Casual Drinking vs. Addiction: Am I an Alcoholic?
If you’re an adult living in the United States, you’re likely faced with nearly constant opportunities to enjoy a drink—after-work happy hour, wine with dinner after a long day, holiday office parties, mimosas at Sunday brunch, and beer at a football game, just to name a few.
With so many opportunities to indulge, you may find yourself drinking more and more often over time. Eventually, you may even find yourself drinking every day. Is this a bad thing? Does it make you an alcoholic, or do you simply enjoy casual drinking as part of your daily routine?
Read on to learn the difference between causal drinking and alcohol abuse or addiction.
Understanding Alcohol Abuse and Addiction
In order to differentiate the dangerous signs of addiction or alcohol abuse from casual drinking, it’s important to understand what these terms mean.
The US Department of Health and Human Services defines moderate drinking as no more than 1 drink per day for women and 2 drinks per day for men. In other words, having a drink every day isn’t an automatic red flag—but drinking to the point of feeling buzzed or drunk every day probably is.
Between moderate drinking and alcoholism often lies alcohol abuse, marked by a continued pattern of excessive drinking despite negative consequences. According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA), excessive drinking, also known as binge drinking, is alcohol consumption that brings blood alcohol concentration levels to 0.08 g/dL. In most cases, this threshold is reached when a woman has 4 drinks or a man has 5 drinks in a span of about 2 hours.
Excessive drinking can often lead to negative consequences, including poor health, strained relationships, legal troubles, and problems at work or school. If you continue to see negative consequences as a result of your drinking but refuse to decrease or stop your drinking, this is a sign of alcohol abuse. It could also be a sign of alcohol addiction.
Addiction occurs when your body develops a physical or psychological dependence on alcohol. You may experience strong physical cravings for alcohol or may simply feel you need alcohol just to get through each day or week.
If you are addicted to alcohol, you may find yourself drinking more and more to enjoy the same effects you used to experience after just a few drinks. When you attempt to quit, you may experience withdrawal symptoms such as upset stomach, anxiety, shakes, and sweating. For this and other reasons, you may have unsuccessfully attempted to quit drinking in the past.
If you are exhibiting signs of alcoholism, you may feel guilt or shame over your inability to quit. It’s important to understand that this is a disease and does not say anything about your willpower or value as a person. Just like many other diseases, you can find healing by seeking treatment from licensed professionals.
Self Assessment for Alcoholism
Are you still wondering if you have crossed the line between casual drinking and alcohol abuse or alcoholism? If so, try answering the following questions openly and honestly. These 22 yes/no questions come directly from the revised Michigan Alcohol Screening Test (MAST), as presented by CounsellingResource.
- Do you feel you are a normal drinker (“normal” – drink as much or less than most other people)?
- Have you ever awakened the morning after some drinking the night before and found that you could not remember a part of the evening?
3. Does any near relative or close friend ever worry or complain about your drinking?
- Can you stop drinking without difficulty after one or two drinks?
- Do you ever feel guilty about your drinking?
- Have you ever attended a meeting of Alcoholics Anonymous (AA)?
- Have you ever gotten into physical fights when drinking?
8. Has drinking ever created problems between you and a near relative or close friend?
- Has any family member or close friend gone to anyone for help about your drinking?
- Have you ever lost friends because of your drinking?
- Have you ever gotten into trouble at work because of drinking?
- Have you ever lost a job because of drinking?
- Have you ever neglected your obligations, your family, or your work for two or more days in a row because you were drinking?
- Do you drink before noon fairly often?
- Have you ever been told you have liver trouble such as cirrhosis?
- After heaving drinking, have you ever had delirium tremens (D.T.s), severe shaking, visual or auditory (hearing) hallucinations?
17. Have you ever gone to anyone for help about your drinking?
- Have you ever been hospitalized because of drinking?
- Has your drinking ever resulted in your being hospitalized in a psychiatric ward?
- Have you ever gone to any doctor, social worker, clergyman, or mental health clinic for help with any emotional problem in which drinking was part of the problem?
- Have you been arrested more than once for driving under the influence of alcohol?
- Have you ever been arrested, even for a few hours, because of other behavior while drinking?
While any one of these questions, on its own, may or may not represent a red flag for alcohol abuse, a pattern of yes answers is definitely cause for concern. If you believe you or a loved one is suffering from alcohol abuse or alcoholism, it’s time to seek help from professionals you can trust.
Seeking Help for Alcohol Abuse or Alcoholism
No matter how many times you or your loved one has tried and failed to quit alcohol, there is still hope. At Hawaiian Island Recovery, our integrative treatment approach combines evidence-based interventions with experiential and holistic therapies. Led by a team of licensed professionals, this treatment method supports a full recovery for those suffering from alcohol abuse or alcoholism.