Table of Contents
How to Define a Drink
A standard drink in the United States is defined as any drink that contains at least 0.6 fl oz of alcohol (ethanol) in one serving. However, not all drinks are created equal. Alcohol percentages vary significantly among different types of alcohol such as beer, hard liquor, wine, and distilled spirits.
For example, one standard drink is considered to be one 12 oz beer, which contains 5% alcohol. For malt liquor, a standard drink is 8-9 oz as it contains 7% alcohol. Wine contains 12% alcohol and a standard drink is 5 oz. For distilled spirits, such as gin, tequila, vodka, whiskey, or rum, a standard drink is a 1.5 oz shot as this type contains 40% alcohol.
Because men and women metabolize alcohol at different rates, the CDC has created different guidelines for moderate consumption of alcohol. These guidelines are currently set at 1 drink per day for women and 2 drinks per day for men.1
Is Alcohol Addictive?
Alcohol is an addictive substance. Merriam Webster defines addiction as “a compulsive, chronic, physiological or psychological need for a habit-forming substance, behavior or activity” that leads to harmful effects and “well-defined symptoms (such as anxiety, irritability, tremors, or nausea) upon withdrawal or abstinence.”
Sometimes it can be challenging to spot the classic signs of alcohol addiction. It can be easy to make excuses like, “I can quit anytime,” “I don’t drink THAT much,” “I only drink on the weekends,” or some other reason. At the end of the day, however, dependency is dependency, and what addiction looks like is different from person to person. Defining the reasons why you drink does not mean it isn’t an addiction.
What Spurs Alcoholism?
Further complicating the equation, alcohol is often unavoidable in many cultures. In the United States, it is a key part of our social gatherings. It brings people together, can help someone relax, makes people feel more confident and uninhibited in their actions, and provides a sense of euphoria. On the other hand, alcohol can also be used to numb stress and pain, and it is dangerously effective at providing an escape – however temporary and damaging – from the realities of life.
The danger comes when we become too attached to the feelings of confidence, fun, or numbness. As drinking becomes the only way to “feel good,” we begin to seek it out and crave it constantly. The more we drink, the more physically and psychologically dependent we become.2
What Causes Alcoholism?
There’s no one cause of alcoholism or alcohol addiction. However, various factors may place you at a higher risk. For example, the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) reports that family history (both genes and environment) accounts for half the risk of developing alcohol use disorder.3 The NIAAA also found underage drinking to be another risk factor that multiplies the likelihood of alcohol abuse later in life four times over.4 Additionally, the Mayo Clinic reports that drinking often and binge drinking are risk factors.5
One may start drinking when they want to numb the pain of past trauma or potentially seek to be the life of the party. Whatever the beginning, alcoholism results from a repeated choice to drink to achieve or escape a feeling, to the point that someone becomes dependent on it and does not feel like themselves without it.
Alcoholism vs. Alcohol Use Disorder
When you look up statistics on the number of Americans with alcoholism, you’ll likely find stats on the number of people with alcohol use disorder (AUD) instead. The main difference between the two issues lies in their application.
Alcohol Use Disorder is a medical term that can only be determined and diagnosed by medical professionals.
Alcoholism, on the other hand, is a catch-all phrase for anyone struggling with drinking that became widely used with the advent and popularization of Alcoholics Anonymous. It is often applied casually to anyone with severe alcohol dependency.
Defining Alcohol Use Disorder
As defined by the Diagnostics and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM), alcohol use disorder means you have experienced one or more of these symptoms in the past 12 months:
- Drinking more or for a longer time than intended.
- Feeling incapable of cutting back on the amount of alcohol consumed.
- Becoming sick for an extended period as a result of drinking too much.
- Inability to concentrate due to alcohol cravings.
- Inability to care for a family, hold down a job, or perform in school.
- Continuing to drink despite problems caused with friends or family.
- Decreased participation in activities that were once important.
- Finding oneself in dangerous or harmful situations as a direct result of drinking.
- Continuing to drink despite adding to another health problem, feeling depressed or anxious, or blacking out.
- Drinking more as a result of a tolerance to alcohol.
- Experiencing withdrawal symptoms.
Physicians will also determine the level of severity of your AUD based on symptoms:
- Mild: Two to three symptoms
- Moderate: Four to five symptoms
- Severe: Six or more symptoms
What is Binge Drinking?
While not clinically considered the same as AUD, people who struggle with alcoholism will likely have one or more of the above symptoms. On a related note, binge drinking is the process of drinking a large amount of alcohol in a very short period. Binge drinking is incredibly dangerous and can lead to an overload of alcohol in your bloodstream.
If the amount of alcohol entering your bloodstream outpaces the rate at which your liver can eliminate it, your body can experience alcohol poisoning and hospitalization may be necessary.
Statistics on Alcohol Abuse and Alcohol Addiction
According to The 2019 National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH), about 14.5 million people over the age of 12 are currently struggling with alcohol addiction in the United States.6
An additional 4.2 million people between the ages of 12-20 reportedly engaged in binge drinking in the past month.
Signs and Symptoms of Alcohol Abuse
It is easy for people to overlook the signs and symptoms of alcohol dependency, as these individuals may isolate themselves and drink in private to prevent others from knowing.
Early signs of alcohol abuse include:7
- Hiding drinking or drinking in private
- Experiencing short-term memory loss and temporary blackouts
- Forgoing responsibilities and obligations in favor of drinking
- Finding reasons and making excuses to drink (i.e. to relax, feel normal, deal with stress)
- Experiencing irritability and extreme mood swings
- Feeling hungover, even when not drinking
- Becoming more distant and isolated from family and friends
- Changing appearances and friends
Even if the drinking seems controllable, alcohol abuse can have grave consequences and should be taken seriously. If you experience one or more of these symptoms, we suggest seeking treatment immediately.
The Dangers of Alcohol Poisoning
Alcohol poisoning happens when the amount of alcohol we drink outpaces the rate at which the liver can metabolize it. Signs of alcohol poisoning include:
- Mental confusion
- Trouble Breathing (Slow or irregular)
- Difficulty remaining conscious
- Clammy skin
- No gag reflex to protect you from choking after vomiting
- Slow heart rate
- Extremely low body temperature
Alcohol Withdrawal Symptoms
When you become dependent and have an alcohol addiction, becoming sober can be challenging. Withdrawal takes a toll on you both physically and psychologically.
Symptoms of alcohol withdrawal include:8
- Mood Swings
- Trouble Concentrating/Mental Fog
- Difficulty Sleeping
- Appetite Loss
- Dilated Pupils
- Fast Heart Rate
- Pale Skin
3-5% of alcoholics who go through withdrawal may experience a severe condition called delirium tremens (DTS.) Delirium tremens are incredibly dangerous – if you or someone you know begins experiencing symptoms, medical attention is advised.
Delirium tremens symptoms include:
- Extreme Agitation and Confusion
- High Blood Pressure
Alcohol Addiction Treatment
The FDA has only approved the use of three medications for alcoholism. These drugs are disulfiram, acamprosate, and naltrexone. All of these medications are non-addictive, and often yield the most success when used alongside therapy and support groups.
There are numerous therapies and behavioral treatment programs that are highly effective at helping people reduce their alcohol consumption and stay sober. Therapies often focus on teaching individuals how to identify and cope with triggering emotions and events as they arise, maintaining motivation, setting goals, and creating helpful habits.
If you’re struggling to find your way back to yourself, know you’re not alone.
We at Brooks Healing Center are here for you and want to help you fall in love with everything life has to offer you. If you’re looking for some support on your road to recovery, reach out. We’re happy to discuss the pathway to recovery that works best for your lifestyle and goals.