When Drinking Becomes Alcoholism?

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Graphic showing stats of Americans who have alcoholism

Alcoholism is not something that happens overnight. In reality, alcoholism is a progressive disease. What begins as occasional drinking progresses over time into dependency and addiction. People with alcoholism or alcohol use disorder (AUD) reach this phase over the course of months or years.

Alcohol use disorder (AUD) is a pattern of alcohol use that includes problems limiting your drinking, having the urge to drink on all occasions, or continuing to consume alcohol even though it brings various issues. 

This condition also entails consuming more alcohol to have the same effect or experiencing withdrawal symptoms when you suddenly stop drinking.

According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA), about 14.5 million Americans aged 12 and older have AUD. There are around 9 million men and 5.5 million women. According to the NIAAA, over 88,000 individuals die yearly from alcohol-related diseases.

If your drinking problem causes significant discomfort and issues functioning in your daily life, you most certainly have a substance use disorder. It ranges from mild to severe in severity. However, even a moderate condition can worsen and lead to significant complications; thus, early treatment is essential.

Stages of Alcoholism

In most individuals, moderate drinking is not a reason for worry. But when alcohol use becomes unmanageable, you may be on a dangerous path toward addiction. Awareness of the signs and symptoms of each stage of alcohol abuse can help you get help before your problem develops into dependency or addiction.

Occasional and Binge Drinking

The first stage of alcoholism is general alcohol experimentation. These drinkers may be unfamiliar with various types of alcohol and are inclined to test the limits. This stage of experimentation is typical among young adults.

These experimental drinkers also participate in binge drinking frequently. While they may not use alcohol daily, they consume large quantities of it all at once. Binge drinking is characterized as:

  • for men, five or more alcoholic drinks within two hours
  • for women, four or more alcoholic beverages within two hours

Many heavy drinkers exceed this threshold. This is particularly true for teenagers who attend parties where alcohol use is the predominant activity. You may believe occasional binge drinking is harmless, but nothing could be far from reality.

Increased Level of Drinking

When alcohol usage becomes more frequent, the experimentation phase ends. You may find yourself drinking every weekend instead of only drinking at gatherings.

Increased alcohol intake can also lead to drinking as an excuse to get together with friends and relieve stress, boredom, and grief or loneliness.

Moderate drinking differs from regular alcohol consumption. It often elicits a stronger emotional attachment. A moderate drinker may match wine with a meal, but a frequent drinker utilizes alcohol to feel good in general. You are in danger of suffering from alcoholism if you continue to drink excessively and build a tolerance to alcohol.

Problem Drinking

Frequent and uncontrolled alcohol, more often than not, leads to alcoholism. While all forms of alcohol misuse are problematic, the term “problem drinker” refers to an individual who begins to experience the adverse effects of their drinking habit.

You may feel sad, worried, or sleep-deprived. You may become sick from excessive drinking, but you enjoy the effects too much to care. Due to their drinking, many individuals in this period are more prone to drink and drive or encounter legal issues.

Additionally, there are distinct social changes associated with problem drinking. Decreased social engagement due to erratic behavior, relationship troubles, a rapid change in friends, and difficulty interacting with strangers are a few of these symptoms.

Alcohol Dependence

There are two facets to alcoholism: dependency and addiction. It is possible for someone to be alcohol-dependent but not yet addicted.

Dependence arises after the problem drinking stage. At this point, your alcohol dependence has taken over your daily activities. Alcoholism also involves the development of a tolerance to alcohol. Consequently, you may need to consume more alcohol to become drunk.

Withdrawal is another hallmark of dependency. You may experience unwanted withdrawal symptoms such as:

  • Severe irritability
  • Body tremors
  • Sweating
  • Trouble sleeping
  • Racing heart
  • Nausea that is unrelated to a hangover

Addiction

Addiction is the last stage of alcoholism. At this point, you no longer use alcohol for pleasure. Alcoholism is characterized by a physical and psychological need for alcohol.

Those with an alcohol addiction have a bodily craving for the liquor and are often inconsolable until they drink again. Heavy drinkers may also be addicted to other substances. Compulsive habits characterize addiction, and alcoholics often drink whenever and wherever they like.

DSM-5 Alcohol Use Disorder Criteria

The DSM-5 defines alcohol use disorder as “a problematic pattern of alcohol use resulting in a clinically substantial impairment or distress, as demonstrated by at least two of the following [criteria], occurring within one year.”

In other words, if you had any two of the following symptoms in the preceding year, you can be diagnosed with an alcohol use disorder:

  • Alcohol is frequently used in higher quantities or for longer durations than anticipated
  • There is a persistent desire or unsuccessful attempt to reduce or manage alcohol use
  • A substantial amount of time is devoted to actions required to get alcohol, use alcohol, and recover from its effects
  • An intense desire or drive to consume alcohol
  • Alcohol problems resulting in the inability to accomplish significant job, school, or home responsibilities
  • Continued alcohol use despite frequent or recurring social or interpersonal issues caused or aggravated by alcohol usage
  • Significant social, occupational, or recreational activities are abandoned or scaled back due to alcohol consumption.
  • Repeated alcohol use in physically risky conditions.
  • Continued alcohol use despite awareness of a persistent or recurrent physical or psychological issue caused or aggravated by alcohol.
  • Withdrawal, as defined by either the alcohol withdrawal syndrome or the use of alcohol to alleviate or prevent alcohol withdrawal symptoms.

The DSM-5 further categorizes AUDs by severity, based on many of the eleven diagnostic criteria that are met.

  • Mild AUDs – the presence of 2-3 criteria
  • Moderate AUDs – the presence of 4-5 criteria
  • Severe AUDs – the presence of 6 or more criteria

Clinicians often utilize these severity levels to determine risk, eligibility for a particular treatment program, suggested treatment options, and cost.

Picture naming the different stages of alcoholism

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

What are the stages of becoming an alcoholic?

If you or your loved ones need assistance identifying the indicators of problem drinking, there have been recognized four phases of alcoholism: pre-alcoholic, early alcoholic, chronic alcoholic, and end-stage.

At what point does drinking become a problem?

You are drinking excessively if you are:

  • A woman who drinks more than seven alcoholic beverages per week or three drinks every occasion.
  • A man who drinks more than 14 alcoholic drinks per week or four drinks every occasion.
  • Above the age of 65 and consuming over seven alcoholic drinks per week or three drinks per occasion.

How do you know if you’re starting to become an alcoholic?

You are most likely to become an alcoholic if you are:

  • Exhibiting signs of irritation and excessive mood swings.
  • Making excuses for drinking, such as unwinding, managing stress, or feeling normal.
  • Selecting drinking over other responsibilities and duties.
  • Growing apart from one’s family and friends.

How much drinking does it take to become an alcoholic?

There is not a specific amount of alcohol that leads to alcoholism. Being an alcoholic is a complex disease. It is not just about how much you drink but also about your inability to say “NO” to a drink. 

When it has such a strong hold on you, you may get defensive when told to quit. If the bartender cuts you off you, it will annoy you greatly. It is impossible to know when to stop. Most times, you don’t stop until you pass out.

Get Sober With the Help of The Haven Detox

Many individuals with an alcohol consumption disorder delay receiving treatment orders because they are unaware they have a problem. The Haven can help set up an intervention for your loved to recognize their condition. 

Our facility offers premium detox treatment programs as well as proven effective therapies to provide a safe and comfortable recovery for each patient. We can also connect you with popular support groups like Alcoholics Anonymous for continued support after treatment.

If you or a loved one is dealing with alcohol use disorder (AUD), do not hesitate to reach out to The Haven Detox treatment center in south Florida for professional medical assistance and emotional support. Our team of clinicians is well-versed in the treatment of alcoholism.

For further information, contact our compassionate counselors at (561) 328-8627 today!