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What is Considered an Alcoholic?

While drinking alcohol is a social norm, it's difficult to spot when it becomes problematic. Alcohol addiction is complicated, and research is trying to understand what classifies an alcoholic.

According to National Center for Drug Abuse Statistics, every year, this country loses 140,550+ lives from alcohol, with 10% of deaths between the ages of 15-49. Additionally, 1 in 10 U.S. citizens aged 12 and above has an AUD (Alcohol Use Disorder). Lastly, 24% of people aged 18+ reported binge drinking in the previous month.

What Defines An Alcoholic?

An alcoholic is someone who constantly drinks alcohol, lacks control over their urge to drink, and cannot stop drinking without assistance. They dedicate a significant amount of time each day to drinking excessive amounts of alcohol and frequently becoming intoxicated.

If someone is an alcoholic, they have alcoholism or AUD (Alcohol Use Disorder). They drink a lot every day, consume a large amount of alcohol, and get drunk frequently. If you're an alcoholic, you have alcoholism or AUD (Alcohol Use Disorder).

Alcoholics Anonymous defines alcoholism as "the physical compulsion with a mental obsession to drink alcohol." In this phase, you always cater to the cravings for alcohol regardless of the immediate or long-term consequences.

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Dr. Williams presently serves on the board of Directors for two non-profit service organizations. He holds a Master’s degree in Human Services from Lincoln University, Philadelphia, Pa, and a Ph.D. with a concentration in Clinical Psychology from Union Institute and University. In Cincinnati, Ohio. He is licensed to practice addictions counseling in both New Jersey and Connecticut and has a pending application as a practicing Psychologist in New Jersey.

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The Causes of Alcoholism

Research indicates that an excessive drinking pattern that changes your brain chemistry is alcoholism. Furthermore, alcoholism is an addiction with no single cause, such as genes, psychological factors, environmental factors, or stress levels.

When you drink alcohol, it increases the dopamine levels in your brain. Dopamine is a chemical associated with pleasure and, hence, causes your brain to categorize drinking alcohol as a gratifying reward. You notice you can't function normally without consuming alcohol and want more within a short time.

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Casual Drinking and Alcohol Abuse Are Different

Social drinking refers to enjoying a couple of beverages with pals or sipping a glass of wine during a meal. These two do not present problems unless you begin abusing alcohol.

​People use "alcoholism" and "drug abuse" interchangeably, though they are different. Alcohol abuse is a behavioral pattern where you continue to drink excessively regardless of the negative consequences. In contrast, alcoholism is an alcohol dependence or addiction where you feel a psychological or physical compulsion to drink.

Spot Alcoholism

​Anyone who has battled an AUD can tell you that the signs of a drinking problem aren't always obvious. Furthermore, these signs are more subtle, and high-functioning alcoholism may mask them.

Consult your doctor if you fear your alcohol use is out of control or have some of the following signs:

A Long History of Binge or Heavy Drinking

Lots of college students binge drink, but that doesn't mean they're alcoholics. Drinking more alcohol raises the chance of becoming an alcoholic.

Binge drinking means drinking a lot of alcohol, which makes your blood alcohol level reach 0.08L. This information is from the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. A situation arises when a female consumes four drinks and a male consumes five drinks in a span of 2 hours.

The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) shows that binge drinking more than five times may become problematic. Additionally, drinking more at 18 can lead to alcoholism by age 25.

Alcohol Use Has Become Problematic, and Chronic

​According to the Dietary Guidelines for Americans, 2015-2020, set out by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, women take one drink, and men take less than two drinks daily. You can drink alcohol regularly without becoming an alcoholic if you stay within certain limits.

However, consult a doctor if consuming alcohol causes social, physical, health, or emotional problems.

Meeting Obligations Becomes a Problem

If alcohol makes you miss school, family, work, or social life, it's time to see a doctor. Alcoholism is an addiction that affects your emotions, body, motivation, reasoning, and all aspects of your life.

You Assure Your Loved Ones Not To Worry

You might drink alcohol secretly while keeping your work, family, or social framework in place. However, your physical and emotional health is still at risk, regardless of whether your loved ones think you are okay.

You Show Some Signs of Long-Term Alcohol Consequences

Chronic misuse of alcohol comes with elevated long-term health risks and psychological side effects. Some psychological effects include depression, anxiety, learning problems, impaired memory, or dementia. Some of the problematic medical conditions of alcohol abuse include:

  • ​High blood

  • Pressure

  • Cirrhosis (Liver Disease)

  • Stroke

  • Pancreatitis

  • Cardiomyopathy

  • Hepatitis

  • Fibrosis

  • Mouth, throat, breast, esophagus, or breast cancer

  • Compromised immune system

  • Arrhythmias

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The 5 Types of Alcoholics

When you mention "alcoholic," most people picture a stereotype different from themselves. However, other people are addicted to alcohol differently regardless of age, background, or social status. The following are some types of alcoholics:

Young Adult Subtype

The people who occupy the Young Adult Subtype form 31% of people dependent on alcohol in the U.S. These people drink less frequently and may binge drink. Studies show that these individuals are likely to come from families with a low rate of drinking problems.

Young Antisocial Subtype

Most people in the young antisocial subtype experience an antisocial personality disorder. They are likely to show at least 3 of the below symptoms:

  • ​Recurring criminal activities

  • Absence of guilt

  • Disregard for others' safety

  • Irresponsibility

  • Impulsiveness

  • Regular fights or assaults

  • Deceitfulness


These people may also have other substance abuse disorders, anxiety problems, major depression, or bipolar disorder.

Functional Subtype

A high-functioning alcoholic is a successful person with a stable job and a family. Almost 62% of functional alcoholics have full-time jobs, and 26% have a college degree or higher. This subtype makes up 19.5% of the people battling alcohol use disorder in America.

Intermediate Familial Subtype

The intermediate familial subtype is an average age of 38 and is mainly employed. Almost half of these people come from families with generational alcoholism and experience clinical depression.

Chronic Severe Subtype

The severe chronic subtype is not very common, only affecting 9% of people in the U.S. Many individuals with this subtype are middle-aged and start drinking early. They are also more likely to develop other substance abuse and mental health issues. Almost 80% of them come from families struggling with multigenerational alcoholism.


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The Bottom Line

You can prevent alcoholism by controlling the amount of alcohol you drink daily. Consult your doctor if you notice withdrawal symptoms or any of the above signs or are having trouble maintaining your alcohol consumption. Consider locating local support groups such as Alcoholics Anonymous or a therapist if you are battling an alcohol addiction.

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Casual drinking and alcohol abuse are different
What Defines An Alcoholic?
The causes of alcoholism
The 5 types of alcoholics
The bottom line

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