Am I an Alcoholic?

Regular consumption of alcohol is a socially acceptable practice, marketed as a reward for hard work or a way to relax and enjoy time with friends. However, this blurred line can make it difficult to determine “how much is too much” when it comes to drinking.

How can you determine whether you might have a problem with alcohol, and when does regular drinking progress to medically diagnosed alcoholism?

America’s Drinking Habits Revealed

The results of a comprehensive nationwide study illustrate how the drinking habits of American adults have changed over the past decade or so.

The National Epidemiologic Survey on Alcohol and Related Conditions was published in the JAMA Psychiatry journal of September 2017. Data was collected from over 40,000 participants in 2001-2002 and again in 2012-2013. The study held face-to-face interviews and asked detailed questions about participants’ drinking habits.

Overall, the results paint a picture of increased alcohol indulgence.

  • 11.2 percent increase in adults who drink at all
  • 29.9 percent more high-risk drinkers
  • 49.4 percent increase in diagnosable alcoholism

The sharpest increases were seen among women, people of lower socioeconomic status, older adults, and minorities.

While shocking, these results can be hard to relate to your own life. Therefore, It helps to know the signs of problem drinking and how you can address it quickly.


What Does Problem Drinking Look Like?

The recommended drinking limits for men and women are different, according to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. Low-risk drinking is limited to:

  • No more than 4 standard drinks a day and no more than 14 a week for men
  • No more than 3 standard drinks a day and no more than 7 a week for women

Keeping your drinking below both of these limits constitutes low-risk drinking. However, these numbers are not set in stone, and individual habits can create further confusion. For example, perhaps you are a woman who does not drink often but occasionally imbibes in far more drinks than the above limits, at a friend’s birthday party, for instance. Does this mean you are a high-risk drinker?

Psychiatric professionals use a different method for identifying problems with drinking and determine whether a diagnosis of alcoholism is appropriate. The Diagnostic and Statistic Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) covers nearly all psychiatric illnesses and helps identify symptoms that could be signs of a disorder.

According to the DSM, anybody meeting two of the following 11 criteria is considered to be on the Alcohol Use Disorder (AUD) spectrum. Answer these questions to assess your own behavior. In the past year, have you:

  • Had times when you ended up drinking more, or longer, than you intended?
  • More than once wanted to cut down or stop drinking, or tried to, but could not?
  • Spent a lot of time drinking? Or being sick/getting over the after-effects of drinking?
  • Experienced craving, defined as a strong need, or urge, to drink?
  • Found that drinking, or being sick from drinking, often interfered with taking care of your home or family? Or caused job troubles? Or school problems?
  • Continued to drink even though it was causing trouble with your family or friends?
  • Given up or cut back on activities that were important or interesting to you, or gave you pleasure, in order to drink?
  • More than once gotten into situations while or after drinking that increased your chances of getting hurt (such as driving, swimming, using machinery, walking in a dangerous area, or having unsafe sex)?
  • Continued to drink even though it was making you feel depressed or anxious or adding to another health problem? Or after having had a memory blackout?
  • Had to drink much more than you once did to get the effect you want? Or found that your usual number of drinks had much less effect than before?
  • Found that when the effects of alcohol were wearing off, you had withdrawal symptoms, such as trouble sleeping, shakiness, irritability, anxiety, depression, restlessness, nausea, or sweating? Or sensed things that were not there?

The number of criteria met determines whether the problem is mild, moderate, or severe.

It is important to understand that this list is not meant to facilitate self-diagnosis. Rather, use it as a way to identify whether you should seek professional assessment for your drinking habits.


What To Do Next

If you are diagnosed with alcohol use disorder in Washington State, there is help available for you. The Recovery Village Ridgefield treatment center is located less than 3 hours from Seattle, nestled in the majestic Pacific Northwest. We provide a supportive environment for people suffering from alcohol abuse disorder, focusing on holistic treatments that address both mental and physical addiction.  Visit our website to learn more about admissions today.

Medical Disclaimer: The Recovery Village aims to improve the quality of life for people struggling with a substance use or mental health disorder with fact-based content about the nature of behavioral health conditions, treatment options and their related outcomes. We publish material that is researched, cited, edited and reviewed by licensed medical professionals. The information we provide is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. It should not be used in place of the advice of your physician or other qualified healthcare provider.