Some people are able to drink socially without going overboard. They don’t make fools of themselves and they don’t wake up the next day wondering what they did. Family members aren’t constantly angry or disappointed in them. To these people, having a cocktail or two isn’t much different than choosing a particular food or a glass of soda.
For other people, alcohol causes problems. The problems could be as simple as a hangover or as serious as getting arrested for DUI. It could even be as serious as causing irreversible health problems. There are two types of people who fall into this category. Some can be considered problem drinkers while others are full-blown alcoholics. What is the difference between the two? How important is it to make the distinction?
Recognizing a Drinking Problem
If you have a problem with your drinking, there’s a good chance that alcohol is affecting your life in a negative way. You may have done things under the influence of alcohol that you would never have done sober. You may not even remember some of the things you have done. You may have a hard time functioning at all without alcohol.
Alcohol may cause depression or mood swings. It may create turbulence in your relationships, and you might get in trouble at work or school because of your drinking. You have legal problems, health problems or financial problems because you drink too much or too often. You start to avoid people who don’t drink and you neglect your responsibilities because you would rather drink. Even when your loved ones object or you are threatened with losing your job or other consequences, you have a hard time giving up drinking.
Signs of Physical Dependence
Bigger problems ensue when you become physically dependent on alcohol. When this happens, the thought of giving up drinking may send you into complete panic. You may notice that you are experiencing tremors or anxiety if you try to get through stressful situations sober. You may realize that you have to drink larger amounts of alcohol to get the same effect that you used to get from small amounts. If you try to avoid drinking, you may shake, sweat or feel sick to your stomach.
Since alcohol is causing problems in your life, you may try to prove to yourself or to your loved ones that you can quit any time you want to. You may make multiple attempts to quit drinking, and you may be as shocked as everyone else when you fail. You’re no longer drinking because you want to, but because you have to.
Can You Stop Drinking?
The real difference between an alcoholic and a problem drinker is that a problem drinker can stop drinking for periods of time just because he or she chooses to. An alcoholic can’t do that because he or she has become addicted to the chemical alcohol. Attempts to stop drinking lead to unpleasant physical and psychological withdrawal symptoms.
Even if you know you have a drinking problem, you may have a hard time thinking of yourself as an alcoholic. The word “alcoholic” calls to mind someone who is constantly drunk, most often a skid row bum. When you haven’t lost everything and still have some semblance of normalcy in your life, it’s hard to think of yourself as an alcoholic.
In the end, choosing a word to describe your drinking problem isn’t all that important. What’s important is how alcohol is affecting your life and what you’re going to do about it.
If you are a problem drinker but haven’t crossed the line into physical dependence, that doesn’t mean you never will. Are you sure that you can quit drinking any time you want? Keep in mind that just because you think you can stop doesn’t mean you can. You may need to ask for help from a counselor, minister or support group.
Admitting that your drinking habit is truly out of control whether or not you label yourself an alcoholic requires courage and complete honesty with yourself. If you think your drinking is out of control and that you may need help to overcome it, you probably do.