What Makes An Alcoholic?

Unlike using drugs, drinking alcohol is a socially accepted activity. Thus, it is more difficult to identify someone who is a casual drinker versus those who already have an alcohol abuse disorder. What is an alcoholic? Understanding the symptoms of alcoholism can help people prevent the pitfalls of addiction.

Alcoholism claims the top spot as one of the most commonly used and abused substances, followed by marijuana and prescription drugs. At this point, it is easy to see why–people can easily buy alcohol at their neighborhood convenience store. Although the government imposes laws on who can and cannot purchase alcohol, these regulations do not protect people from falling into the trap of addiction.

Why Is Alcohol A Problem?

Although social drinking is generally acceptable and does not intervene with a person’s life, some people often find it difficult to delineate the functional use of alcohol between something that’s bordering on a disorder. According to the University of Rochester Medical Center, problem drinking is defined as having frequent, uncontrolled episodes of consuming alcohol.

The majority of people engaging in social drinking believe that they can control urges when it comes to drinking alcohol. However, for people who have an addictive personality, even just a single drink can lead to long-term alcohol abuse.

This is when alcohol is considered a problem. When coupled with biological, environmental and cultural factors, it can be a recipe for disaster that leads to a growing addiction.

What Is Alcohol Abuse Disorder?

So, how does one objectively differentiate someone who ‘just drinks’ between a person who abuses alcohol? There are various symptoms of being an alcoholic that you need to look for. Below are some of the hallmark characteristics of an alcohol abuse disorder.

Signs and symptoms of alcohol abuse disorder

Dizziness or passing out frequently

Alcohol can unnaturally slow down most vital organ operations. As a result, you may experience frequent blackouts or have the need to rest due to dizziness.

Loss of appetite

Having an addiction generally dampens your appetite as you crave more alcohol rather than your usual meals.

Liver and heart problems

Consuming too much alcohol is known to create complications in the heart and liver. If you’re advanced in age and have consumed alcohol long-term, a potential sign of alcohol abuse is when you’re already having heart and liver illnesses.

Uncoordinated motor movements

Someone who crosses the line between casual drinking and alcohol abuse may be noticeably clumsy. They may have an awkward gait, slurred speech, and unrefined motor movements.

Withdrawal symptoms

Another glaring clue of alcohol abuse is experiencing withdrawal symptoms when a person refuses to drink. Withdrawal symptoms include nausea, vomiting, feeling feverish, fatigued, and emotionally distressed. In some cases, withdrawal symptoms can be severe that an individual may experience seizures and organ collapse.

Additionally, there are also particular habits that can help people self-assess if alcohol abuse is highly likely. For example, a screening tool called “CAGE” consists of four questions that help determine if someone is suffering from Alcohol Use Disorder (AUD). The four questions are:

  • Have you thought about how you should reduce your drinking episodes?
  • Are there instances where people have negatively commented about your drinking?
  • Did you experience guilt or any negative emotion about your drinking habits?
  • Do you drink first thing in the morning to feel “alright”?

People who answer “yes” to the majority of the questions above are more likely to be diagnosed with AUD clinically.

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Possible Risk Factors

As previously mentioned there are certain internal and external risk factors that leave some people prone to developing alcohol abuse. The risk factors contribute to the severity and continuous enabling of the addictions as well.

Internal risk factors

  • Experiencing other addictions: Some individuals are in the habit of mixing alcohol and drugs. Often, the purpose of doing so is to heighten the pleasurable sensations or to tranquilize the effects of stimulant drugs. This is very dangerous and may have life-threatening consequences.
  • Having other mental health disorders: There are studies that explore the correlation between alcoholism and mental illnesses such as depression. According to researchers, people who have mental health issues are more likely to consume alcohol as opposed to others who don’t have other diagnosable mental disorders.
  • Being born with an addictive personality: There are some people who are genetically predisposed to quickly develop an addiction. They are described as having an addictive personality, in which something that they try, even seldom, can easily grow into a problematic craving.

External risk factors

  • Chronic stress: Stress is a general risk factor for many mental health disorders, including addiction. People who experience chronic stress are more likely to have unhealthy ways of coping such as indulging in alcohol.
  • Culture: Drinking alcohol can sometimes be part of someone’s cultural or family background. When drinking is encouraged as part of social gatherings or celebrations, it can be a potential risk factor.
  • Enablers: These are people in an individual’s life that encourage alcohol abuse. They may feel powerless to stop the person’s addiction, or they actively use alcohol as a tool to control the person.
  • Environment: Work environment, home environment, and recreational environment can also play a huge role in a person’s drinking habits.

If you are considering getting help for alcohol abuse, it is helpful to know some tests you can expect to undergo before treatment.

Tests For Alcoholism

Aside from the “CAGE” screening tool, healthcare professionals also rely on the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual, Fifth Edition (DSM-V) to properly diagnose alcohol abuse. Questions will be asked to the patient regarding their alcohol use during the previous year. Some of the topics in the questionnaire include the following:

  • Continuation of drinking habits despite negative effects
  • Drinking excessively than initial intentions
  • Loss of interest in other activities because of drinking habits
  • Alcohol withdrawal symptoms
  • Cravings for alcohol
  • Dangerous activities and risky behaviors related to alcohol use
  • Run-ins with law enforcement related to drinking alcohol

The result of the DSM-V questionnaire will determine if a person qualifies for a formal alcohol abuse diagnosis. Additionally, the evaluation will determine the level of alcoholism that a person has.

Levels of alcoholism

Pre-alcoholic level

At this stage, alcohol abuse isn’t considered a problem on the surface. The amount of alcohol being consumed by the patient is within the ‘casual drinker’ range. However, there are signs that indicate a potential problem in the future, such as the presence of mental health issues or stressors.

Early alcoholic level

Early alcoholics are described as functional drinkers, but the problem is a little more evident that pre-alcoholics. As an early alcoholic, you may have experienced your first episode of passing out. You may also have a growing habit of lying to family members about your drinking activities.

Middle alcoholic level

Middle or moderate alcoholics are defined as people who have a more obvious problem to friends and family members. You may have disrupted work or home obligations due to drinking habits. Additionally, experiencing strained relationships due to addiction to alcohol is also common for moderate alcoholics.

Late alcoholic level

At the late alcoholic stage, patients may already experience the long-term side effects of addiction and alcohol toxicity. Liver problems, mental health issues, heart disease, and other physical ailments related to alcohol consumption are present in this stage. The addiction to alcohol is at its full-blown state, and the patient is dependent on drinking to function in daily tasks.

The good news is, even late alcoholics can recover from their drinking habits. With the help of evidence-based treatment options, it is possible to experience complete sobriety for those who are willing to take the first step.

How To Stop Drinking

Do you notice some signs of alcohol abuse in yourself or a loved one? Here are some important pointers to remember in seeking treatment.

Don’t quit alcohol abruptly at home.

Quitting alcohol “cold turkey” leads to harmful withdrawal effects that can be very uncomfortable or even deadly. A person who is alcohol-dependent may experience seizures, delirium, and heart failure when they stop drinking without seeking professional help. Whatever you do, it is best to manage withdrawal symptoms by tapering off your use or using prescribed medications within a rehab facility.

Find a high-quality rehab center.

The next step to take is to find the best rehab center that suits your needs. In some instances, people succeed in overcoming addictions by themselves, but the chance of experiencing relapse is high. Why is this so? It is because some people who perform do-it-yourself addiction treatments often forget to pinpoint the root cause of addictions. Aside from alcohol detox, going to a rehab center will give you the opportunity to undergo counseling, psychotherapies, and seminars that will equip you to target your triggers for addiction.

Prepare yourself.

Preparing yourself mentally and financially is also crucial for a successful treatment. Mentally, it is ideal to instill a sense of commitment in completing your stay in a rehab facility no matter how you think or feel. It will also be helpful to have a source of motivation to quit alcohol. Your family, sense of self, or other meaningful endeavors can help build that motivation to continue with your treatment.

As for the financial aspect, it is good to know that most rehab centers accept major insurance plans. You can verify your insurance with a trusted alcohol rehab center to help you materialize your plans.

Alcohol Doesn’t Define You

The term “alcoholic” sounds discouraging to anyone who hears it–but that’s just what it is–a mere label. You have the opportunity to discard this label for good. Being aware of the signs of alcohol abuse and finding ways to get treatment can bring back your sense of control. Don’t let alcohol define who you are.



Medical disclaimer:

Sunshine Behavioral Health strives to help people who are facing substance abuse, addiction, mental health disorders, or a combination of these conditions. It does this by providing compassionate care and evidence-based content that addresses health, treatment, and recovery.

Licensed medical professionals review material we publish on our site. The material is not a substitute for qualified medical diagnoses, treatment, or advice. It should not be used to replace the suggestions of your personal physician or other health care professionals.

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