Am I An Alcoholic? The Difference Between Casual Drinking and Alcoholism

Am I An Alcoholic? The Difference Between Casual Drinking and Alcoholism

Am I An Alcoholic?  The Difference Between Casual Drinking and Alcoholism

You don’t fit the stereotype. Maybe you’ve never been homeless, stolen money to buy alcohol, or gotten a DUI. Maybe you have a job, a family—you can’t actually be an alcoholic, right?

Alcoholism takes many forms, and the stereotype doesn’t always hold true. So when does a few drinks with friends become a full-blown alcohol addiction? How do you know if you are an alcoholic?

Casual drinking, alcohol abuse, & alcoholism

Let’s start with casual drinking. Unless you have religious or personal restrictions, there’s nothing wrong with a few drinks with friends, maybe some wine with dinner, or the occasional bubbly at a party. The problem starts, though, when you begin abusing the substance.

Many people use the terms “alcohol abuse” and “alcoholism” interchangeably. However, alcoholism refers to an alcohol addiction or dependence, where the individual has a physical or psychological compulsion to drink alcohol. Alcohol abuse refers to a pattern of behavior where a person drinks excessively in spite of the negative consequences.

But what is excessive drinking? There are two types:

  1. Heavy drinking – For men under age 65, heavy drinking means having four drinks a day or more than 14 drinks in a week. For women and men over age 65, heavy drinking is more than three drinks a day or more than seven drinks in a week.
  2. Binge drinkingBinge drinking is drinking a large amount of alcohol at one time. For men, it’s defined as five or more drinks within two hours. For women, it’s four or more drinks in that same time frame.

Ten Warning Signs You’re An Alcoholic

The following are ten warning signs of alcoholism that might help answer the question “Am I an Alcoholic?”:

  • Drinking alone and in secrecy
  • Losing interest in other activities that were once enjoyable
  • Alcohol cravings
  • Making drinking a priority over responsibilities, such as employment and family
  • Alcohol withdrawal symptoms (sweating, anxiety, etc.)
  • Extreme mood swings and irritability
  • Feelings of guilt associated with drinking
  • Having a drink first thing in the morning
  • Continuing to drink, despite health, financial and family problems
  • Inability to stop or control the amount of alcohol that’s consumed

Whether you’re the loved one of someone struggling with alcohol addiction, or you yourself are struggling, it’s important to be aware of these signs and to know that you’re not alone. Thousands of people from all walks of life battle alcoholism every day, and thousands make the decision to seek help. The Recovery Village offers various programs at facilities throughout the country that are designed to treat alcoholism, among other disorders. All you have to do is call, and one of our intake coordinators will take care of the rest.


You may be feeling at this point that something is amiss. You might be wondering “Do I have a drinking problem?” To know if you’re an alcoholic, you must be completely honest with yourself. These three screening tests are confidential and available for free to help you better understand your drinking habits:

CAGE Alcohol Assessment Quiz

The CAGE alcohol test is an extremely short self-assessment developed by Dr. John Ewing. In spite of only being 4 questions long, it’s been shown to identify 9 out of 10 alcoholics.

MAST Alcohol Assessment Quiz

The MAST alcohol assessment was developed in the early ‘70s and is designed to assess the presence and severity of drinking problems. Because it’s one of the oldest alcohol screening tests out there, there are multiple variations available. Ours consists of 22 yes/no questions that you can complete in a few minutes.

AUDIT Alcohol Assessment Quiz

The AUDIT alcohol assessment was created by the World Health Organization (WHO) and consists of 10 multiple-choice questions.

Signs of alcoholism and alcohol abuse

Heavy drinking or binge drinking once in a blue moon might not be a problem for you. But some behaviors are indicators that things are getting serious and might signs of alcoholism. Signs to look out for include:

    • Neglecting responsibilities

This might look like low performance at work or in school, not paying attention to your kids, or skipping commitments because you’re drunk or hung over.

    • Taking risks and encountering legal problems

Driving while intoxicated, mixing alcohol with medication, and putting your life and others’ lives in danger is a sign that something is seriously wrong.

    • Drinking to de-stress

American culture makes it seem normal to drink after a long workday or after an argument with a loved one. But this can turn alcohol into a need.

    • Drinking in spite of relationship problems

If you find yourself drinking even though you know it upsets your spouse, or if you find yourself fighting with family who criticize your drinking habits, there may be a bigger problem at hand.

Symptoms of alcoholism and alcohol addiction

Alcoholism is the physical and/or mental dependence on alcohol.

If you find yourself regularly thinking about your next drink, or if you’ve tried to cut back on drinking and never quite succeeded, you may have an alcohol addiction.

Alcoholism begins with tolerance. Alcohol is a drug, and as you drink more, the body becomes less susceptible to its effects. And with enough repetition, it comes to expect the presence of alcohol. This leads to alcohol withdrawal syndrome (AWS), when the body reacts to a heavy drinker stopping the supply.

Symptoms of alcohol withdrawal

According to the U.S. National Library of Medicine, the symptoms of alcohol withdrawal include:

  • Anxiety or nervousness
  • Depression
  • Fatigue
  • Irritability
  • Jumpiness or shakiness
  • Mood swings
  • Nightmares
  • Not thinking clearly

It may take a few hours or days for these symptoms to show, and they may get worse in the days following.

Withdrawal can be dangerous, but a detox program can help you move past the negative symptoms safely.

In some cases, the individual may experience the most severe form of alcohol withdrawal called delirium tremens. This can cause agitation, fever, hallucinations, confusion, and seizures. For this reason, heavy drinkers who are looking to end their addiction should seek medical assistance.

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When the Stereotype Doesn’t Fit: The 5 Types of Alcoholics

When most people imagine an alcoholic, they picture a stereotype that seems nothing like themselves. In reality, there are five different types of alcoholics. Individuals struggling with an alcohol addiction comes from all backgrounds and all age groups. Do you recognize yourself in any of these?

Young Adult Subtype

Individuals in the young adult subtype make up 31% of U.S. alcoholics. They drink less frequently than the other subtypes, but when they do drink, they’re likely to overdo it and binge. They typically come from families with low rates of alcoholism.

Young Antisocial Subtype

Roughly 54% of this subtype have a psychiatric diagnosis of Antisocial Personality Disorder (ASPD), a condition that’s characterized by at least three of the following:

  • Recurring criminal activities
  • Regular fights of assaults
  • Lack of regard for the safety of others
  • Lack of remorse
  • Impulsiveness
  • Deceitfulness
  • Irresponsibility

Many of this type also have other substance addictions, anxiety problems, bipolar disorder, and major depression.

Functional Subtype

The high-functioning alcoholic is perhaps the furthest from the alcoholic stereotype, leading many to be in denial about their addiction. They’re often successful, with families and stable jobs. 62% of functional alcoholics work full time, and 26% possess a college degree or higher. This subtype makes up 19.5% of U.S. alcoholics.

Intermediate Familial Subtype

Individuals in the intermediate familial subtype average an age of 38 years and are usually employed. About 50% of these individual are from families with multigenerational alcoholism, and almost all have experienced clinical depression.

Chronic Severe Subtype

This is the rarest subtype, making up only 9% of U.S. alcoholics. Most individuals in this subtype are middle-aged and started drinking early. Of the five subtypes, they rate highest for other psychiatric disorders and abuse of other substances. Roughly 80% are from families that struggle with multigenerational alcoholism.

Alcoholism is a disease that can affect both children and adults, but it doesn’t affect everyone the same way. For some people, just one drink can result in intoxication, while for others, many more drinks are necessary to create the same effect. A “drink” is classified as 12 ounces of beer, 5 ounces of wine or 1.5 ounces of distilled spirits, according to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA). In terms of the effects on the body and brain, excessive alcohol consumption can increase the risk for various health issues for any user. The big question is: Are the effects of alcoholism reversible?
When it comes to behavior disorders, the notion of causality (cause and effect) can be a major factor between one disorder and another. Drug abuse is often linked to depression, alcoholism is often linked to PTSD and so on. But what about eating disorders? Can THEY be related to alcoholism? They certainly can be. This relationship between substance abuse and a mental health disorder is what’s referred to as a co-occurring disorder. For some people, the substance abuse disorder causes the mental health disorder, while for others, it’s the other way around.

The reasons for the co-occurrence of alcoholism and eating disorders vary for each person, but there are certain common denominators involved.

These include low self-esteem, poor self-image and depression, which often lead to self-medicating behaviors. Many people who abuse alcohol consume it in place of food, becoming “drunkorexic” as a result. Drunkorexia can also involve combining binge eating and purging in addition with alcohol abuse.

The good news is, there are many treatment facilities in the country that can treat alcoholism AND co-occurring disorders like bulimia, anorexia and binge eating. If you or someone you know is struggling with both alcoholism and an eating disorder, help is just a phone call away.

Get help for alcoholism and alcohol addiction

Discovering you aren’t just a casual drinker and are facing an alcohol problem can be shocking. But we’re here for you. Get the facts about alcohol addiction and treatment here. And when you’re ready, learn about our treatment programs.

With each drink, you give away your humanity and freedom to a lie that will take from you until you have nothing left to give. Has this happened to you? If you’re reading this, you already know that alcohol is not the way. You don’t need temporary relief. You need complete healing. That’s what we do here at The Recovery Village. Call 352.771.2700 now. You don’t have to be afraid, ashamed or alone anymore.

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