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Problem Drinking vs. Alcoholism

Is everyone that has a problem drinking alcohol a diagnosed alcoholic? The simple answer is no. There are two types of alcohol users that have an unhealthy relationship with alcohol: problem drinkers and alcoholics. Oftentimes, problem drinkers are mistakenly classified as alcoholics, but there are distinct differences that are necessary to consider for both groups to receive proper and successful treatment. One of the major distinctions is focused on the biological level. Yet problem drinking and alcoholism alike also involve psychological symptoms and mental manipulation.

In order to combat these unhealthy relationships with alcohol, let us first understand what makes an individual a problem drinker and how that differs from an alcoholic.

What Makes Someone an Alcoholic

First off, what makes someone an alcoholic? Obviously, alcoholics are addicted to alcohol. However, this addiction to alcohol is both mental and physical. This physical dependency is what separates alcoholics from problem drinkers. Alcoholics struggle to not drink day after day and can be sober and abstinent from alcohol, but they will always be alcoholics. This diagnosis sticks for life because alcoholics cannot stop once they consume any alcohol. This means that when these users are sober, they are still alcoholics and will be at a risk for relapse as long as they live. Alcoholics can relapse after a single serving, regardless of the length of their sobriety date, and will experience withdrawal symptoms.

Signs and Symptoms of Alcoholism

Alcoholism is a psychiatric diagnosis in which an individual is physically and psychologically dependent upon drinking alcohol. In 2013, the condition was reclassified as Alcohol Use Disorder. The NHS estimates that just under one in ten men and one in twenty women in the United Kingdom display signs of alcohol dependence. Like many other types of drugs, alcohol can be both physically and psychologically addictive. Signs and symptoms that an individual is dependent on alcohol may include:

  • Worrying about where and when the next drink is coming from
  • Planning social, family, and work events around drinking
  • A compulsive need to consume alcohol and finding it impossible to stop once an initial sip is swallowed
  • Drinking after immediately waking up to get through the day
  • Experiencing anxiety, depression, and suicidal feelings after constant heavy drinking, because of the interference with neurotransmitters in the brain necessary for good mental health
  • Enduring physical withdrawal symptoms, such as intense sweating, shaking, and nausea in the absence of alcohol in the system
  • Drinking in order to function, and the inability to complete daily tasks without alcohol
  • Drinking becoming the most important factor in an individual’s life

What is a Problem Drinker?

alcoholic man with a drinking problemIn contrast, problem drinkers do not have a physical dependence on alcohol and do not experience withdrawal symptoms. What contributes to these users’ unhealthy relationship with alcohol? Problem drinkers have the control necessary to stop, but lose control in handling situations appropriately under the influence, creating problems in their life. The issues that arise for problem drinkers extend to other loved ones in their life. These users say and do things when they are drinking that hurt themselves and the people close to them.

Signs of Problem Drinking

Problem drinkers can go for an extended period of time without drinking when they choose to stop. There is variability in the consumption and quantity of how much alcohol problem drinkers ingest per week; some may drink abundantly and some may drink scarcely. But regardless of how much they drink, their drinking may cause them issues. Problem drinkers may:

  • Miss class or work
  • Distance themselves from family and friends
  • Isolate to drink alone
  • Become depressed
  • Emerge angrily or participate in violent behavior after drinking
  • Spend excess money that is not feasible leading to financial problems
  • Take extreme risks with their life or the lives of others
  • Engage in unsafe sexual relations with strangers
  • Lose friends or ditch old friends for new friends who drink regularly
  • Blackout
  • Drive drunk
  • Get arrested and end up in jail

Helping A Loved One Struggling With Alcohol Abuse

Family and friends who are affected by a loved one’s drinking problem may try to intervene and get these users help. Most problem drinkers will be defensive when family members bring up their alcohol consumption. At first, these interventions may even make these drinkers go on “a bender” due to the anger stemming from denial. Usually, these individuals subconsciously know that they have a problem and experience guilt and become depressed after they drink. Signs and symptoms that a loved one is a problem drinker include the need to drink in order to feel comfortable in social situations, feel better about themselves, experience pleasure, escape from problems or worries, and inflate one’s ego.

No matter the type of classification, when someone has an unhealthy relationship with alcohol, it is essential to get help from a trained professional. Attending a treatment center, like Boardwalk Recovery, allows alcoholics and problem drinkers alike the ability to develop the necessary skills to overcome the issues alcohol has caused in their lives.

If you or somebody you know is struggling with problem drinking or alcohol addiction, call Boardwalk Recovery Center for more information on how we can help develop a treatment plan that will improve overall health and quality of life.

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