Alcoholism is a chronic and progressive disorder affecting millions worldwide, leading to physical and mental health issues, relationship problems, and financial instability. Knowing when casual drinking becomes alcoholism can be challenging, as the transition is often gradual and difficult to recognize. However, understanding the signs and symptoms of alcohol addiction is crucial to help individuals seek the necessary help before it’s too late.
AspenRidge, a leading rehab center in Denver, has provided evidence-based treatment for alcoholism and other substance use disorders. In this article, we will explore the red flags and warning signs that indicate when casual drinking has crossed the line into alcoholism and what AspenRidge can do to help those struggling with addiction.
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If you genuinely stay within the healthy drinking limits, you’re likely at low risk for alcohol-related health problems down the line. What, exactly, is considered ‘healthy’? When does casual drinking become alcoholism?
Alcohol is integral to many cultures worldwide, including the United States. It is often used for celebration, mourning, and everything in between. Weddings, graduations, and even having a nice family dinner are all excuses that we use to drink on a regular basis. Along with these specific social situations, we are conditioned to view alcohol as somewhat harmless, given how it’s portrayed in videos, the media, and even in some cartoons. A 2017 survey found that 86% of Americans over 18 reported drinking alcohol at some point in their lives. More alarmingly, however, is that 25% of Americans reported binge drinking last month. So when does casual drinking become alcoholism?
Impacts of Alcohol and Binge Drinking
The mass acceptance of alcohol use does carry some significant side effects. For example, the popularity of alcohol consumption is the difficulty it creates in knowing when drinking has become a problem. Despite alcohol being legal throughout the United States, it’s important to understand that it carries significant health impacts not dissimilar to those from illegal substances such as opioids, methamphetamines, marijuana, and other restricted substances. In fact, according to the National Survey on Drug Use and Health conducted by SAMHSA, the most commonly used addictive drugs in the U.S. are:
More Than 16 Million People Meet the Criteria for Alcohol Use Disorder
Alcohol misuse is the third leading cause of preventable deaths today. Sadly, only about 7% of alcohol abusers get the needed treatment. Perhaps one of the reasons for this trend is the gradual misuse of alcohol as it pertains to popular culture. For these reasons, it’s extremely important to be aware of the research surrounding alcohol dependence and abuse to determine if alcohol use has become problematic.
According to a report from the Centers for Disease Control, approximately six people die daily from alcohol-related consequences. In 30% of these alcohol-related deaths, a history of a clinical diagnosis of alcoholism was reported. Extensive research on alcoholism and alcohol abuse has been performed across several different cultures and has determined various factors that can lead to alcohol-related problems.
While many people like to associate alcohol with things like a wedding toast or getting drinks to relax after work, many don’t recognize some of the harsh realities associated with alcohol misuse. Problems like drunk driving, physical and sexual assault, and sickness are all regular occurrences, exacerbated when casual drinking becomes more frequent.
Safe Drinking Defined
When does casual drinking become alcoholism, though? The short answer is it’s hard to determine. The effects of having a few drinks can differ from person to person. That said, there are two definitions of what is often considered “safe drinking.” The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) recommends “low risk” drinking, which sets limits for what levels of drinking will put you at low risk for developing an alcohol abuse issue later on. This comes out to no more than three drinks on any single day and no more than seven drinks per week for women, and no more than four drinks on any single day and no more than 14 drinks per week for men.
What Are Signs of a Drinking Problem?
Alcohol abuse and alcohol dependence are considered to be two separate diagnoses. Alcohol abuse is often a single episode of binge drinking, whereas alcohol dependence is often marked by a physical and emotional need to obtain and use alcohol. It is helpful to differentiate between alcohol abuse and dependence when beginning to assess one’s self for problematic drinking. Further clarification on alcohol abuse and dependence can be found below.
- Recurrent use of alcohol impacting the ability to complete work, school, or at home duties.
- Recurrent use of alcohol in places or situations that drinking can harm self or others.
- Recurrent legal problems such as disorderly conduct, operating while intoxicated, theft, etc.
- Recurrent use despite negative impacts on interpersonal relationships that are exacerbated by alcohol use.
- A mental or emotional need for increased amounts of alcohol when drinking.
- Use of alcohol to avoid the effects of withdrawal from alcohol.
- Drinking larger amounts over an extended period of time.
- Persistent desire to obtain, use, and recovery from alcohol use.
- Continued drinking despite knowledge of the negative physical and psychological consequences exacerbated by drinking alcohol.
When assessing for problematic drinking, it is important to consider drinking patterns and consequences. The main difference between alcohol abuse and alcohol dependence is the level of recurrent patterns. Alcohol abuse can be a single episode of binge drinking or excessive drinking, however, alcohol abuse can transition to alcohol dependence if left untreated. A pattern of alcohol abuse is considered a significant risk factor for developing alcohol dependence.
Is Being a “Functional Alcoholic” a Problem?
“Functional Alcoholism” or “Weekend Warriors” are commonly used terms to describe a person who is able to maintain employment, family life, and meets financial expectations. However, they may use drugs and alcohol extensively after the completion of the workweek. “Functional alcoholism” is a newer term that helps to describe the chronic use of alcohol despite the lack of negative consequences.
According to the National Council on Alcohol and Drug Dependence, 14 million or “one out of every 13” adult Americans suffer from an alcohol use disorder. Additionally, 20% of people struggling with alcohol use may be considered “functional alcoholics”. Because of the lack of negative consequences, functional alcoholism maybe even more problematic than a diagnosed alcohol use disorder (AUD). Functional alcoholism goes untreated and can lead to several problems in the future. Some common physical and emotional problems that may occur due to prolonged alcohol use include:
- Liver damage
- Brain damage
- Pancreatic damage
Other consequences that may occur to undiagnosed alcoholism include:
- Financial loss
- Relationship difficulties
- Loss of employment
Research shows the consequences of alcohol will occur eventually. If negative problems have not happened for an individual, most research has shown that most functional alcoholics or undiagnosed alcoholism does transition to more severe problems over time. In the end, functional alcoholism may not be a problem at the moment. However, prolonged and chronic use does take a toll.
How Can I Tell If Alcohol Has Become A Problem?
It is important to self-assess for problematic drinking since alcohol dependence can have drastic social, emotional, and physical consequences if left untreated. In order to answer, when does casual drinking become alcoholism, it’s critical to evaluate based on several key factors. The majority of alcohol-related concerns go undiagnosed each year and may contribute to the wide range of alcoholism.
It is not necessary to wait to talk with your doctor or counselor about it, and it is encouraged for people to assess themselves for problematic drinking. There are several self-assessment tools online, however AspenRidge offers an easy and informative tool for assessing possible problematic drinking.
AspenRidge Recovery – Alcohol-Related Diseases
AspenRidge Recovery is Colorado’s leading alcohol addiction recovery center helping thousands to overcome excessive drinking and alcohol use disorder. Our various programs aim to treat AUD using different approaches, including dual diagnosis therapy, substance misuse help, cognitive therapy, holistic approaches, group therapy, and more.
The Joint Commission also certifies our center, and our licensed counselors are trained, specifically, in substance misuse and addiction. We offer the following programs:
We can help guide you through the different stages of alcohol rehab and next steps. It’s also critical to understand that treatment is different for everyone and, therefore, a tailored treatment approach is important. Contact us today for more information about Colorado alcohol rehabilitation at 855-281-5588.