Worried About Your Drinking – Does That Make You an Alcoholic?
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Guest Post by Lisa Frederiksen
Short answer, “Not necessarily.” Nonetheless, you may want to do something about your drinking patterns, now, for two reasons – 1) to avoid causing secondhand drinking (impacts on others caused by your drinking behaviors), and 2) to avoid developing a more serious problem, such as alcoholism.
If you are not an alcoholic (explained below) but drink more than you’d like, here are six 6 things to know that may help you change your drinking habits:
1 Stay within “low-risk” (aka moderate) drinking limits
- For women: no more than 7 standard drinks (see #2) in a week with no more than 3 of those 7 in a day
- For men: no more than 14 standard drinks in a week with no more than 4 of those 14 in a day
This post explains “at-risk” drinking – the kind of drinking that makes a person question their drinking or hurts those around them – “‘At Risk’ Drinking Identified With a Single Question”
2 Know the common standard drink sizes
The amount of alcohol in a particular quantity and type of alcohol (commonly known as ABV – Alcohol By Volume or “proof”) determines how many “standard drinks” are in the alcoholic beverage – very confusing, to be sure! This image shows three standard drinks: 80 proof hard liquor = 1.5 ounces; table wine = 5 ounces, and regular beer = 12 ounces. A standard drink of malt liquor (not shown here) – such as the dark beers or ales = 8-9 ounces. For more about standard drinks, check out “How Much Alcohol is in Your Favorite Drink?”
3 Know what’s in “that” drink or drink container
Often drinks poured at bars or restaurants or a friend’s party contain more than one standard drink. A margarita, for example, may contain 2-3 “standard” drinks. Not only that, but drink containers have various numbers of standard drinks. For example, a bottle of table wine contains 5, whereas a bottle Champagne typically contains about 7. (A standard drink of Champagne is 3.3 ounces.)
4 Understand the difference between alcohol abuse and alcoholism
Alcohol abuse is drinking more than moderate limits and experiencing any of the drinking behaviors listed below:
- Verbally, physically or emotionally abusing someone – often a spouse, girlfriend, boyfriend or child
- Doing poorly at work or school because of the drinking or recovering from the effects of drinking
- Fighting with loved ones about the drinking
- Being admitted to the emergency room with a high BAC
- Binge drinking
- Experiencing blackouts
- Driving while under the influence
- Having unplanned, unwanted or unprotected sex; committing date rape
Alcoholism is a chronic, often relapsing brain disease (just one of the diseases of addiction) characterized by cravings, loss of control, tolerance and physical dependence. Alcoholics also exhibit drinking behaviors like those listed above.
All alcoholics go through a period of alcohol abuse but not all alcohol abusers will become alcoholics. The drinking that occurs with repeated alcohol abuse causes chemical and structural changes in the brain. These brain changes, in turn, make a person more susceptible to their key risk factors for developing alcoholism – see #5.
Alcoholism can be successfully treated if drinking is stopped all together, whereas a person who is not an alcoholic but abuses alcohol may find it possible to change their drinking habits as described in this post. Check out this short, 10 minute video: Alcoholism is a Disease and It’s Not Alcohol Abuse.
5 Understand the risk factors that contribute to a person developing alcoholism
Alcoholism is ‘caused by’ a combination of alcohol abuse and biological, developmental and environmental risk factors that include: genetics, mental illness, early use of alcohol, social environment and childhood trauma. It’s important to understand that all alcoholics go through a period of alcohol abuse but not all alcohol abusers become alcoholics. The more risk factors, the more likely alcohol abuse may progress to alcoholism. Thus, it’s important to understand these risk factors and to take a look at your own history and self-assess how many (if any) you have.
6 Understand the consequences to a person (child or adult) of living in a family where there is alcohol abuse or alcoholism
Living with and trying to cope with a loved one’s drinking behaviors causes a person to experience secondhand drinking. When a person does not understand alcohol abuse or alcoholism or secondhand drinking, it can cause that person to experience serious psychological and physical problems that interfere with school, work, family & relationships. It can also cause a person to turn to develop an alcohol abuse problem. See related post, “3 Reasons People Tolerate Secondhand Drinking.”
For help and information, consider the following resources:
Anonymously Assess Your or Someone Else’s Drinking | Find Suggestions for Cutting Changing Drinking Patterns
NIAAA has designed a website to help people anonymously assess their (or someone else’s) drinking and offer suggestions for making changes. Visit NIAAA’s Rethinking Drinking
About addiction and alcoholism visit, The Addiction Project.
Consider reading this short eBook, Crossing The Line From Alcohol Use to Abuse to Dependence
©2013 Lisa Frederiksen
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