drinker, it can be a good idea to remove any alcohol from your house and stop going to parties for a while. This will give your body some time to detox. When you feel ready, you can start experimenting with alcohol again, always trying to keep a balanced relationship with it.
If you think your drinking problem has turned into alcoholism, it’s essential that you get help as soon as possible. Rehab might be the right solution for you so, alongside the support system we mentioned before, start looking for the best program for your case.