Alcoholism is on the rise in both the United States and the U.K. (as borne out by these alcohol abuse statistics), this makes the search for a universally acceptable and agreed upon alcoholism definition all the more urgent.
An alcoholic will display at least two of the four characteristics of alcoholism listed below:
CRAVING: Craving doesn’t mean wanting something. It means needing. Typically the alcoholic obsesses about alcohol from morning till night. Hardly is one drink started when they start to think about the next. It is similar to being in the first flush of love. Being without that person is unbearable. Everything will be okay if you can just be with them. And so it is with the alcoholic. They are in love with alcohol. Deeply, passionately, blindly.
LOSS OF CONTROL: The alcoholic is unable to have one drink or two, or three and stop. Once the first drink passes his/her lips it is all over. Control is handed over to the drink. The dependent drinker also loses control of their life. As the drinking gets worse so does the alcoholic’s ability to do even the most basic things. Paying bills, keeping appointments, personal hygiene all fall by the wayside as eventually does the alcoholic.
PHYSICAL DEPENDENCE: The drinker, or I should say his body, has to have alcohol. If he doesn’t then physical withdrawal symptoms can begin to surface within 12-24 hours of the last drink. These can be VERY nasty. Such symptoms include nausea, shakiness, the sweats, hallucinations (rats crawling out of stomach are a common one), and anxiety. These symptoms are known as Delirium Tremens and can kill you. Delirium Tremens is colloquially known as the DTs, "the shakes", "the horrors", "the heebie geebies", "the fear", "the abdabs", "the staggers and jags" and "the jimjams”. Such names give an insight into the nature of alcohol withdrawal. It is essential that you consult a medical professional before detoxing from alcohol.
TOLERANCE: As alcoholism progresses the drinker will need more and more alcohol to get the same ‘buzz’ as before. Of course the more alcohol consumed the more damage done to the body. It is not unknown for chronic alcoholics to drink two bottles of vodka and remain sober so far advanced is the disease.
A sizable minority view the person suffering from alcoholism as weak and degenerate. In other words....the causes of the alcoholism are the faults of the alcoholic.
These people might give define an alcoholic as a weak person, someone somehow defective and different to others.
Untrue and unfair in my opinion. But have a look around the site and you decide on a suitable alcoholism definition. Only the alcoholic can truly decide that they are alcoholic (does that make any sense?).
In fact, alcoholism as a term is not used by everybody. It has gained such negative connotations (i.e. alcoholism is seen as a result of a defective character), that many professionals in the field now prefer to use the term alcohol dependent.
Alcoholism Definition Heavy Drinking vs. Alcoholism
One way defining alcoholism is to look at what types of drinking are NOT alcoholic.
HEAVY DRINKING: This is drinking too much (according to moderate drinking guidelines) and too often. However, although it is bad for you, it may not be alcoholism because it might not include the four characteristics above. For example a heavy drinker may be able to have one drink on occasions and stop or they might go for long periods without drinking. But it is dangerous and not advised. Also it mean that the drinker is displaying the first signs of alcoholism. Full-blown alcoholism might be just around the corner.
BINGE DRINKING: This is drinking too much in one session. Officially it means having five or more drinks in one session. It also can mean drinking to get drunk. It is very common among teenagers and young people. The U.K. has a particular problem with this according to alcoholism statistics. Go into any town center on a Friday and Saturday night and see the carnage. Despite the dangers of binge drinking it is not officially classed as alcoholism.
PROBLEM DRINKING: This is drinking that indicates the drinker might have a problem with alcohol. They could be an alcoholic, a binge drinker, a heavy drinker etc. They are certainly in danger of becoming an alcoholic-if not already.
ALCOHOL ABUSE: This is drinking to the point where it causes physical, social or moral harm. It includes all terms above except for the first. Once again it could be alcoholism or not.
It is important to note that the definitions above are not black and white and can overlap.
All of these 'styles' of drinking can lead to alcoholism (including moderate drinking), all, except for the first, have adverse effects on your health and relationships with family and friends.
If you found this page helpful, then the following may be of interest to you:
Deborah Morrow, M.S. Addiction Psychology, is the director of treatment programs for The Alcoholism Guide website. In her practice Deborah provides on-line coaching and support for those dependent on alcohol or who require other services such as relapse prevention or court mandated services. (Read More)