I first started to drink daily as a way to cope with my stress. At first, it helped relieve some of the tension after a long day. But lately, I started hiding my drinking from my daughter as I don’t want her to question it. Some days I start drinking earlier on and I feel bad about it. Do I have a problem? Can I become an alcoholic if I continue this way am I just considered an alcohol abuser? Is there any other way to deal with my stress?
In my line of work, I receive questions from dozens of people wondering, “Can I become an alcoholic?” I received this email from a mother worried both about her drinking and about its effects on her teenage daughter. She wondered if she was an alcoholic or not and whether her drinking was a cause for concern.
It’s a valid question: 15.1 million adults in the United States have an alcohol use disorder (AUD). Additionally, more than 1 in 4 adults report binge drinking in the past month. Heavy drinking isn’t isolated to alcoholics alone. But how do you know when you’ve crossed the line from heavy drinking into alcoholism?
In order to understand where that line lies you need to first learn more about different drinking behaviors. What are the various levels of drinking and what separates them from each other? And how do you know when it’s time for you to be concerned?
Can I Become an Alcoholic?
Alcoholism isn’t something you “catch” in the same way you get the latest strain of the flu in the fall. There is no single black-and-white determining factor on how or why someone develops an alcohol use disorder.
People often credit genetics when it comes to figuring out why someone develops an AUD. Some studies show that genetics contribute to more than 50 percent of the equation, but that still isn’t everything.
Researchers still see varying combinations of biological (or genetic) and environmental factors as the cause of alcohol addiction. But where does the line between having the occasional one too many drinks and alcohol use disorder lie?
The Difference Between Drinking Levels
Alcohol is the most socially-acceptable addictive substance in the world. 86.4 percent of adults who are 18 or older have drank alcohol at least once in their life. 70.1 percent of people in this same age range drank at least once in the last year and 56 percent in the past month.
Clearly large percentages of the population drink alcohol. It’s commonplace in society today, from dinners to sporting events, nights out with friends to barbeques at home. This doesn’t mean everyone who drinks develops an addiction to alcohol, though.
The majority of people who drink are responsible with their consumption. Having a drink after getting home from work or glass of wine with dinner is common among many across the country. These people remain within normal drinking levels and rarely drink to the point of feeling drunk.
The National Institute on Alcoholism and Alcohol Abuse (NIAAA) outlines various drinking levels on their website. They categorize the different types of drinkers and help people realize when they might be drinking more than they should.
Daily Recommended Alcohol Use
The NIAAA uses the recommendations in the “Dietary Guidelines for Americans,” published by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and the Department of Agriculture, for moderate alcohol consumption and daily limits.
“Dietary Guidelines” recommends no more than 1 drink for women per day and 2 drinks for men per day. If you drink within these levels, even if you drink daily, you most likely have nothing to worry about. Your alcohol consumption is fine as long as it doesn’t interfere with other responsibilities.
NIAAA considers binge drinking as any drinking that raises a person’s blood alcohol concentration levels, or BAC, to 0.08. This is the legal limit of inebriation, which means the person is considered intoxicated and impaired. About 26.9 percent of drinkers ages 18 and older report binge drinking at least once in the past month.
Most women reach this level after 4 drinks within a 2-hour period and men reach it after 5 drinks. This pattern of quick alcohol consumption affects your motor skills, coordination, and decision-making abilities. Binge drinking puts people at greater risk of harming themselves or someone else.
Heavy Alcohol Use
Heavy alcohol use describes people who had 5 or more binge-drinking episodes in the past month. According to the National Survey on Drug Use and Health, 7 percent of drinkers reported heavy alcohol use behaviors.
Plenty of people have a night where they have one or two more than they expected and push their limits. When it happens more than once over the course of a month, though, it shows signs of an unhealthy behavior pattern. Those who regularly qualify as heavy alcohol users are at greater risk of developing an alcohol use disorder.
Alcohol Use Disorder (AUD)
Alcohol use disorder, or AUD, is an official medical diagnosis for people who deal with alcohol addiction or alcoholism. There are 11 specific symptoms of AUD outlined in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5).
The major differences between heavy drinkers and those with an AUD are the feelings of craving and drinking despite the consequences. Craving refers to the overwhelming desire to take a drink when not drinking or to drink more after taking a drink.
An AUD is a serious and progressive condition when left untreated. Thankfully, addiction treatment programs like Heal@Home exist to help people who struggle with their drinking.
Do I Have an Alcohol Use Disorder?
If you’re concerned about your drinking, figure out which of the four categories best describes your drinking. Visit your doctor and have an honest conversation about how much and how often you drink. They can help you decide whether you should be concerned about your drinking and if seeking treatment is necessary.
Drinking doesn’t have to control your life; there are alternatives to drinking that offer more relief in a healthier way. Reach out today to find out whether the Heal at Home treatment program can help you.
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