A lot of vocabulary surrounds alcoholism, addiction, problem drinking, etc., and it’s important to know the difference between these terms. A clearer understanding of what each of these terms means not only can help you identify any potential problems in your life, but can help you seek the right kind of help if necessary.
What is alcoholism?
Alcoholism is a term most people are relatively familiar with. Also known as alcohol use disorder, it is defined according to the DSM-5 as “a problematic pattern of alcohol use leading to clinically significant impairment or distress, as manifested by at least two. . . [criteria], occurring within a 12-month period.”
The DSM-5 has a list of eleven criteria by which counselors and therapists are able to identify whether or not an individual is struggling with an alcohol use disorder, and how severe said disorder appears to be (mild, moderate, severe based on the number of criteria met).
Signs of alcoholism include:
- Drinking more than was intended in any given period of time
- The inability to break the habit of drinking on one’s own
- Craving alcohol or spending much of your time thinking about when/how you’ll next obtain it
- Engaging in dangerous or risky behavior as a result of excessive drinking with little regard for the consequences
- Failing to fulfill responsibilities at work or school
- Experiencing withdrawal symptoms when alcohol consumption is stopped
One of the most reliable signs of addiction is a physical and mental dependence on alcohol — in other words, the brain and body have adapted to coexisting with the substance and cannot properly function without it.
What is problem drinking?
Problem drinking differs most significantly from alcoholism in that an individual who engages in problem drinking is not physically addicted to alcohol and can actually go for extended periods without having any. However, when one does end up drinking, it often leads to problematic choices and consequences.
Signs of problem drinking include:
- Drinking until one blacks out
- Absence from work, school or social/familial obligations as a result of engaging in drinking
- Emotions of anger or depression, including violence, following episodes of drinking
- Spending excessive amounts of money on alcohol
- Engaging in risky behaviors, like promiscuity or drunk driving
Problem drinking is not necessarily a lifestyle in the way alcoholism is, but it can have many of the same negative consequences, including alienation from one’s friends and family and extreme financial difficulties as a result of imprudent spending. However, one who experiences problem drinking is more likely to be able to reset their lifestyle and put a stop to these habits than one who experiences more of the symptoms of alcoholism.
Can problem drinking turn into an alcohol use disorder?
Essentially, there’s not a straightforward answer here because not everyone who struggles with problem drinking will develop an addiction; but if left unaddressed, there is a risk that problem drinking could develop into an alcohol use disorder.
Preventing alcoholism starts with self-awareness. If you notice that you are engaging in problematic drinking behaviors, it may be time to take a step back and re-adjust some aspects of your life.
- Assess the friends you spend time with — Are the people in your life one of the reasons you have developed negative drinking habits?
- Look at the overall impact — Are you missing important events in your life, failing to meet responsibilities at work or not turning in assignments for school on time as a result of drinking habits?
- Do you spend extended amounts of time the next day recovering from the impacts of excessive drinking?
- Do you experience withdrawal symptoms (headaches, anxiety, sweating, confusion, etc.) when you don’t drink alcohol?
- Have relationships with friends or family members suffered as a result of drinking?
If you are concerned about the potential development of an alcohol use disorder, or are wanting to intervene before these habits get out of hand, help is available.
Looking for treatment for alcohol use disorder?
Taking control of your life and getting a handle on bad habits is one of the best things you can do to ensure a peaceful, fulfilling life. Even if you do not believe you’re battling an addiction, seeking the guidance of a therapist can be the intervention needed to keep drinking habits from turning into a disorder.
To get in touch with a counselor and learn more about addiction treatment and mental health counseling, contact Silvermist Recovery by calling 724-268-4858 or to learn more.