Many people don’t realize that problem drinking and alcoholism are not the same. However, there are similarities between the two groups. For one thing, problem drinkers and alcoholics tend to have underlying mental health disorders concurrently with problem drinking and alcoholism. Some problem drinkers have an alcohol use disorder (AUD), but most do not.
Alcoholics are physically dependent on alcohol. They have developed a tolerance, which means they need more and more alcohol to achieve the same result. They can experience debilitating mental, emotional, and physical withdrawal symptoms if their liquor supply is cut off. Without a supervised medical detox, death could result.
A person drinking to ward off or reduce withdrawal symptoms fulfills one of two criteria required for an AUD diagnosis. On the other hand, problem drinkers are not physically dependent on alcohol. They might drink plenty of it but won’t die without it.
Both problem drinkers and alcoholics get into trouble because of their intoxicated behavior. The consequences of these actions can be severe.
However, a problem drinker is more likely to change their behavior or even quit drinking to avoid unpleasant consequences in the future. An alcoholic, on the other hand, will continue to drink regardless of the consequences of their actions.
In time, problem drinking can morph into full-fledged alcoholism, but it doesn’t happen overnight. Alcohol addiction typically develops gradually over time. Nevertheless, researchers have found that binge drinking, which involves consuming large amounts of alcohol at one time, increases the risk of developing an addiction and a diagnosis of alcohol use disorder (AUD) in the future.
Recognizing alcoholism in a loved one can be tricky when denial comes into play. Here are some symptoms to look out for:
The Dietary Guidelines for Americans define moderate alcohol use as two drinks per day for men and one for women. Exceeding these amounts can cause serious health problems over time. Even lower levels of alcohol ingested every day can cause mental and physical health problems.
Researchers haven’t yet identified all potential alcoholism causes. However, they’ve learned that numerous factors of alcoholism may predispose a person to drinking problems or alcoholism. Biology, psychology, environment, social milieu, and family history can all be factors of alcoholism.
Co-occurring disorders are mental health conditions that coexist with drinking problems or alcoholism. Co-occurring disorders can include anxiety, depression, burnout, and stress. Those conditions can cause a moderate drinker to become a heavy drinker and drive a heavy drinker into alcoholism.
Most people diagnosed with AUD have concurrent mental health disorders. In some cases, AUDs and mental health disorders are active simultaneously. In other cases, the co-occurring condition precedes the drinking problem or appears after an AUD is diagnosed.
Researchers don’t know if co-occurring disorders cause heavy drinking or if heavy drinking causes co-occurring disorders. Nevertheless, substance use disorders and mental health disorders must be treated separately.
Scientists know that certain psychological factors can make you more susceptible to alcoholism and more likely to increase your intake. For example, people with mental health conditions are more likely to develop alcoholism than the general population. They use alcohol to ease the psychic pain of a psychological disorder.
Untreated drinking problems generally escalate. For people who also have untreated mental health problems, it’s almost impossible to recover unless you seek help and start treatment.
At Mind Body Wellness, our innovative outpatient facility in Franklin, TN, merges the latest clinical modalities with holistic interventions designed to bring about successful recovery and full-body healing.