Am I An Alcoholic?

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An alcoholic is an individual with a medical condition known as alcoholism, alcohol addiction, or alcohol use disorder. In essence, an alcoholic is someone who cannot curb or stop their drinking despite having experienced many adverse effects. Although alcoholism has many recognizable signs and symptoms, you need a professional diagnosis to be sure you have it.

If you believe you have a serious drinking problem, please contact Guardian Recovery today to learn more about our comprehensive programs. Our compassionate addiction specialists can help you begin your journey toward healing and long-lasting recovery. 

SELF-ASSESSMENT:

Do I have an Addiction issue?

Disclaimer: Does not guarantee specific treatment outcomes, as individual results may vary. Our services are not a substitute for professional medical advice or diagnosis; please consult a qualified healthcare provider for such matters.

What Is Excessive Drinking?

Alcohol use disorder is a clinical diagnosis that indicates a person’s alcohol consumption has become problematic. Moreover, forms of alcohol abuse exist on a spectrum of relatively mild to severe drinking behaviors. The term “alcoholic” is commonly used to refer to someone with physical and psychological dependence on alcohol, tolerance, and withdrawal symptoms.

According to the National Institute of Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA), there are two patterns of excessive drinking:

Heavy Drinking: For women of all ages and men over age 65, heavy drinking means having more than one standard drink per day or more than seven in one week. For men under age 65, heavy drinking is defined as having two standard drinks per day or more than 14 per week. 

Binge Drinking: Binge drinking is a pattern of alcohol consumption in which a person drinks a large amount of alcohol in a relatively brief period. It is defined as five or more standard drinks for men and four or more for women within two hours.

Self-Evaluation

If you would like to explore the nature of your condition further, there are several free self-tests online that can help improve your understanding of your relationship with alcohol.

One of the most popular (and brief) alcohol use screening tools is the CAGE Alcohol Assessment Quiz. Although this test is only four questions, according to research, it has been shown to correctly identify alcohol dependence in most people (93%) who take it. 

AUDIT  is another tool backed by research that “provides a simple method of early detection of hazardous and harmful alcohol use…”

Why Is Alcohol Addictive?

Alcohol promotes the release of dopamine and other feel-good brain chemicals responsible for producing feelings of pleasure and reward. And research has shown that some people are more susceptible to excessive alcohol use and addiction because they experience a greater release of these chemicals when they drink.

Next, repeated alcohol use can lead to significant, long-lasting physical changes in brain functioning. And over time, people can become addicted to alcohol use due to the development of tolerance and dependence. Attempts to stop are then met with cravings and withdrawal symptoms, often unpleasant enough to warrant a return to drinking to make them subside.

Finally, addictions are also emotionally driven, learned behaviors. For example, when alcohol is used repeatedly as self-medication or a means of escape, a person can begin to depend on this behavior—a needed yet dysfunctional coping mechanism.

There is an important distinction to make between alcohol dependence and alcohol abuse. A person who is alcohol dependent will not be able to stop for a significant length of time without professional help. Someone who abuses alcohol regularly might be able to quit on their own, and they might not experience withdrawal symptoms when they do quit.

Recognizing the Signs of Alcoholism

If you have begun to self-identify as an alcoholic, you should know the specific signs, attitudes, and behaviors that are common to people struggling with alcohol consumption. If the following behaviors apply to you, you might consider seeking an evaluation from a substance abuse recovery center or addiction specialist:

Neglect of Important Commitments and Responsibilities

Alcoholics often fail to fulfill obligations considered essential to function in life. This can happen due to hangovers, needing a “hair of the dog,” or remaining intoxicated for long periods. Examples of areas of life that can suffer include the following:

  • Job performance, including missing work, being late, and not meeting employer standards.
  • Academic performance, such as missing classes, failing tests, and not completing assignments.
  • Family and home life, such as neglecting commitments to a spouse or children.
  • Financial stability, such as getting behind on bills due to increasing alcohol expenses or job loss.
  • Social engagements, including absence due to hangovers, being intoxicated, or irritability when unable to drink when desired

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Risk-Taking, Impulsivity, & Legal Issues

Alcoholics often take risks that they would not if they were sober. This is because alcohol reduces inhibitions, increases impulsivity, and impairs decision-making. When alcoholics commit offenses like drunk driving, public intoxication, or domestic violence, they can face jail time, fines, and penalties. They can also have difficulty passing background checks later when applying for jobs.

Drinking to Relieve Stress

For many people, having a drink or two after work or before bed to relax is a normal part of their day. But this activity can become a priority when someone develops an alcohol dependency. Unfortunately, many alcoholics start out thinking this is an innocent pattern of drinking, a personal right, and a reward they deserve.

Drinking Despite Relationship Problems

Alcoholics often experience significant interpersonal problems due to their excessive drinking. But instead of making a change, they apologize and attempt to reassure others that everything is fine while continuing to drink, albeit more discreetly. At some point, however, they will no longer be able to hide the extent of their problem from their loved ones.

Other Signs of Alcoholism Include:

    • Alcohol cravings when not drinking
    • Withdrawal symptoms when use is discontinued, such as headaches, shakiness, and irritability
    • Blackouts, or not remembering some of all events that occurred while intoxicated
    • Extreme mood swings and angry outbursts
    • Feeling guilty or ashamed of drinking habits or behavior
    • Drinking upon awakening to reduce hangover effects or withdrawal symptoms

The Five Types of Alcoholics

When many people imagine what an alcoholic looks like a stereotype that seems nothing like themselves may come to mind. Although some severe or end-stage alcoholics fit this profile, most do not. Alcoholics vary in age, patterns of use, and levels of functioning. If you have an alcohol use disorder, you may find that you can identify with one of the following subtypes, as determined by NIAAA:

Young Adult

Young adult alcoholics make up a significant portion (nearly one-third) of excessive drinkers. Although they generally consume alcohol less often than other types and rarely seek professional help, they tend to engage in dangerous binge drinking patterns.

Young Antisocial 

The young antisocial subtype accounts for about 1 in 5 alcoholics in the U.S. On average, they are in their mid-20s, had an early onset of regular drinking, and come from families with a lengthy drinking history. They also tend to have other addictions or mental health issues, such as anxiety. Around half have been diagnosed with antisocial personality disorder, a mental health condition hallmarked by risky, impulsive, and illicit activity.

Functional

Functional or “high-functioning” alcoholics account for another 1 in 5 problem drinkers in the U.S. Outwardly, individuals at this level share little resemblance to severe “rock bottom” alcoholics. Unfortunately, functional alcoholics and their loved ones are often in denial about their addiction’s severity. Indeed, these individuals are often successful, educated, gainfully employed, and adequately care for their families and themselves. 

Intermediate Familial 

Individuals who fall into the subtype represent another 1 in 5 problem drinkers. On average, they are in their late 30s and usually employed. Intermediate familial alcoholics typically come from families with a history of alcoholism, and most experience clinical depression.

Chronic Severe 

Chronic severe alcoholics are those individuals commonly portrayed as being unemployed, homeless, and desperate. However, alcoholics of this severity are relatively uncommon, accounting for less than 1 in 10 problem drinkers. On average, they are middle-aged, have a high rate of mental health issues, and most come from families where alcohol use is prevalent.

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Getting Treatment for Alcoholism

Alcoholism has the potential to devastate the lives of those who suffer and loved ones who are negatively impacted by it. If you suspect you are an alcoholic, you don’t have to put off getting treatment until it gets worse. If you have been unable to control your alcohol use, addressing this problem as soon as possible should be your #1 priority. Addressing this problem early on can save you from experiencing its adverse effects for years to come. 

At Guardian Recovery Center, we offer comprehensive, individualized programs designed to address the root causes and effects of alcoholism. Our goal is to provide those we treat with the tools they need to renew their hope for a healthy, alcohol-free life. Please contact us today for a free, no-obligation health insurance benefits check.

SELF-ASSESSMENT:

Do I have an Addiction issue?

Disclaimer: Does not guarantee specific treatment outcomes, as individual results may vary. Our services are not a substitute for professional medical advice or diagnosis; please consult a qualified healthcare provider for such matters.

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Reviewed professionally for accuracy by:

Ryan Soave

L.M.H.C.

Ryan Soave brings deep experience as a Licensed Mental Health Counselor, certified trauma therapist, program developer, and research consultant for Huberman Lab at Stanford University Department of Neurobiology. Post-graduation from Wake Forest University, Ryan quickly discovered his acumen for the business world. After almost a decade of successful entrepreneurship and world traveling, he encountered a wave of personal and spiritual challenges; he felt a calling for something more. Ryan returned to school and completed his Master’s Degree in Mental Health Counseling. When he started working with those suffering from addiction and PTSD, he found his passion. He has never looked back.

Written by:

Cayla Clark

Cayla Clark

Cayla Clark grew up in Santa Barbara, CA and graduated from UCLA with a degree in playwriting. Since then she has been writing on addiction recovery and psychology full-time, and has found a home as part of the Guardian Recovery team.

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