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 and a family — you can’t actually be addicted to alcohol, right?
Alcoholism takes many forms, and the stereotype doesn’t always hold true. So when do a few drinks with friends become a full-blown alcohol addiction? How do you know if you are an alcoholic?
Table of Contents
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What’s the Difference?
Let’s start with casual drinking. Unless you have religious or personal restrictions, a few drinks with friends or a glass of wine with dinner is usually not an issue. The problem starts, though, when you begin abusing the substance.
Many people use the terms “alcohol abuse” and “alcoholism” interchangeably. However, alcoholism refers to 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:
- Heavy Drinking: For men under age 65, heavy drinking means having two drinks a day, or more than 14 drinks in a week. For women and men over age 65, heavy drinking is more than one drink a day, or more than seven drinks in a week.
- Binge Drinking: Binge drinking refers to consuming a large amount of alcohol at one time. For men, it’s defined as five or more drinks within 2 hours. For women, it’s four or more drinks in that same time frame.
10 Warning Signs You’re an Alcoholic
The following are ten warning signs of alcoholism that might help you answer the question, “Am I an alcoholic?”
- Drinking alone and in secrecy.
- Losing interest in other activities you once found enjoyable.
- Alcohol cravings.
- Making drinking a priority over responsibilities.
- Alcohol withdrawal symptoms.
- 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.
- An inability to stop or control the amount of alcohol 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.
When the Stereotype Doesn’t Fit: Types of Alcoholics
When most people imagine an alcoholic, they picture a stereotype that seems nothing like themselves. In reality, there are different types of people who are addicted to alcohol. Individuals struggling with alcohol addiction come from all backgrounds and all age groups. Do you recognize yourself in any of these?
- Five Types of Alcoholics:
Young Adult Subtype
Individuals in the young adult subtype make up 31% of people addicted to alcohol in the U.S. 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
Many of this type also have other substance addictions, anxiety problems, bipolar disorder and major depression.
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. About 62% of functional alcoholics work full time, and 26% possess a college degree or higher. This subtype makes up 19.5% of people addicted to alcohol in the U.S.
Intermediate Familial Subtype
Individuals in the intermediate familial subtype are, on average, age 38 and are usually employed. About 50% of these individuals 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 people addicted to alcohol in the United States. 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.
Symptoms of Alcoholism & Alcohol Withdrawal
Alcoholism is the physical 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 dependence. Alcohol is a drug, and as you drink more, the body adjusts to its effects and learns to compensate. Eventually, as dependence develops, stopping alcohol can lead to withdrawal symptoms.
- Common Symptoms of Alcohol Withdrawal:
- Anxiety or nervousness
- Jumpiness or shakiness
- Mood swings
- 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.
In some cases, the individual may experience delirium tremens — the most severe form of alcohol withdrawal. This can cause agitation, fever, hallucinations, confusion and seizures. For this reason, people who drink heavily and are looking to end their addiction should seek medical assistance.
Are the Effects of Alcoholism Reversible?
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 oz. of beer, 5 oz. of wine or 1.5 oz. 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 of various health issues for any user.
Despite the harm associated with alcohol consumption, the effects are reversible most of the time. Identifying problematic drinking early and getting into treatment can reverse many of the mental, emotional and physical side effects of heavy drinking. However, at a certain point, the damage is too severe. For example, liver failure and cirrhosis are complications of heavy drinking that are permanent. Permanent health damage should not deter a person from seeking treatment since SUD treatment can still improve a person’s quality of life.
Getting Help For Alcoholism
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 here. And when you’re ready, learn about our treatment programs or get started with online rehab.
Outpatient addiction treatment at The Recovery Village can help you gain independence in recovery, build trust and develop new skills…Learn More
Inpatient rehab treatment is an intensive addiction treatment program that combines psychiatric and medical treatment in a live-in facility.Learn More
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MedlinePlus. “Alcohol Withdrawal: MedlinePlus Medical Encyclopedia.” Medlineplus.Gov, 10 Jan. 2019. Accessed October 20, 2019.
National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA). “Alcohol Facts and Statistics.” Aug. 2018. Accessed October 20, 2019.
National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA). “Drinking Levels Defined.” National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA). Accessed October 20, 2019.
National Institute of Health. “Researchers Identify Alcoholism Subtypes.” National Institutes of Health (NIH), 28 June 2007. Accessed October 20, 2019.
National Survey on Drug Use and Health 2018. “Results from the 2018 National Survey on Drug Use and Health: Detailed Tables.” Samhsa.Gov, 2018. Accessed October 20, 2019.
World Health Organization. “Global Status Report on Alcohol and Health 2018.” Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse, 2018. Accessed October 20, 2019.