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Alcoholic vs. Problem Drinker: What’s the difference?

Feb 03 2020 tresadmin Recovery

There are chances that you may have come across the term problem drinking, wondering what it means exactly and how it is different from alcoholism. These terms have been interchanged so often and wrongly used that we need to understand them much better. 

How can one tell if one is just a problem drinker and not an alcoholic? There is an ocean of difference between the two. 

The term excessive drinking encompasses various groups.

  • Binge drinkers: men who consume more than five drinks on an occasion or women who consume more than four bottles at a time
  • Heavy/intense drinkers: men who consume 15 or more drinks in a week or women who have more than eight glasses a week
  • Women who consume alcohol during pregnancy
  • Anyone under age 21 who indulges into drinking

Problem drinking is associated with the consumption of alcohol in a way that can leave harmful effects on your health; however, the body is not physically dependent on the substance. On the other hand, alcoholism involves intense physical addiction along with the severe problems that may be caused to your overall health leading to causing massive problems to your life.

Also, the frequency at which alcohol is consumed and how long one can sustain the craving has a lot to do with this as well. For example, a person is a problem drinker if alcohol causes disturbance to their routine; however, they can run for days, weeks, and months without even touching alcohol. On the other hand, an alcoholic cannot run a long period without having an intense craving for alcohol.

It is crucial to understand this better than what separates problem drinking from alcoholism is that it does not involve any physical dependency. It is much easier for the person to go for a long time without the urge to consume alcohol. However, the problem of drinking can quickly turn into alcoholism over time if not taken seriously. 

Undeniably both problem drinking and alcoholism can leave harmful effects on your body. Hence, you must be mindful of your alcohol consumption. 

We must look at the drinking patterns that can help us identify the catalyst of alcoholism.

Drinking Patterns 

The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism classifies low-risk drinking as 14 or fewer drinks a week for men and seven or fewer drinks a week for women. What matters, though, is in what frequency these drinks are consumed. For example, a woman who has one drink a day is affected by alcohol differently than the one who consumes three drinks on Friday and four on Saturday.

Ideally, a drink a day, along with a meal, has been identified as a medical marvel recently as doctors figured out that it reduces the risks of heart-related disease, diabetes, and other crucial health disorders. However, if you consume more than seven drinks daily, then you may be inviting some severe inflammatory response that will put your health for a toss.

The “Almost Alcoholic”

According to a few reports, only 10% of the drinkers are alcoholics. However, this shouldn’t raise any sense of relief for the rest of the 90% of the drinkers. 

Joseph Nowinski, Ph.D., co-author of Almost Alcoholic, describes in his book how drinking has serious health effects on the portion of drinkers who aren’t labeled as alcoholics. 

In an interview, Joseph said, “There are many people in the almost alcoholic zone who are having alcohol-related problems with their health, their relationships and social lives, and even their work, but who don’t connect the dots between these problems and their drinking. These people dismiss the possibility of being an alcoholic—and they truly don’t qualify under current definitions—but may need to take a step back to look at how drinking is affecting their lives.”

This is quite a revealing statement by Joseph, putting us all in a position where we can question our habits. It is essential to investigate our habits and try and maintain a healthy balance of alcohol in our diet. 

Most of us who don’t fall under the category of “alcoholics” have an air of relief in us, and hence we go about drinking irresponsibly. However, what Joseph said in an interview demands us to be acutely mindful about what we are drinking and in what quantities.

We have seen how we are conditioned by labels such as “Alcoholics” and “problem drinkers” imposed on us. There is a vast difference between the two. As we got introduced to a new label “almost alcoholic,” we understood how we should be extremely mindful of alcohol consumption irrespective of where we stand. At best, when one feels an uncontrollable urge to consume alcohol, as one does in the later stages of problem-drinking, one must immediately commit to the recovery process.