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During my drinking years, I was in deep denial about having a problem with alcohol. I blamed negative consequences on everything but the drink—it was either bad luck, bad timing, or I just had a bad night. The stigma associated with “alcoholism” kept me sick. I was afraid to entertain this word because I thought it meant I was a failure.
But I was also unsure about the gray area between alcohol abuse and alcoholism. How do you know when you’ve crossed the line? I didn’t lose a job, my friends, or my home. And yet I was miserable. The truth is whether it’s alcoholism or alcohol abuse, you might need help.
Alcohol abuse is defined by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) as a pattern of drinking that results in harm to a person’s health, and other aspects of their life including work and personal relationships. If you abuse alcohol you might have participated in the following situations:
Alcohol abuse can lead to alcohol dependence. Alcohol dependence is when the body is physically dependent on the substance. This can also be called alcohol addiction. Physical dependence is a sign of the disease of alcoholism. Alcoholism is a chronic disease and can carry complications in addition to health issues associated with heavy alcohol use and withdrawal symptoms.
According to SAMHSA, there are 176.6 million alcohol drinkers in the U.S., and an estimated 17 million of them have an alcohol use disorder, also called alcoholism. Genetics have been shown to be a risk factor for alcoholism, as well as other qualifying criteria such as:
The more of these symptoms you have, the more likely it is that you are experiencing an alcohol use disorder and not just alcohol abuse. Alcohol use disorder is a spectrum and can be experienced in a mild, moderate, or severe way, depending on the criteria met.
The million-dollar question is how do you know when your drinking has crossed the line? How do you know when you’re just using alcohol too much or if you have an alcohol use disorder? Regular alcohol use should not negatively affect your life at all. If you are able to moderate your consumption, you should enjoy drinking and not experience negative health or social consequences. SAMHSA defines three different levels of drinking:
But it’s important to note that an alcohol use disorder isn’t solely dependent on how much you drink. It’s also about how your drinking affects your life and how it makes you feel inside.
If you’re trying to decide whether you have an alcohol use disorder, ask these questions. In the past year, have you:
The reality is most people who are on the alcoholism spectrum can benefit from addiction treatment, but many people do not receive. The NIAAA states that only a fraction of people who could benefit from treatment actually get it.
I spent too much time worrying about whether I was really an alcoholic or not when I could have been getting help. Don’t do what I did. If you are concerned about your drinking, chances are you could benefit from addiction treatment. Help is available, and we do recover. I am just one of 23 million Americans living in recovery today. You can too.
Written by: Kelly Fitzgerald
Kelly is a sober writer based in Cape Coral, Florida, best known for her personal blog The Adventures Of A Sober Señorita. Follow her on Twitter.
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There are many misconceptions about alcoholism that make it sound like an alcoholic is an easy person to spot, however, many alcoholics function effectively and lead relatively normal lives.
An alcohol abuse problem can include binge drinking, having negative consequences such as hangovers with your drinking but continuing anyway, and drinking despite the desire to stop.
In a recent study by The Recovery Village, 44% of respondents reported abusing alcohol in an attempt to ease uncomfortable feelings that stem from underlying anxiety.
Drinking more than three drinks in a single sitting will temporarily cause your blood pressure to rise, but extended binge drinking or regular alcohol consumption can cause a permanent increase in blood pressure.
The Recovery Village at Palmer Lake aims to improve the quality of life for people struggling with substance use or mental health disorder with fact-based content about the nature of behavioral health conditions, treatment options and their related outcomes. We publish material that is researched, cited, edited and reviewed by licensed medical professionals. The information we provide is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. It should not be used in place of the advice of your physician or other qualified healthcare providers.
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