I Think I’m An Alcoholic | How To Get Help For Alcohol Addiction

Medically Reviewed by Johnelle Smith, M.D on December 14, 2020

Drinking alcohol is a socially accepted activity, but how much is too much? There is a line between social drinking and alcohol abuse, and finding the answer can mean getting help for yourself or a loved one who may have an alcohol use disorder.

Am I An Alcoholic?

If you’re asking yourself questions such as “Do I drink too much?”, you may have a drinking problem. Individuals don’t usually concern themselves with questions like that unless there is a possibility that drinking alcohol has become a problem.

Have you recently gotten a DUI? Or, maybe you’ve found yourself going out more, or having a few more drinks than intended. While these factors alone do not make you an alcoholic, it could be a sign of alcohol abuse.

Perhaps a loved one has reached out, concerned about a potential drinking problem they have observed in you. Or, a friend has suggested you attend an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting with them.

Whatever the reason, if you are currently worried about your alcohol consumption and want to know if your drinking habits might be considered alcohol dependence, consider the following acts on alcohol abuse, alcohol addiction, and treatment options.

The Difference Between Alcoholism And Alcohol Abuse

Not every person that abuses alcohol is an alcoholic, but every active alcoholic abuses alcohol. Knowing the definitions of alcohol abuse and alcoholism is important when trying to determine whether you are an alcoholic.

The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5) is used by healthcare professionals to diagnose an alcohol use disorder (AUD). The DSM-5 provides a list of symptoms that indicate a person has been abusing alcohol and is potentially addicted to alcohol (alcoholism).

The more symptoms a person displays over a 12-month period, the more severe the alcohol misuse. A person who has two or three symptoms would be diagnosed with a mild alcohol use disorder, four or five is a moderate AUD, and six or more is indicative of a severe AUD.

The symptoms of an AUD are:

  • drinking more or for longer than planned
  • inability to cut back or stop drinking
  • exhibiting alcohol withdrawal symptoms
  • severe alcohol cravings when not drinking or even during drinking
  • not being able to perform at work/school, or fulfill obligations at home
  • drinking despite negative consequences it’s caused in your personal life
  • you have stopped engaging in activities you once saw as important
  • putting yourself or others in threatening situations because of drinking
  • often experience blackouts
  • developing a higher tolerance for alcohol
  • drinking even though you may experience negative health issues

An individual who meets criteria for a mild alcohol use disorder is at risk for developing a moderate or severe alcohol use disorder. Alcoholism is a progressive, chronic disease, and anyone who abuses alcohol is at risk of becoming an alcoholic.

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Alcoholics are dependent on alcohol, and their body and brain are chemically and physically dependent on continued alcohol consumption. They may engage in binge drinking often and frequently experience blackouts. Meeting criteria for an alcohol use disorder is cause for concern and may indicate a need for substance abuse and addiction treatment.

How Much Alcohol Is Too Much?

How do you know if you have an alcohol problem? The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) defines a standard drink to contain approximately 14 grams (0.6 oz.) of pure alcohol.

This can usually be considered:

  • 5 oz. of wine (12%)
  • 8 oz. of malt liquor (7%)
  • 12 oz. of beer (5%)
  • 1.5 oz. of 80-proof spirits (40%)

According to the NIAAA, low-level alcohol consumption for women is one standard drink per day. For men, it is two standard drinks per day.

Additionally, a woman who consumes three drinks on one day, but no more than seven total per week is considered low risk for developing an AUD. For men, they are considered low risk if they have four drinks across one day, but not more than 14 in a week.

The NIAAA also describes binge drinking as consuming enough alcohol to bring the blood alcohol concentration (BAC) over 0.08 in under two hours. Engaging in binge drinking more than four times in a month is also referred to as heavy drinking. When someone binge drinks, it can cause significant issues, including health problems and severe hangovers.

Symptoms Of Alcohol Withdrawal Vs. Hangovers

Overindulging in alcohol often leads to a hangover the next day. The aftermath of a night spent drinking too much can leave a person feeling pretty awful.

But if the person has been overindulging for more than a night, you may be wondering if these symptoms are a hangover, or if they could be alcohol withdrawal.

Some hangover symptoms include:

  • poor sleep
  • headache
  • light sensitivity
  • mood swings
  • muscle and body aches
  • nausea or vomiting

Meanwhile, some alcohol withdrawal symptoms are:

  • anxiety
  • insomnia
  • exhaustion
  • depression
  • tremors or shakes
  • headaches
  • restless legs
  • sweating
  • nausea and vomiting
  • clamminess

More severe withdrawal symptoms may include:

Hangover symptoms are uncomfortable and can make you regret drinking the night before. However, alcohol withdrawal symptoms are intense, painful, and can become so severe that medical intervention may be necessary.

The body has become dependent on alcohol if withdrawal symptoms emerge. This means that without alcohol, the body and brain are unable to function normally. Feeling an overwhelming compulsion to drink may occur when experiencing alcohol withdrawal.

Alcohol withdrawal can be dangerous, and in some cases fatal. Seeking assistance from health professionals or a detox unit at a treatment facility is strongly encouraged.

Alcoholic Self-Assessments

There are three screening tools that are commonly used to determine if a person could be struggling with an alcohol addiction. These clinical screenings are often used by healthcare professionals to determine if further assessment is necessary.

Commonly referred to by their acronyms, these screening tools are known as the AUDIT, CAGE, and MAST. The questions in the AUDIT and the CAGE refer to behaviors over the past year, while the MAST asks about overall drinking behaviors.

AUDIT (Alcohol Use Disorder Identification Test)

The AUDIT was created by the World Health Organization (WHO) to determine issues related to alcohol consumption and drinking behaviors.

Consisting of 10 questions regarding alcohol consumption habits, this screening has set answers that a person can score anywhere from 0-4 on each question, depending on the answer selected.

The AUDIT has been proven to be accurate across a range of different race and ethnic groups, as well as for men and women. It is easy to use, and comes in a self-assessment format, as well as one that can be used by a medical professional.

CAGE (Cut Down, Annoyed, Guilty And Eye Opener)

This four-question screening tool is made up of yes-or-no questions that ask about a person’s drinking habits, how they feel about them, and how they perceive others feel about them.

According to research exploring the validity of the CAGE, it was found to be valid under specific inpatient circumstances, however, it is not particularly accurate with prenatal women, college students, or white women. It is also not suggested for use in screening for mild or moderate alcohol abuse.

MAST (Michigan Alcohol Screening Test)

The MAST was created in 1971 and has been tested for accuracy across the last several decades. It shares a level of accuracy with the actual diagnostic screening criteria found in the DSM for an alcohol use disorder (AUD).

Comprised of 22 yes-or-no questions, the MAST is not as easily administered as the AUDIT or the CAGE, but it has more validity than the other two screenings. It is an accurate tool in assessing the symptoms of alcoholism and alcohol abuse.

Getting Help For Alcohol Addiction

Alcohol addiction is a serious condition, and if you feel you are exhibiting some of the warning signs of alcohol abuse, it may be time to consider an alcohol abuse treatment program.

Contact our helpline today, as we have a number of addiction specialists available to help you find the answers you need.

This page does not provide medical advice. See more

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Medically Reviewed by
Johnelle Smith, M.D on December 14, 2020
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