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Difference Between a Problem Drinker and an Alcoholic

If you are finding that alcohol is getting in the way of your happiness, this will be a sign that you have a problem. The question that you will really want to ask yourself though, is how much of a problem has it become. If you have just been overindulging, it will usually be possible for you to regain control over your alcohol intake. On the other hand, if you have crossed the line into alcoholism, the only real option you have is to quit drinking altogether.

Are You a Problem Drinker?

The term ‘problem drinker’ could be used to refer to anyone who drinks too much, but it is most commonly used to describe somebody who drinks excessively but has not progressed to alcoholism. If this person continues with the behaviour, they will be at high risk of addiction, but they have not reached this stage yet.

Problem drinking is very common. It is often a stage that people will go through, but they manage to stop the behaviour before it becomes too much of a problem. For example, there is a tendency for students at university to engage in hard drinking. They are enjoying their first taste of freedom, and the fact that they have few responsibilities means they feel justified in overindulging. There can also be a strong drinking culture in this type of setting. Once these people graduate though, they will usually be able to cut down their drinking as they focus on their careers. Other problem drinkers can struggle to cut down initially, but they are able to do so with a bit of help.

Types of Problem Drinking

There is actually more than one type of problem drinking, and some of these will be more dangerous than others are. The most common examples would include those listed below.

Binge Drinking

Binge drinking is a particularly dangerous pattern of drinking behaviour. In this situation, the person will not usually drink every day, but they will drink heavily on the days when they do drink. Binge drinking most usually occurs at the weekends, and the person engages in this behaviour because they are deliberately trying to become intoxicated. It is not uncommon for those engaged in this dangerous form of drinking to consume the recommended weekly level (21 units) in just one session.

Heavy Drinking

A heavy drinker might not drink to intoxication, but overall they will be consuming far too much. One of the dangers of heavy drinking is that it might not lead to any noticeable problems for a long time – the person can cross the line into alcoholism without them even knowing.

Alcohol Abuse

The person who is abusing alcohol is suffering problems in their life due to their behaviour, but they have not yet developed a physical addiction. This person may just be going through a bad time in their life, but they will probably need some help in order to regain control.

Underage Drinking

Underage drinking is dangerous because it can interfere with normal development. It can also mean that the person will be underperforming at a time in their life that will determine their future.

Dangers of Problem Drinking

Problem drinking does not yet involve addiction, but this does not mean that it is safe. In fact, there are many dangers associated with this behaviour, including:

  • easily leading to alcoholism
  • easily leading to alcohol poisoning – there are regular news stories about people dying because they drank too much in one session
  • engaging in inappropriate behaviour when they are inebriated – this is because there inhibitions have been reduced
  • being more likely to engage in deviant behaviour when they are inebriated
  • being at more risk of having accidents
  • putting a strain on relationships
  • increases the risk of suicide
  • exacerbating mental health problems
  • causing physical, mental, and emotional problems
  • getting in the way of normal development – this can be the case particularly with underage drinking.

Are You an Alcoholic?

Alcoholism means you have developed a physical and psychological dependence on alcohol – this is what it means to be addicted to alcohol. Psychological dependence means that you will experience cravings, and you will likely find it hard to imagine life without this substance. Physical addiction means that your body has adapted to heavy drinking, and it now struggles to manage when the substance is removed. This means that you will suffer from withdrawal symptoms should you try to stop. It is also likely that you will have developed an increased tolerance for alcohol.

The signs that you have crossed the line into alcoholism can include:

  • experiencing withdrawal symptoms (shakiness, anxiety, nausea and vomiting, flu like symptoms) when you try to quit – you may even experience these symptoms first thing in the morning before the first drink
  • not imagining how you will be able to cope with alcohol
  • trying to quit drinking but were unable to stay stopped
  • trying to control your drinking but you are unable to keep this up long term
  • other people expressing concerns about your behaviour
  • developing personal, work, or legal problems as a result of your drinking
  • experiencing blackouts – periods of time when drinking that you can’t remember the next day
  • feeling defensive if other people question your drinking habits – this is usually a sign of denial.

Dangers of Alcoholism

Alcoholism is a life threatening condition that involves the downward spiral of addiction. This means that the longer you use these substances, the more you will end up suffering, and the more you will use.

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