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Am I an Alcoholic?

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Alcohol and its consumption have been a part of our society for many years now. When it comes to drinking alcohol, there are many who ask, “Am I an alcoholic?’. The answer is not always a direct ‘yes’ or ‘no’. However, if you are concerned about your drinking and asking this question, it’s important to understand what defines an alcoholic and how to get help. When it comes to heavy drinking and alcoholism, it’s never too early to get help. 

The National Institute of Health (NIH) reports that in the 2019 National Survey of Drug Use and Health (NSDUH), close to 15 million Americans reported having an alcohol use disorder (AUD). Of these nearly 15 million, 9 million were men and 5.5 million women over the age of 12 years. If you think you may be one of these millions, it’s important to learn more about alcoholism and find an answer to the question, “Am I an alcoholic?”.

First, let’s take a look at the many terms used when it comes to problems with alcohol consumption. Here are some of the most used terms related to alcohol issues: 

  • Alcoholism
  • Alcohol abuse
  • Alcohol dependence
  • Alcohol use disorder (AUD)
  • Heavy drinking
  • Binge drinking
  • High-intensity drinking

Understanding Alcohol-Related Terms

The first term, alcoholism, is also probably the most used and most well-known. However, in the addiction treatment industry, there has been a move away from the use of this term. This is in part due to the negative stigmas often associated with alcoholism and the term alcoholic. 

The definition of alcoholism in the Merriam Webster dictionary is as follows: 

  1. Continued and excessive use of alcoholic drinks
  2. Chronic, progressive, potentially fatal disorder marked by excessive and usually compulsive drinking of alcohol leading to psychological and physical dependence or addiction

And while this definition accurately defines alcoholism, it doesn’t help an individual to answer the question, “Am I an alcoholic?”. In addition to disassociating with the negative stigmas attached to the terms alcoholic and alcoholism, the move to change to alcohol use disorder is also in order to further define exactly what a problem with alcohol looks like. 

Futures Recovery Healthcare offers evidence-based, comprehensive treatment for alcohol issues as well as issues with other substances and mental health. 

Alcohol use disorder or AUD is a term that came into use in May of 2013 when the American Psychiatric Association issued the fifth edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Health Disorders or the DSM-V. Prior to this, the terms alcohol abuse and alcohol dependence were used to describe problems with alcohol consumption. 

However, this fifth issue of the DSM combined both of these terms into the new term, alcohol use disorder (AUD). This classification also has subclassifications for AUDs, mild, moderate, and severe. 

In addition to these three terms, heavy drinking, binge drinking, and high-intensity drinking are terms often associated with problem drinking. Let’s explore these. 

Heavy drinking is defined by the National Institute of Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) as the following:

  • For men, drinking more than four drinks in one day or more than 14 drinks per week
  • For women, drinking more than three drinks per day or more than seven drinks per week 

Binge drinking is defined by the NIAAA as a pattern of drinking that brings the blood alcohol concentration (BAC) to 0.08 or higher. This usually happens when a male adult consumes more than five drinks in two hours and when adult females consume four or more drinks in that same two-hour period. 

However, it’s important to note that the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) defines binge drinking somewhat differently. SAMHSA defines binge drinking as five or more alcoholic drinks consumed by a male, four by a female on one occasion in the past month. 

According to the 2019 NSDUH, 25.8% of all adults in the United States reported binge drinking in the last month. 

High-intensity drinking is a new term that has been used to help further define problemed drinking. High-intensity drinking is defined by the NIAAA as consuming alcohol at two times the gender-specific amounts associated with binge drinking. In other words, high-intensity drinking is when males consume ten or more drinks within a two-hour period or on one occasion. For females, it is defined as consuming eight or more drinks in those same time periods. 

This emerging trend of high-intensity drinking is a reason for concern. The NIAAA reports that compared to moderate drinkers, high-intensity drinkers were seen in emergency departments for alcohol-related issues 70 times more. 

If you are asking yourself, “Am I an alcoholic?” you may relate to some of these definitions, however, at face value, these definitions can still make it difficult to really answer the question. And, if you do have an issue with alcohol, it’s vital to find your answer and get help. 

For many, looking at these definitions may make it easy to answer, no. Or you may still be confused and unsure. One of the most important points to understand is that not all drinking problems look the same. In fact, just as each person is unique, so too are their drinking patterns and issues. 

The High-Functioning Alcoholic 

There is a certain stigma that is still inaccurately associated with alcoholism or AUDs. Many people think that someone with a problem with alcohol is poor, disheveled, has social and legal issues, is falling down drunk, has lost jobs, relationships, etc. This is simply not true. In addition, holding on to this incorrect stereotype, leaves many alcoholics continuing to drink as they think, “I’m not that bad.” And while many who are full-blown alcoholics may not be ‘that bad’, alcoholism and AUDs can wreak havoc on one’s life—even if it isn’t yet seen. 

The term high-functioning alcoholic is used to describe someone with an AUD who continues to function at high levels even with their ongoing alcohol use. From advancing in their careers to being a ‘super mom’ or dad, AUD can lurk in the background. While from the outside things may look just fine, a high-functioning alcoholic knows that this is far from the truth. 

As mentioned, often a high-functioning alcoholic has a good job, is a respected member of the community, and in many cases even has a high-profile lifestyle. Maintaining this high-profile lifestyle may make them concerned about getting help for alcohol issues while maintaining their privacy and lifestyle. Seeking treatment at an addiction treatment center that understands this is of paramount importance. 

Some treatment centers cater to high-profile individuals and executives who are linked to lifestyles in which alcohol consumption is common. Addressing this in treatment and ways to remain active in this lifestyle while abstaining from alcohol consumption is vital to recovery for the high-functioning alcoholic. Futures’ Orenda program, caters to individuals inextricably connected to the public persona as well as those in high-demand occupations. 

And while these individuals may seem to be insulated from the common ‘troubles’ associated with alcoholism (legal issues, money problems, relationship difficulties), they too experience many of the devastating consequences of an AUD if they don’t get help. 

There are numerous health issues associated with AUDs. Nationally and globally, alcohol use disorder can result in serious health issues. Let’s look at some overall statistics: 

  • 3 million deaths globally were attributed to alcohol consumption
  • Alcohol misuse was the seventh leading cause of premature death and disability 
  • 14% of all deaths in the age group 20 to 39 years of age were alcohol-attributable
  • About 7 million children under the age of 18 in the United States live with a parent who has an AUD

As you can see, the misuse of alcohol causes many serious issues with health and life expectancy. But that’s not all according to research those who consume alcohol more than moderately also have an increased risk of:

  • Liver disease
  • Heart disease
  • Stroke
  • Depression
  • Stomach bleeding 
  • Cancers such as esophagus, liver, colon, larynx, etc. 

While not everyone who has an AUD will go on to have these health issues, many will, and others will experience ongoing health issues from compromised immune systems and more. 

Now that you know a little more about alcohol and alcohol-related terms, let’s dive a bit deeper so you can answer the question, “Am I an alcoholic?”.

Signs of Alcoholism and AUD

Why one person who drinks becomes an alcoholic or develops an AUD and another does not is dependent on many factors. Heredity plays a significant role as well as life experiences, especially during childhood. However, no matter how someone gets to the point of wondering if they have an issue with alcohol, it’s important to understand that anyone who truly wants to recover from an AUD can do so with the right help. 

According to the DSM-V, an individual who answers ‘yes’ to any of the 11 stated criteria during a 12-month period has an AUD which is further defined as either mild, moderate, or severe.

Let’s review these 11 questions. It’s important to first note that being honest is vital. Often, when it comes to an AUD or any addiction, there is a lot of denial involved. Denial keeps people from getting the help they need and finding recovery. Be as honest with yourself as possible while you read the following criteria for AUD. In the last twelve months have you:

  • Drank more than planned or ended up drinking longer than planned?
  • Tried to cut down on or stop drinking and were unsuccessful?
  • Spent significant time drinking or recovering from the effects of drinking (hangover)
  • Craved a drink so much that it consumed your thoughts?
  • Experienced drinking (or the aftereffect of drinking) causing issues with taking care of your responsibilities such as family, work, school, etc.? 
  • Continued to drink despite problems being caused?
  • Increased the amount of alcohol you drink to get the same effect?
  • Experienced alcohol withdrawal symptoms when the effects of alcohol wore off? (Sleeping issues, shakiness, nausea, sweating, racing heart, seizure)
  • Cut back on activities you used to enjoy to spend more time drinking? 
  • Found yourself in high-risk or dangerous situations when you were drinking? (driving, unsafe sex, being in a dangerous area, etc.)
  • Continued drinking despite the issues it causes such as health problems, depression or anxiety, or after having a blackout? 

As mentioned, according to the DSM-V criteria, answering ‘yes’ to two or more of these questions indicates you may have an issue with alcohol or an AUD. The more questions you answer yes to, the more severe the AUD. 

Mild AUD is defined as answering yes to two or three of these questions, moderate is answering yes to four or five, and severe is experiencing six or more of these symptoms of drinking. 

Now that you have more information on alcohol-related disorders and understand the criteria that define alcoholism or an AUD, you should be able to answer the question, “Am I an alcoholic?”. 

No matter where on the scale of an AUD you find yourself, there is hope, there is help, and you don’t have to face it alone. Many times individuals with AUDs try to stop on their own, they look to their willpower to help them forget about drinking. However, for most this simply isn’t enough. They may stay sober for a time but without the proper understanding of the disease of alcoholism and addiction, coping strategies, and the right support system in place, they return to alcohol—often times worse than when they stopped. 

If you think you may be an alcoholic or have an AUD, Futures is here for you. Our compassionate, expert team, some of whom are in recovery themselves, are dedicated to helping each person who walks through our doors recover from addiction—whether to alcohol or another substance. 

Futures offers three distinct addiction treatment options, Core, Orenda, and Rise. As well as a unit dedicated to providing inpatient mental health treatment. 

Reach out to Futures today and start healing tomorrow. Call 866-804-2098

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