What Is the Difference Between an Alcoholic and a Heavy Drinker?
What's the difference between an alcoholic and a heavy drinker? I have a friend who is an alcoholism counselor here in the good ole USA, who says that if you have to ask the question, you are probably in trouble. Is this a question that has been lurking at the back of your mind lately? If so, here are some facts that might interest you.
Most people don't think about such things. In fact a Gallup poll done in 2012 found that only 66% of Americans drink any alcohol at all, and those who drink average 4 drinks a week (the preferred beverage being beer). Four beers a week? I know people who spill more than that. Clearly, most of that 66% drinks moderately or occasionally. The dirty little secret of the American liquor industry is that 10% of the drinkers account for 50% of alcohol sales, and those are the folks who drink early and often and almost never in moderation.
Now, we Americans are a pretty puritanical lot, but the point is that most people do not abuse alcohol and therefore never give any thought to whether or not they are drinking too much. They simply know they are not.It's just a small percentage that has anything to worry about and an even smaller percentage that ends up dead or in rehab.
The High School and College Crowd
The statistics are a bit different for the high school and college crowd. Young people between the ages of 16 and 24 drink more than anybody else and are big binge drinkers( a binge being defined as downing more than five drinks in one sitting) This is the time of life for beer bongs and Saturday night keggers, but most people calm down once they are out in the real workaday world and jobs, marriage and children tend to sober them up. Only a few keep on partying into their thirties and beyond-- and at some point, these few start to worry that maybe their drinking is getting out of hand and maybe, just maybe, it is.
A Test for Alcoholism
So what is the difference between a heavy drinker and an
alcoholic? The answer seems to lie in the dynamics of addiction. It's a long way from getting soused every Saturday night to skid row, but it is a clear path and a downward spiral and as we all know, alcoholism is a progressive illness. Once you are addicted, there is no place to go but down. Addiction, both physical and psychological, is about loss of control. If, in your secret heart of hearts you have ever feared that your drinking might be getting ahead of you , here are a couple of things you might want to ask yourself.
- Have you ever sworn you would not drink and then ended up with a drink in your hand?
- Have you ever sat down to have just one beer and ended up drunk?
- Has anyone--either at work or a family member, ever commented negatively on your drinking?
- Do you assume that everybody drinks and that most people get drunk and that people who don't are no fun to be around?
- Do you ever try to hide how much you drink( as in do you ever take those trash cans full of empty's to the dump rather than leave them for the regular collection or do you ever buy your booze at more than one liquor store so that the owners won't think you drink too much?)
- Do you drink: every day, alone, or in the morning?
- Does the idea of having to live without alcohol seem scary?
- Do you physically crave a drink at a certain time of day and get irritable if you can't have one?
If you answered yes to any of these questions, you could well be in trouble. Just for the record, moderate drinking is officially defined as: 2 drinks a night for a man, one for a woman and binge drinking is defined as more than five drinks at one sitting. If you spill more than that on Saturday night, or have a family member who does, have a look at the video above and the links at the bottom of this article for a quick overview of the basics on alcoholism.
Think you can quit anytime you want but just like to drink to unwind ? You can prove it to yourself and to the world by taking a little test. I urge you to try the following experiment if you are concerned about your drinking. It is a surefire way to separate the folks who just like to party, from those who are truly abusing alcohol and are on their way to serious abuse and physical addiction. If you have the guts to take on this experiment honestly and with an open mind, you might find out something very interesting about yourself. Wouldn't it be nice to know one way or the other so you could stop worrying?
This test was devised many years ago by the National Council on Alcoholism.
The Alcoholism Experiment
For the next week have no alcohol except for one five ounce glass of wine with dinner. If you don't like wine with your dinner, you can have one 12 oz bottle of beer instead. If you prefer spirits to wine or beer, you can substitute a one and one half ounce shot of whiskey before dinner for the wine or beer but.... you can choose only one of these three options, and once you've chosen you must stick with your choice. You can't change around and have beer one night, wine the next, etc. Also, you cannot skip a night or have nothing one night and two beers the next, etc.
Just fyi, a five oz. glass of wine, a 12 oz glass of beer, and a 1 and 1/2 ounce shot of whiskey all have the same amount of alcohol—so whatever you choose, you will be getting the same amount of alcohol. It's just a question of which appeals to you. Follow these directions exactly—only one drink of whatever you choose for one entire week.
And that folks, is the way you can tell a heavy drinker from an alcoholic. It's a useful test that separates the sheep from the goats very handily. Those who are in even the early stages of addiction will not be able to pass the test. Those who really can take it or leave it will have no problem. What do you think? Want to give it a try, or does the very idea put a meat hook in your tum tum?
Cheers and here's mud in your eye. :-)
References and Sources for Further Reading
- Latest Research on Alcoholism from NIAAA
Alcohol Research: Current Reviews is NIAAA's peer-reviewed scientific journal, published three times a year (formerly Alcohol Research and Health).
- Alcoholism and Addiction Research from Scripps Institute
he Scripps Research Institute (TSRI) undertakes research on the neurobiology of addiction with the aim of developing targeted treatments to support recovery.
- Alcoholism Stages
The three stages of alcoholism are Early Stage, Middle and End Stage. Information about all three stages of alcoholism, how this disease progresses, and treatment ooptions.
- Is AA For You
A simple description of the classic 12 step program of recovery from Alcoholism
- Alcohol Addiction Treatment and Self-Help: How to Stop Drinking and Start Recovery
Are you ready to start on the road to alcohol recovery? Learn how to overcome addiction and stop drinking for good with this step-by-step guide.
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and does not substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, and/or dietary advice from a licensed health professional. Drugs, supplements, and natural remedies may have dangerous side effects. If pregnant or nursing, consult with a qualified provider on an individual basis. Seek immediate help if you are experiencing a medical emergency.
Questions & Answers
© 2010 Roberta Kyle