What is Considered an Alcoholic?

With estimates suggesting that as many as 95,000 people die from alcohol-related causes annually, alcoholism is now classified as the third-leading preventable cause of death in the United States, alongside tobacco and poor diet. Unfortunately, while the importance of both exercise and quitting smoking are well-circulated by health professionals and in general society, a social acceptance towards sometimes excessive drinking cultures (the average American consumes 9.5 drinks per week) means that definitions of ‘alcoholism’ are not only broadly misunderstood, but also worryingly overlooked in many cases. 

Far from movie depictions of alcoholics losing their jobs and deteriorating at a fast rate, the reality is that highly-functioning alcoholism means that there is no ‘one size fits all’ definition for this problem. Rather, the warning signs tend to be well-masked, and are often hidden behind so-called socially acceptable drinking behaviors. 

With that in mind, what is considered an alcoholic, and how do you know when it’s finally time to seek help?

The warning signs of alcoholism

Experts suggest that as many as 15 million individuals across the US struggle with some form of alcohol use disorder. These are high statistics, yet a mere 10% of those individuals seek the help that they need to lead a healthier life moving forward.

Unfortunately, the physical and mental toll of even highly functioning alcoholism can be severe, preventing individuals from accessing the opportunities they may have otherwise, and leaving them at significant physical risk over time. Hence, fast action from a team of recovery professionals is always crucial as soon as a problem of this nature arises. Some signs that you or your loved could benefit from such assistance especially include –

1. Avoidance of the conversation

If other people have concerns about an individual’s drinking habits, then this in itself is a warning sign that something might not be right. However, the reaction of the person in question to these concerns can be even more revealing of a problem, and may sometimes be the first significant warning sign that something is wrong. For example, an individual who experiences no alcohol dependency will generally be receptive to these conversations and may even adjust their behavior as a result. By comparison, an individual experiencing alcohol dependency will have ample motivation to either avoid, discredit, or react unwillingly to even the suggestion of a conversation of this nature. They may then avoid the individual who raised the topic in the first place to ensure that they’re able to maintain their drinking habit without having to face up to the problem, and without having to seek the help that they ultimately require for recovery.

2. Drinking that’s chronic and problematic

According to the DSM-5 definition of an alcohol use disorder, a definition of alcoholism is generally arrived at when individuals meet at least two of a defined list of criteria that includes considerations like the growing frequency of alcohol use. Unfortunately, this definition can still leave plenty of room for confusion, especially when the Dietary Guidelines for Americans in 2015-2020, claims that even daily drinking (two drinks for men and one for women) needn’t necessarily highlight a problem. 

While useful in many cases, the amount you drink is therefore often less revealing than the impact that alcohol has on your life. Obviously, heavy drinking is a telltale sign of a problem, but regardless of the amount, alcoholism may also be present if chronic drinking behaviors (even within so-called ‘healthy’ boundaries) become problematic with regards to relationships, work performance, and so on.

3. Historic binge drinking

Defined by the National Institute of Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) as drinking patterns that bring blood alcohol levels up to 0.08 g/dL (around four drinks for women and five drinks for men across two hours), binging behaviors are another sign of addiction, and are especially prevalent among younger generations. While these behaviors are, more and more often, considered as merely part of our culture, historic and ongoing binging sessions that occur five or more times in 30 days can be a precursor or indicator of sometimes serious alcohol use disorders. For younger generations who often drink in this manner as the norm, studies have especially revealed that individuals displaying these unhealthy drinking behaviors at the age of 18 are at significantly increased risk of an alcoholism diagnosis by the age of 25. Furthermore, the physical toll of heavy binging sessions can significantly increase the bodily damage caused by drinking in the first place, with risks of ongoing heavy drinking sessions for even individuals who don’t drink in between including cancer, memory problems, and chronic disease.

4. Failure to meet responsibilities/obligations

Regardless of the toll it takes, alcohol dependency can be all-consuming, and can very quickly lead individuals to overlook or altogether forget about outstanding responsibilities and obligations that they might not think twice about otherwise. The physical impact of withdrawal, as well as an often growing need to drink for longer periods, can especially lead to missed days at work, missed social events, and even missed responsibilities like family occasions.

In fact, this is often the first warning sign that alerts loved ones to a problem, and an ongoing failure to show up can be a sure sign that a drinking habit has developed from a pastime into an altogether more serious and ultimately consuming disease.

While the image of addicts as criminals is outdated and often misrepresentative, escalating problems with alcohol use can, in many cases, leave individuals in legal trouble for various reasons. In fact, alcohol is thought to be a factor in as many as 3 million crimes per year, 40% of which are violent, while other crimes, including driving under the influence (DUIs) are also increasingly common alongside alcohol dependency.

Of course, this legal hot water doesn’t, in itself, represent alcoholism, especially if an individual has always toed the line of crime. If, however, a generally upstanding individual begins to receive multiple DUIs or court summons for crimes committed under the influence, it’s a sure sign not only that they’re drinking more, but also that they’re taking unnecessary risks in their pursuit to do so.

6. An inability to stop

It’s all too easy for individuals who are in the swing of reaching for a drink each evening to miss the signs of addiction, especially if they’re drinking within recommended limits. In reality, though, any amount of drinking is a problem if it’s a habit that the individual can’t break, meaning that an inability to stop is another sure sign that drinking isn’t quite the innocent pursuit you imagined. This inability can especially act as a warning sign for loved ones who, despite promises made to the contrary, may notice how the person in question either continues to drink as they were doing or even increases their alcohol consumption at the threat of having to go without.

7. Struggling through withdrawal

While even standard ‘hangovers’ are no laughing matter when we consider the facts, they aren’t a sign of alcoholism in themselves, but that’s not to say that suffering physically after a drinking session can’t still act as a red flag. Drinkers who develop a dependency on alcohol are especially at risk of withdrawal symptoms that are a sure sign their body is increasingly relying on alcohol to function. Warning signs to especially look for out include – 

  • Body tremors
  • Irritability
  • Headaches
  • Insomnia
  • Nausea
  • Etc.

5% of individuals who experience these early withdrawal signs are also at risk of developing a further, potentially fatal condition known as delirium tremens (DTs), highlighting the importance of recovery as soon as even mild withdrawal symptoms surface.

8. Physical side effects

According to the NIAAA, long-term and heavy alcohol consumption can also take a significant toll on our bodies in a more general sense, with symptoms including but not limited to – 

  • Compromised immune system
  • Impaired memory
  • Increased prevalence of anxiety/depression/etc.
  • And so on

Overextended periods, alcohol use has also been linked with often serious health conditions including cirrhosis, certain types of cancer, stroke, arrhythmias, and high blood pressure to name a few. As such, alcoholic tendencies often eventually take some manner of a physical toll on an individual’s body outside of even withdrawal periods. Regardless of whether they seem unrelated, escalating health complaints or the prevalence of arising problems of this nature is, therefore, a sure sign that an individual is drinking too much, and has been doing so for some time.

Overcome your alcohol addiction

Even if you don’t feel like your drinking is a problem, recognizing any of these warning signs is a sure indication that you’re on a slippery slope towards addiction that isn’t easy to come back from. Only by recognizing that fact can you seek the help you deserve, offered through treatments like those that we provide here at Peak Recovery. From medical detoxes through to inpatient and outpatient treatments and all-important support groups, our expert team is on-hand to help you the moment you realize the need to help yourself. Simply contact us to discuss your options today.