Nearly 60% of women and 72% of men reported have had at least one drink of alcohol in their lifetime, according to a recent survey by the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. Drastically lower than both of those numbers, roughly 30% of women and 43% of men reported themselves as “binge drinkers” or drinkers who at least once have consumed 4+ (women) or 5+ (men) drinks within 2 hours.
Bearing those statistics in mind, it is obvious that a large percentage of the population has at least some relative habit with alcohol, and the majority of those habits are healthy or safe. However, some individuals exceed those “healthy” limits and enjoy a little more experimentation with alcohol. At this point, it may be difficult to determine what qualifies as social drinking compared to problem drinking. Generally speaking, if alcohol is used to deal with difficult situations or to avoid emotions, this behavior is dangerous and could lead to more risky behavior. In any case, being aware of the warning signs of alcohol addiction and abuse can mean the difference between saving and losing a life.
What is Alcoholism?
Considered a chronic and even progressive disease, alcoholism is a disorder that involves an individual’s inability to control his or her drinking. An affected individual is often preoccupied with alcohol and proceeds to consume it despite the consequences. Additionally, the individual has to consume a larger quantity of alcohol to achieve the same effect and may experience withdrawals if he or she rapidly decreases their intake or stops drinking altogether.
Alcoholism can be characterized by several typical symptoms. The common signs and symptoms of alcoholism include:
- Inability to limit one’s intake of alcohol
- Compulsion to drink
- Developed tolerance for alcohol – requiring more to achieve the same effects
- Hiding or “covering up” one’s drinking and habits
- Ritualistic drinking
- Irritability when normal drinking time nears, particularly if alcohol is unavailable
- Intentional drinking to “feel good”
- Legal, relationship, employment and financial problems as a result of drinking
- Lack of interest in other activities
It is important to remember that a number of interdependent factors are associated with the development of alcoholism. Alcoholism is a disease much like any other sickness or illness that grasps onto and infects an individual; it is not simply a choice. Several factors influence the development of the disease including a person’s genetic makeup, psychological well-being, social health, and environmental surroundings. All of these factors work together to influence the impact of alcohol and the body and to alter an individual’s behavior. Typically, alcoholism develops gradually as a result of several underlying factors coming together; however, some individuals experience an abnormal response to alcohol from their very first drink.
Do You Have a Drinking Problem? Questions to Ask Yourself
Alcoholism and all of its facets constitute a very sensitive subject. No one likes to admit that he or she has a problem, but when it comes to something as serious as being addicted to alcohol, everyone needs to evaluate his or her habits. Personal reflection on a few simple questions can help an individual determine if he or she has a drinking problem. A few important questions to ask include:
- Do my drinking habits make me feel guilty or ashamed?
- Have my recent drinking habits changed daily habits?
- Are my friends and families worried about my drinking?
- Do I feel like I have to drink to feel good or to relax?
- Have I ever blacked out or forgotten what happened when I was drinking?
- Do I frequently drink more than I had planned to?
While drinking is somewhat of a “cultural” activity, drinking to excess is not safe or healthy. Every individual has his or her own capacity for alcohol and is influenced differently by the drug, which is why it is important to consider one’s personal habits and experiences. No one can decide for you if alcohol is a problem or if you are addicted to alcohol. If your drinking is instigating problems in your life, you have a drinking problem, and you are the only one who can make the decision to make a change.