No matter where you go, it’s hard to ignore the sheer volume of advertisements or reminders of alcohol’s presence in modern-day society. Whether you’re on the freeway driving or listening to the radio in the comfort of your own home, advertisements for the dangerous elixir follow us, even into our safe spaces. 

Alcohol consumption on special occasions like a glass of champagne to celebrate a wedding or a glass of beer Friday evening at dinner after a long week doesn’t automatically translate to alcoholism. However, for some, that one beer could turn into several, or you might catch yourself drinking alone before that special wedding, which could lead to serious problems in your life. 

Unfortunately, in American culture, alcohol use is not just celebrated—it’s encouraged. Those advertisements that follow us show a beautiful group of people having the best time of their lives with alcohol in their presence. What these commercials say to some is that you can’t have fun without the substance. While most people will drink their whole lives and never become addicted, others’ alcohol consumption will lead to alcoholism. 

According to a recent National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH), 14.5 million people over the age of 12 had alcohol use disorder (AUD), including 9 million men and 5.5 million women. Due to its availability, controlling alcohol is more of a challenge than other drugs. For those struggling with AUD, walking into the grocery store to see an entire space dedicated to beer on sale can be a trigger, so these inflated numbers shouldn’t come as too much of a surprise.

From that same study, they found that 85.6 percent of people over the age of 18 reported drinking at one point in their lives, while another 69.5 percent drank at one time in the previous year. It went on to find that 55 percent drank in the past month. The study yielded other startling facts that include an emerging trend—high-intensity drinking. 

According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA), high-intensity drinking is defined as alcohol consumption at levels two or three times the gender-specific binge drinking thresholds. Compared to those who didn’t binge drink, individuals who drank alcohol at twice the gender-specific thresholds were nearly 70 times more likely to be admitted to the emergency department due to alcohol. It goes on to say that those who drank three times the gender-specific threshold were 93 times more likely to end up in the emergency room. 

For those who drink on the weekend or participate in high-intensity drinking, it doesn’t always mean they’re alcoholics or can be diagnosed with “alcoholism.” With that said, what are the parameters for alcoholism? At what point is alcohol use considered alcoholism? Let’s take a look at that below.

alcohol-or-alcoholism

Do I Have a Drinking Problem?

Am I an alcoholic? Do I have an issue with alcohol? Someone who asks these questions may drink frequently or endure significant problems as a result of their alcohol use. Although it’s not as simple as “yes,” or “no,” the short answer is if you experience troubles or concerns because of your alcohol use, you likely have a drinking problem. 

However, a problem with alcohol doesn’t automatically warrant an “alcoholism” label, so exploring the differences between alcohol abuse and alcoholism can help someone determine if they’re developed alcohol use disorder. 

Alcohol Use In Society

In most cases, if you’re trying to look at your own drinking behavior and compare it to others to determine if the frequency of use or how much you drink is “safe,” you’ve already crossed a dangerous line. This places you at a much higher risk of developing alcoholism or alcohol use disorder. 

As mentioned above, the prevalence of alcohol use in our media and its acceptance in American culture created a drinking culture where excessive alcohol use is glorified. Unfortunately, it’s problematic, and those who might be predisposed to addiction who experiment with the drug can develop alcoholism. 

The numbers speak for themselves. Excessive alcohol use is responsible for almost 88,000 deaths each year, resulting from drunk driving incidents and other alcohol-related causes. Alcoholism also costs people their jobs, family, and, as shown in the figures above, their lives. In 2010, it cost the country nearly a quarter trillion dollars. 

What is Alcohol Use Disorder (AUD)?

Alcohol use disorder is considered a chronic, relapsing disorder based on specific criteria outlined by the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5). Those who meet any of the two criteria listed below within a 12-month period will be diagnosed with AUD. 

DSM-5 Criteria For AUD

As mentioned above, an individual must meet two of the following criteria in a 12-month period to be diagnosed with the disorder. These include:

  1. Spending a majority of your time using, seeking, or recovering from the effects of alcohol.
  2. Constant cravings and a strong desire to use alcohol at all times.
  3. Not having the power to cut down on your alcohol use despite a desire or attempt to do so.
  4. Continued alcohol consumption despite adverse social or interpersonal problems that are caused by your alcohol use.
  5. Drinking alcohol in physically dangerous situations, such as heavy machinery at work or when you’re operating a motor vehicle.
  6. Consuming more alcohol than initially intended or for longer periods than you planned.
  7. Continuing to abuse alcohol despite a physical or psychological problem most likely caused by your alcohol consumption.
  8. Being unable to fulfill significant obligations at work, home, or school because of your excessive alcohol use.
  9. Giving up on social, recreational, and occupational activities you once found joy in doing because of your alcohol consumption.
  10. Having a tolerance to alcohol that requires you to drink large amounts more frequently to achieve your desired effect.
  11. Developing withdrawal symptoms caused by abrupt cessation of alcohol.

If you’re reading this and you or a loved one meet several of the criteria we’ve listed above, it might be a good time to talk to someone about getting help. If your alcohol consumption has affected your life negatively, and you’re concerned about losing a job or deteriorating health, fortunately, support is available to you. 

Is There A ‘Safe’ Level Of Drinking?

You might have heard one study say a glass of wine with dinner is healthy, while another will advise against it. However, according to the Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2020-2025, consuming two standard drinks a day for men and one standard drink a day for women is viewed as a “moderate” level of drinking. In the United States, a regular drink is one that has 14 grams of pure alcohol that’s found in the following: 

  • Five ounces of wine that contains 12 percent alcohol content
  • Eight ounces of malt liquor with 7 percent alcohol content
  • 12 ounces of beer with 5 percent alcohol content
  • 1.5 ounces, or a single shot, of 80-proof with 40 percent alcohol content, such as distilled spirits like whiskey, gin, vodka, rum, or tequila.

The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) defines binge drinking as a pattern of consumption that brings an individual’s blood alcohol concentration (BAC) level to 0.08 g/dL. For men, this usually happens after five drinks, whereas for women, it happens after four in a two-hour time frame. 

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) defines heavy alcohol consumption as five or more days in a given month where a person binge drinks. Although binge drinking and excessive use don’t automatically indicate a person has alcohol use disorder, they increase their odds of developing the condition. 

Women who drink fewer than three drinks in a day and less than seven in a week are considered low-risk for developing an alcohol use disorder. However, the low-risk group is defined as less than four drinks per day and less than 14 per week for men.

With that said, you should keep in mind these are guidelines. Those who are at risk because of genetics and other factors like their environment should remain vigilant and either avoid drinking altogether or pay attention to their use. In their case, there isn’t a “safe” level of drinking.

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