Problem Drinking vs. Alcoholism: Is There a Difference?

It shouldn’t come as a surprise that the United States has a complicated relationship with alcohol — over 25% of adults binge drink at least once a month.

While many of these individuals don’t identify as alcoholics, quite a few will admit that they do have a problem with heavy drinking.

But exactly what is the difference between problem drinking vs alcoholism? Is there even a difference at all?

In this article, we’ll clear up some of the confusion between the two terms. And, if you want to consider quitting, then we’ll give you some helpful resources on how to begin. Let’s get started!

Problem Drinking vs Alcoholism: Definitions

Before we begin it’s important to first start with some official definitions. There is an important difference between an alcoholic and a problem drinker. An alcoholic is an individual with an Alcohol Use Disorder.

This means that the person is both mentally and physically addicted to the substance. These users are dependent on alcohol. This means that they need it to get through the day.

When they try to quit they experience physical detox symptoms because their bodies have become reliant on the substance to function. These individuals can become sober, but they’ll still be alcoholics — the condition never goes away.

One drink is all it takes for someone with AUD to relapse.

This condition is very different from problem drinkers. Problem drinkers aren’t physically addicted to the substance. This means they won’t experience detox symptoms when they take a break.

So what’s the big deal? The big deal is what happens when these individuals drink. Problem drinkers cause pain to either themselves or others when drunk.

This can affect their relationships, professional life, and health. However, it’s much easier for problem drinkers to self-correct their problematic behavior than it is for alcoholics.

Alcohol Social Fun
Alcohol Social Fun

What is a Social Drinker?

A social drinker is an individual who controls the amount of alcohol they drink every week. The types of people might only drink on the weekend, or at parties and gatherings. Generally, this type of drinking is socially acceptable because it’s low risk.

What does low risk mean?

The answer depends on the sex of the individual. Usually, it’s agreed that low-risk drinking for females is less than three drinks per sitting and no more than seven a week.

For men the number is a little higher — less than four drinks per sitting and no more than fourteen a week.

However, it’s important to realize that the lines between a social drinker and a problem drinker can quickly become blurred. So how do you know if you’re a problem drinker? By looking at the symptoms.

What Are Some Symptoms of Problem Drinking?

As we mentioned, problem drinking can affect a person’s health, professional life, or personal relationships. So, the symptoms will usually stem from these areas. They can include (but aren’t limited to):

  • The person spends too much money on alcohol which causes financial problems
  • Frequent hangovers cause the person to miss work or class
  • Being drunk causes negative mood changes like anger, depression or violence
  • The person avoids people they know so they can get drunk alone
  • Frequent binge drinking
  • The individual takes risks that affect themselves and others, like driving drunk or getting arrested
  • Frequent cases of blacking out
  • Drunkenness that results in unsafe sex with an individual
  • The person uses alcohol to numb their problems and boredom (for example, drinking too much during COVID-19 quarantine)
Quitting Drinking
Quitting Drinking?

Do Someone You Know to Have a Drinking Problem?

Addressing a drinking problem can be difficult for a lot of different reasons. Some individuals may not realize that they have one. Or, they may be scared that admitting it will force them to stop.

Many individuals might subconsciously know that they have a problem, but refuse to acknowledge it consciously. This is especially dangerous because it can start a positive feedback loop.

The person feels guilty and depressed when they get too drunk, which causes them to drink more. Typically these individuals respond defensively when someone they know brings up their drinking habits.

When friends or family members try to address their bad behavior, the person tells them to mind their own business. If the person reacts negatively to confrontation, then they should seek professional help right away. This is a clear sign that they have a dangerous relationship with alcohol.

Questions to Ask Yourself If You Think You Have a Drinking Problem

To find out if you have a drinking problem you will need to ask yourself some hard questions.

These questions are difficult because they require honest answers about the way you live your life. If you answer yes to any of these questions, then you may need to start working on your relationship with alcohol.

  • Do you need alcohol as a social lubricant?
  • Do you need alcohol to feel happy or good about yourself?
  • Do you need alcohol to have fun?
  • Do you use alcohol to reward yourself?
  • Do you need alcohol when you’re going through a stressful situation?
  • Do you use alcohol to boost your ego for social gatherings?
Myths About Alcohol Addiction
Myths About Alcohol Addiction

Want to Quit Drinking Without Rehab or AA? Learn More About the Stop Drinking Expert

We hope this article has helped educate you on the difference between problem drinking vs alcoholism. It’s important to realize that just because someone has a drinking problem doesn’t mean it’s easy to quit.

Often these individuals feel like they don’t have enough of addiction to warrant going to rehab or Alcoholics Anonymous. When willpower alone isn’t enough, you need a different type of professional help.

That’s where the Stop Drinking Expert comes into play. Craig Beck helped thousands of people cut alcohol out of their lives and he can help you too. If you’re curious, then sign up for his free quit drinking webinar today!