There is a fine line between heavy drinking and full-blown alcoholism, but where is it? According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, 26.9% of adults 18 and older have engaged in binge drinking in the last month. Of this amount, 7% report heavy alcohol usage.
The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration defines binge drinking as:
- 5 or more drinks on one occasion for men
- 4 or more drinks on one occasion for women
It’s easy to have an episode of binge drinking when out with friends on the weekend. There’s nothing wrong with having “one too many” at dinner the night before. However, there is a line between a rough night out and a few too many rough nights out.
Of that percentage of binge and hard drinkers, 6.2% of these drinkers have an Alcohol Use Disorder (AUD). This equates to 15.1 million adults in the United States who live with a severe drinking problem.
Alcoholism is a serious issue and can be debilitating when not handled immediately. But how do you know where this line is? How do you know if you’ve crossed it? Read on to find out the criteria for an Alcohol Use Disorder and whether or not you meet them.
What is Alcohol Use Disorder (AUD)?
Alcohol Use Disorder is the medical term for alcoholism, a life-impacting drinking problem. The Fifth Edition Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5) outlines the criteria for an Alcohol Use Disorder as:
- Drinking more or for longer than intended
- Wanting to cut down or stop drinking but not being able to
- Spending a lot of time drinking or being sick because of it
- Craving a drink when not drinking
- Drinking impacts your home life, social life, or work performance
- Continuing to drink despite the problems it causes
- Cutting back or stopping activities that were once important to you in order to drink
- Getting into dangerous situations as a result of drinking
- Drinking despite the mental or physical health problems it causes
- Drinking more to get the desired effect
- Experiencing withdrawal symptoms (sleeplessness, tremors, sweating, nausea, depression, irritability, anxiety)
If you find yourself answering yes to some of these criteria, you may struggle with Alcohol Use Disorder. The severity of your AUD depends on how many you experience:
- Mild: 2 to 3 of the symptoms
- Moderate: 4 to 5 of the symptoms
- Severe: 6 or more symptoms
There is a problem when your drinking becomes more than a night out with friends. There is also a sign if you’re the friend who gets the drunkest without intending to. Some people with an Alcohol Use Disorder or alcoholism will have friends who notice. When friends notice, they will change friend groups to avoid criticism or comments.
This is not normal behavior! If you find yourself doing this, you may have troubles with your drinking.
How do I know if alcohol is impacting my life?
It may be difficult to notice your life falling apart around you when you struggle with alcoholism or an Alcohol Use Disorder. Most often it’s easier for those around you to see the signs before you do. When you rely on drinking to get through the day, you’re quick to blame anything but your drinking. Why give up the one thing that helps you cope with the stress in your life?
There are some questions to ask yourself when trying to figure out whether alcohol has affected your life:
Do you go to work hungover many times during the week?
Sometimes regular drinkers come to work on Monday with a residual weekend hangover. If you find yourself coming to work on a Tuesday or Thursday with a hangover, though, there may be a problem. When your hangover affects your ability to complete your work, this is a sign.
Do you call out sick due to hangovers?
If you aren’t able to make it into work because of a severe hangover, there is a problem. Most drinkers do not drink to the point of intolerable sickness the next day. Despite a headache and slight nausea, they make it into the office and work through the day. If your headache is pounding and you’re still throwing up at noon, you may be dealing with alcoholism.
Have you lost a job because of your drinking?
If you’ve been drunk on the job or called out too many times, you may lose your job. If you have lost a job or two due to drinking, it’s time to reconsider your alcohol use. Your alcoholism impacts everything around you, starting with your work performance. You may have an Alcohol Use Disorder when your overuse of alcohol reflects in your inability to hold down a job.
Have you changed friend groups as a result of your drinking?
As mentioned earlier, sometimes individuals with alcoholism will change their friend group. After people begin to notice the amount they drink and start to comment, it’s time to switch. When drinking is your way to cope with the world, you don’t want anyone to take that from you. If friends threaten your ability to drink without reservation, you may feel the need to change groups. If you find yourself putting alcohol before your friends, though, it might be time to reconsider your drinking and find out more about Alcohol Use Disorders.
Has your family commented on your drinking?
Family occasions are often rife with drinking, especially in a family that drinks a lot. If your family begins to notice your drinking, though, you can’t switch families. Family members may comment on the amount you’re drinking at dinner. You may begin to avoid family functions due to your inability to control your alcohol intake. Again, when you put alcohol before the people in your life, your drinking is not normal.
I struggle with alcoholism – What do I do?
If you’ve realized that alcohol is a problem in your life, it is time to take action to correct the Alcohol Use Disorder. By taking action to address your alcoholism, you may save your own life.
There are a variety of treatment types available to help you get sober. Detox can help you separate from alcohol. Inpatient rehab provides a sober environment in which you can navigate early recovery. If you have a full-time job, a nighttime intensive outpatient program will teach you coping skills to handle life sober. You may need only drug and alcohol counseling a few times a week to help you learn to manage life.
There are also 12 step programs if you do not want to attend treatment. With meetings throughout the week and no cost for attendance, 12 step is a fantastic way to get sober.
Getting sober with a group of supportive people on the same path as you is most helpful. Find some type of group to get involved in, whether treatment or 12 step, and being your path to a new life. Alcoholism is not a death sentence; there is a way out. It will take dedication and work but it is worth the pain to experience the light.