Alcohol abuse becomes alcoholism when the drinker experiences cravings and cannot stop
Alcohol use can lead to problem drinking. Problem drinking involves drinking too often, too much or for the wrong reasons, but it does not always imply addiction or alcoholism. Alcohol abuse is considered problem drinking but it does not involve physical dependence.
Problem drinkers or alcohol abusers may not be physically addicted or considered alcoholics, but they still experience many of the consequences of alcoholism. They may find that alcohol causes problems at home, work or with the law yet continue to drink.
Even if you or a loved one’s drinking does not meet all the criteria for alcoholism, it can still be a significant problem and should be addressed with care, concern and professional treatment. If it does fall under the definition of alcoholism, taking action becomes an even greater and pressing need.
Who Is an Alcoholic?
There are many myths surrounding alcoholism and who becomes an alcoholic, yet most of these myths are false. According to the journal American Family Physician, “Alcoholism is one of the most common psychiatric disorders,” and is found in 8 to 14 percent of the population (“Problem Drinking and Alcoholism: Diagnosis and Treatment,” February 2002). This is a significant portion of the population, and it reveals that assumptions about alcoholics are not true.
There is no one sector of the population more at risk for, and there is no sector immune from, alcohol addiction. Children, parents, best friends and respected professionals can struggle with this disease. All classes, races and genders are susceptible, and knowing the risks of use, based on environment, genetics and personal and social factors, is important when assessing the possibility of an alcohol abuse problem at any level. Knowing risk factors is also important when choosing to get help. Finding individualized treatment that matches unique recovery needs is essential for successful, long-term recovery.
The Definition of Alcoholism
Alcohol abuse becomes alcoholism when the drinker experiences cravings and cannot stop or limit drinking despite experiencing serious consequences. The American Society of Addiction Medicine defines alcoholism more completely, labeling it, “a primary, chronic disease with genetic, psychosocial, and environmental factors influencing its development and manifestations…It is characterized by continuous or periodic: impaired control over drinking, preoccupation with the drug alcohol, use of alcohol despite adverse consequences, and distortions in thinking, most notably denial” (“The Definition of Alcoholism”). Any drug or alcohol addiction is a real and serious disease, but although alcoholism is labeled chronic, it can be treated and managed.
Drinking can be problematic at any level and under any definition. Individuals facing addiction can find successful, alcohol-free lives that are healthy, fun and rewarding, but they require professional help to do so. This help often comes from physical and mental health professionals with extensive experience and expertise in treating addiction.