Many teens and young adults, and those who care about them, have a hard time differentiating between acceptable social behaviors and dangerous addictions. Alcoholism is particularly difficult to recognize because of the many misconceptions about what is and is not associated with the disease and what different types of drinking behavior are displayed. To clear up this sometimes-muddy issue, we’ve compiled this list of alcohol facts to explain the differences between social drinking, binge drinking, heavy drinking, problem drinking and alcoholism. By learning to recognize dangerous behaviors in their infancy, you can break the cycle of alcohol abuse before it spirals out of control. Alcoholism meaning.
What is a drink ?
For the purposes of accurate comparison, we are using “drink” to refer to a beverage containing 14 grams of pure alcohol. This translates to 5oz of wine (12% ABV), 1.5oz of spirits/liquor (40% ABV) or 12oz of beer (5% ABV). The serving size and potency of individual drinks can vary greatly from situation to situation, but this is the “standard” measurement used when conducting studies or compiling statistics about alcohol use.
What is social drinking ?
Social drinking, sometimes called “ moderate alcohol consumption,” is drinking in low-risk patterns. This means, among other things, not drinking to relieve stress or to get “drunk.” A low-risk pattern for an adult male (over the age of 21) is up to two drinks per day. For adult females, the amount is up to one drink per day. These totals can be compiled weekly, meaning that low-risk drinking for men is no more than four drinks in a single day and no more than fourteen in one week. For women, no more than three drinks in a single day and seven in a week. These estimates are based on many factors that affect blood alcohol content, or BAC, and will not result in becoming legally intoxicated. It is important to note that these estimates are for adults, there is no established normal social drinking level for adolescents.
What is binge drinking ?
Binge drinking is defined as drinking four or more alcoholic drinks in a single occasion for adult women, or reaching a legal intoxication level (0.08 BAC) in less than two hours. For adult men, the threshold is five or more drinks. The thresholds for teens is even lower. For girls, the limit is three drinks from age 9-17. For boys, the number of drinks considered to be binge drinking varies by age: three between ages 9-13, four from 14-15, and five between 16-17. For teens and young adults, it often begins in a social setting, such as a party, but it can quickly escalate to more damaging behaviors as it increases the risk of developing alcohol dependency.
What is heavy drinking ?
The NIAAA (National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism) and the SAMHSA (Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration) define heavy drinking as engaging in binge drinking on five or more occasions in a given month. Heavy drinking is the next step closest to alcoholism. It is where casual and social drinking edges into alcohol abuse and it often causes serious problems long before a physical or full psychological dependency on alcohol develops. Heavy drinkers can have difficulty meeting expectations and obligations in their day-to-day lives, their interpersonal relationships can suffer, and their overall health can begin to deteriorate as the lasting effects of alcohol abuse accumulate.
What is problem drinking ?
Problem drinking is the beginning of a psychological dependency on alcohol. There are two significant differences between problem drinking and alcoholism: the lack of a physical dependency (addiction) to alcohol, and the ability to recognize their high-risk behavior and return to low-risk drinking habits with sufficient cause. Unaddressed, problem drinking can lead to alcoholism. The warning signs of problem drinking include:
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Heavy drinking, as defined above
Driving drunk, or engaging in other dangerous or illegal behaviors as a direct result of alcohol
Missing school or work after drinking, drinking while there, or showing up drunk
Uncontrollable mood swings as a result of sobriety
Relying on alcohol to lessen pain, stress, anxiety or sadness
Suffering medical, financial, or social consequences as a result of drinking habits
Gulping drinks, or an increased tolerance to alcohol
Obsessing over alcohol or using alcohol as a reward
Drinking to the point of blackout
Lying about, feeling guilty over, or trying to conceal drinking habits
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Inability to stop drinking once they have started
What is alcoholism ?
Alcoholism is a physical and mental dependency on alcohol. Alcoholics need alcohol to function, and suffer from physical withdrawal symptoms as well as psychological changes when sober. They can no longer simply cut back on their drinking, even when faced with a compelling reason to do so. Alcoholics, unlike problem drinkers, are unable to go long periods of time between drinking episodes. Once physical alcohol dependency is reached, patients must abstain from all alcohol to avoid relapse. The warning signs are much the same as those for problem drinking, which is why prompt evaluation is the key to successful recovery.
The path to alcoholism differs from person to person, and drinking behaviors exist more on a spectrum than in neatly delineated boxes. However, once you step off the “moderate” starting point, the slope to dependency can become slippery and steep. What begins as a few parties a month can quickly turn into missing school, skipping work, and trying to justify a need for alcohol to handle stress or pain. Addiction is insidious, but there is hope. If you or someone you love is exhibiting signs of alcohol dependency, get help from a qualified healthcare professional right away.