Alcoholism is a progressive disease. If left untreated, it can affect every major organ system, cause chronic health problems and, eventually, premature death. Fortunately, much of the damage caused by alcohol abuse is reversible if the disease is caught and treated in the early stages. Heavy drinking doesn’t always lead to alcoholism; however, a pattern of alcohol abuse puts you at risk for developing an addiction to this drug.
Heavy Drinking vs. Alcoholism
Heavy drinking is defined as having more than one alcoholic beverage per day (for women) and more than two alcoholic drinks per day (for men).Unfortunately, a significant number of Americans exceed these guidelines.1 In a given month, approximately 26.9 percent of people over the age of 17 engage in binge drinking, and as many as 7 percent of people report that they have engaged in heavy drinking.2
Not everyone who occasionally drinks will turn into an alcoholic. There are many other factors that contribute to alcohol use disorder, including family history, psychological stressors, and social environment. But if you or someone close to you regularly drinks large amounts, it’s not too early to get help.
“Throughout my 20s, I had myself convinced becoming blackout drunk was just a ‘once in awhile’ thing,” writes Doreen L. in her HeroesInRecovery.com story. It happened to everyone, right? It never dawned on me that most people don’t have the experience of not remembering what they did the night before. I thought it happened to everyone. I knew the signs of addiction were there, and at that time in my life, I probably could have stopped drinking, but I liked the effects of alcohol if not the aftereffects and consequences.”
Signs of Alcohol Use Disorder to Watch For
Alcoholism touches every aspect of a person’s life, from physical health and emotional well-being to social activities. If you’re concerned about your own drinking or a loved one’s alcohol abuse, here are a few key signs to look out for:
- Not being able to limit your drinking. People with alcohol use disorder frequently drink to the point of severe intoxication, even if they only planned to only have a few beers or just one glass of wine. If you consistently feel driven to keep drinking after one or two drinks, you may have a problem.
- Drinking more than everyone you socialize with. Consistent, heavy drinking leads to a tolerance to alcohol, or the need to consume more of this drug to achieve the desired results. Tolerance can quickly turn into dependence and alcohol addiction. If you consistently drink more than those around you, it’s time to take a careful look at your drinking habits.
- Often drinking before or after social events. Alcoholics often drink before or after events where alcohol will be served, either they don’t want others to see how much they actually need to drink, or because they can’t stop drinking once they get started.
- Family, friends or coworkers have commented on your drinking. Denial is a powerful component of alcoholism. Your loved ones and acquaintances will probably notice the signs of a serious problem before you’re able to accept the truth about your substance abuse.
- Missing work or school because of a hangover. If drinking interferes with your career or professional life, then alcohol is endangering your security and your future.
- Needing alcohol to stop tremors or soothe an upset stomach. Alcoholics often use their drug of choice to ease the symptoms of a hangover. This habit leads to a cycle that can quickly develop into alcoholism. If you need an eye-opener drink in the morning, you may be in the early stages of alcoholism.
- Spending a lot of time thinking about what, when, where, and how much you’re going to drink. Addiction is characterized by an obsession with seeking and using the drug of choice. If you think about alcohol all the time, even when you’re working or spending time with loved ones, you may be in danger of alcoholism.
- Encountering legal problems because of your drinking. If you’ve been arrested for public intoxication, an alcohol-related altercation or driving under the influence, you could be an alcoholic — especially if these legal difficulties haven’t stopped you from drinking heavily.
- Attempting to stop drinking multiple times but you continue to relapse. Relapse is the hallmark symptom of addiction. The relapse rate among recovering alcoholics is very high; however, this doesn’t mean you can’t stop the progress of this deadly disease.
If you’ve tried over and over again to quit drinking without success, you’re not alone. Most people who drink heavily benefit from the support of an addiction treatment program before they can achieve true sobriety.
At Black Bear Lodge, a resort recovery center located in the foothills of northern Georgia, we’re ready to give you that support in a safe, serene environment. Our comprehensive recovery program addresses the physical, emotional, social, and spiritual needs of people who want a better life. Call our admissions coordinators to learn more about our innovative treatment plan for alcohol recovery.
1 Centers for Disease Control. Fact Sheets: Alcohol Use and Your Health. Oct 2016. Accessed Oct 8, 2017.
2 Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA). 2015 National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH). Table 2.46B—Alcohol Use, Binge Alcohol Use, and Heavy Alcohol Use in Past Month among Persons Aged 12 or Older, by Demographic Characteristics: Percentages, 2014 and 2015. Accessed Oct 10, 2017.