I drink, but does that mean I’m addicted? Or do I just like drinking? How do I tell the difference?
In a culture where social drinking gilds the periphery of our lives, it’s hard to tell when alcohol moves into the spotlight. The edges between casual drinking and addiction are blurry. But what is casual drinking? What is addiction?
Social drinking, binge drinking, and everything in between
Generally, social drinking is drinking in a casual setting without the intention to get drunk. Objectively, social drinking looks like 2-3 standard drinks in one setting (about 14 standard drinks a week for men and 7 for women). Practically, that may be having a glass of wine at dinner, a toast at a wedding, or ordering a beer at the bar after a hard day at work.
Binge drinking is excessive alcohol use with the intent to get drunk. This is drinking however many drinks it takes you to get drunk. Sometimes it’s planned. Usually, though, you just lose track of how much you’ve drank, took the dare, or underestimated how much that keg cup could hold. Binging is alcohol abuse, but not necessarily addiction.
Many social drinkers and binge drinkers do not become addicted. They may, however, increase their risk for developing alcoholism. But the unfair truth is this: many people can drink alcohol for their entire life and never become addicted.
But some do.
What is addiction? The American Society of Addiction Medicine, says addiction is characterized by an “inability to consistently abstain, impairment in behavioral control, craving, diminished recognition of significant problems with one’s behaviors and interpersonal relationships, and a dysfunctional emotional response.”
If we highlight some key aspects of this definition, we see that addiction involves
- Compulsive behavior
- Continued use despite adverse consequences to health, mental state, relationships, occupation, or finances
- Loss of control
Addiction is needing to drink to feel normal—not just “good.” It’s when drinking moves from enjoyment to necessity. Alcohol becomes important. You need it to function. As a result of this shift, you change too.
But all these changes take place subtly. It goes from an occasional drink after work to drinking whenever you feel stressed. It goes from drinking a few cocktails at a party to thinking that you’re incapable of socializing without a drink in your hand. The process takes place in a series of changes so small you hardly notice them. Addiction isn’t obvious, and that’s part of the secret of its power.
Signs of Addiction: Time to be Honest
The process of addiction may be subtle, but it isn’t invisible—and you may catch it if you know what to look for. Below are several questions to help you decipher if your drinking has crossed the line from “normal drinking” to addiction.
Why are you even reading this?
What brought you to type in those words into the search engine? Why have you read this far?
Perhaps you’re asking this question because a friend or family member has been bugging you about it. Perhaps you feel guilty or a little anxious about your drinking, or perhaps you’re simply curious.
But chances are, you’re asking this question because you feel defensive, a little scared, and defiant. Chances are, you’re asking this question because you probably do have a drinking problem.
Are you trying to control it?
If you’re trying to control your drinking, then the problem is generally out of control. According to our definition, loss of control is a fireproof indicator of addiction.
Read: 6 ways to know i’m an addict or watch the video below for additional tests.
Leave me alone! If I have a real problem, I’ll know it.
Most people who are dependent on alcohol don’t see it themselves. They may see some of the consequences, but they don’t attribute the consequences to their addiction. Addiction encapsulates us in a world of altered perceptions and blurs our understanding of what is actually happening. The curtain of denial prevents us from making an honest assessment of ourselves. Alcohol becomes the solution, not the problem. As a result, we protect it at all costs.
I have a problem, but I can fix it myself.
Recovery is a difficult journey even with a support team and professional help. Doing it alone is like embarking on a trip in a strange land without a map, a phone, or a guide. As a result, the likelihood of success is very low.
Overcoming addiction takes more than just willpower and determination. Addiction is a disease that requires a team of caring and experienced personnel. And like travelling, teamwork makes the journey safer, easier, more successful and more enjoyable.