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Alcoholism Vs. Problem Drinking

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Many misunderstandings remain when trying to determine if someone is dealing with alcoholism versus problem drinking. Fortunately, we are no longer living in the days of acceptable excessive alcohol consumption because research has proven how alcohol negatively impacts our minds and bodies.

The data and statistics are readily available concerning how quickly recreational drinking can become a problem that edges on alcoholism. Unfortunately, a large population grew up with their parents excessively consuming alcohol and found it difficult to see the light.

Drinking Overview

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention establishes that drinking too much alcohol can be detrimental to one’s health and shorten the life of an individual by 26 years. Another alarming statistic is that 1 in 5 deaths among adults ages 20 to 49 is the result of excessive alcohol consumption. Despite the current knowledge of the dangers of excessive drinking, social drinking is prevailing in today’s cocktail culture and is big business. Awareness of drinking and driving has shed some light on the situation and provides more boundaries, but reaching out for alcohol as a coping mechanism hasn’t changed much.

In the United States, the standard drink contains 0.6 ounces of pure alcohol. A safe level of alcohol consumption is 1 or fewer drinks per day for women and 2 or fewer drinks per day for men. Today, more than ever, the level of alcohol in drinks is provided right on the label to provide guidance. Typically, one drink daily is much less than most social situations provide for.

The following data results from this:

  • 12 oz. beer with 5% alcohol content
  • 8 oz. of malt liquor with 7% alcohol content
  • 5 oz. of wine with a 12% alcohol content
  • 1.5 oz. of 80-proof (40% alcohol content), distilled spirits or liquor such as gin, rum, vodka or whiskey

Moderate Drinking
Moderate drinking consists of the acceptable levels of not more than 1 drink per day for women and not more than 2 drinks per day for men set by US Dietary Guidelines. Increasing alcohol consumption can cause health concerns and serious consequences. For those who are drinking alcohol in moderation, the reason for drinking may not be to self-medicate or cope. However, even moderate drinking can have a negative impact, such as raising the risk for heart disease, cancer, and, ultimately, an alcohol use disorder.

The National Institute of Health provides information about why people drink alcohol in an abstract in the National Library of Medicine. The research finds that alcohol is the third most common lifestyle-related cause of death in the US, after tobacco and obesity. Alcohol alters emotional states and provides feelings of happiness and relaxation while reducing stress and anxiety. With the high level of stress and pressure today, alcoholism versus problem drinking habits may see moderate drinkers crossing the lines.

Binge Drinking

Those developing a binge drinking habit are consuming 5 or more drinks per 2-hour period for men and 4 per the same time for women. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention believes binge drinking is a serious and preventable public health concern. Over 90% of adults drinking excessively report episodes of binge drinking. 1 in 6 US adults binge drink, with 25% reporting weekly episodes of binge drinking.

Other statistics concerning binge drinking include:

  • Younger adults aged 18 to 34 are typically the most common binge drinkers
  • More men are binge drinkers than women
  • Binge drinking is most common among adults who earn more than $75,000 per year and are non-Hispanic white

Problem Drinking
Problem drinking may indicate heavy drinking of more than 3 drinks per day for women and 4 per day for men. Excessive drinking is a warning sign that a drinking problem may be present and a higher risk of developing an alcohol use disorder (AUD).

Research shows that problem drinkers, like those with AUD, may experience negative consequences in relationships or other lifestyle factors. Those reaching out to alcohol as a coping mechanism or self-medicating option may also have a mental health condition such as depression or anxiety disorder.

Problem drinking, binge drinking, and excessive drinking can all lead to the development of an alcohol use disorder. It is not uncommon to have dual diagnosis or co-occurring conditions, such as an alcohol use disorder and depression. There are treatment options for dual diagnosis that are very successful. In determining whether alcoholism vs. problem drinking is present, as well as any mental health issues, it’s best to seek help from a medical or mental health provider.

The American Psychiatric Association cuts the standards for determining alcoholism for doctors to diagnose substance use disorders. Substance use disorders are medical illnesses with successful treatment options.

A physician or mental health professional can screen for an AUD by directing qualified criteria toward the user. A patient must match 2 of the paraphrased criteria below within 12 months to receive an AUD diagnosis.

  • Drinking more alcohol than initially intended
  • Possessing an inability to cut down on alcohol use, even when there is a desire to
  • A strong desire or craving to drink alcohol
  • Spending a lot of time obtaining, using, and recovering from the effects of alcohol use
  • Alcohol use causes a failure to fulfill obligations at work, home, or school
  • Continual drinking despite the development of interpersonal or social problems due to the habit
  • No longer have an interest in activities that were once enjoyable because of alcohol
  • Dangerous drinking
  • Drinking alcohol, despite the adverse effects on physical and mental health
  • Developing a tolerance to alcohol
  • Experiencing withdrawal symptoms when the amount of alcohol consumption is less or stopped

Alcoholism Vs. Problem Drinking

In determining alcoholism vs. problem drinking, it is essential to realize that not all problem drinkers have alcohol use disorder. However, problem drinking increases the risk of developing an AUD.

Excessive drinking is not healthy and could lead to adverse life circumstances. Those concerned about how much alcohol they consume need to reach out to a medical professional for advice.

Post-Acute Withdrawal Syndrome (PAWS)
Post-acute withdrawal syndrome (PAWS) occurs after the initial detox from alcohol is complete. Also known as protracted withdrawal, it is essential to educate those in treatment about the possibility of encountering it for relapse prevention.

PAWS may occur weeks after treatment, and suddenly, withdrawal symptoms begin to appear again, just like in detox. Anxiety, hostile feelings, irritability, depression, moodiness, fatigue, insomnia, and problems focusing or thinking can occur and last an undetermined period.

Awareness that protracted withdrawal could happen is the best defense against it. A written relapse prevention plan can remind someone in this miserable state to reach out for help. Holistic therapies like mindfulness, and cognitive-behavioral therapy can help to cope. Group therapies are also helpful to discuss with peers who experience similar situations and share emotions and feelings.

Alcoholism vs. problem drinking are both treatable conditions. Finding a reliable and professional alcohol rehab program will begin with a medically monitored detox with the option of medication-assisted treatment.

Treatment options are an individual choice, but whether inpatient rehab or an outpatient program is preferable, recovery from an alcohol use disorder is possible. Establishing sobriety and rebuilding a healthy and positive life can offer a world of opportunities.

Find Treatment for Alcohol Use Disorder in California Today
Fear and anxiety of the unknown are typical for those deciding to seek help in finding treatment for an alcohol use disorder. Sierra Health + Wellness in California offers a wide array of treatment programs for substance use disorders, dual diagnosis, and relapse prevention. The center provides understanding and compassionate therapies to those who want to achieve sobriety and a fulfilling lifestyle.

Contact our admissions office today for more information.