Social Drinkers, Problem Drinkers and Alcoholics- Where Do You Stand?

It took me a while to understand and accept that I had a problem with alcohol because I knew I wasn’t an alcoholic. To be politically correct I knew I didn’t have Alcohol Use Disorder (AUD). Until recently, I always believed that one was simply an alcoholic or not. I didn’t know the differences between social drinkers, problem drinkers and alcoholics.

The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) describes alcohol use disorder as “problem drinking that becomes severe.”

According to NIAA, AUD is a chronic relapsing brain disease characterized by compulsive alcohol use, loss of control over alcohol intake, and a negative emotional state when not using. One becomes an alcoholic when they become dependent on alcohol, and I never was. I didn’t drink every day or need it to get up out of bed in the morning. I would abstain from drinking during the month of Ramadan (Ramadan is the ninth month of the Islamic calendar, and is observed by Muslims worldwide as a month of fasting), and would usually abide by the two drink rule when on a date. Still, I knew that something was wrong.

I typically drank in moments of crisis or anxiety. I would drink until whatever unwanted emotions disappeared. When drunk, I was rude and said anything and everything on my mind. This is one of the main reasons why I chose sobriety; however, it was the emotions I felt after drinking that really made me decide to put the bottle down. Typically after a night (or day) of drinking, I would feel extremely depressed and anxious. It felt like I was living in a cloud of melancholy. I felt horrible and would need a full day to recover- this involved binging watching Netflix and abusing my Grubhub account.

Even though I knew I wasn’t an alcoholic, I knew that I had a problem. Drinking- when done right- shouldn’t make anyone feel the way I did. Before becoming sober, I did a lot of research on my situation and alcoholism, and that’s when I figured out that I was a problem drinker. Below, I go into details about the differences between social drinkers, problem drinkers and alcoholics. I hope the information helps you to access your relationship with alcohol, and allows you to make informative decisions moving forward.

Social drinkers are people who are “low-risk” drinkers. According to NIAAA, “low-risk” drinking for females consists of no more than 7 drinks per week and no more than 3 drinks per sitting. For males, it consists of no more than 14 drinks per week and no more than 4 drinks per day.

Problem drinkers are people who drink alcohol despite knowing that overuse causes physical, psychological and social problems. When problem drinkers are given sufficient reason to stop drinking (ie, have a negative drinking experience or becomes a parent), they are able to limit their alcohol consumption or give it up all together. In fact, according to the NIAAA, 72% of people have a period of heavy drinking that lasts 3-4 years and peaks at ages 18-24 that they phase out of.

Alcoholics, on the other hand, typically are unable to stop drinking despite having a number of reasons to.

To assess whether you may have AUD, the NIAAA wants you to answer the questions below. In the past year, have you:

  • Had times when you ended up drinking more, or longer than you intended?
  • More than once wanted to cut down or stop drinking, or tried to, but couldn’t?
  • Spent a lot of time drinking? Or being sick or getting over the aftereffects?
  • Experienced craving — a strong need, or urge, to drink?
  • Found that drinking — or being sick from drinking — often interfered with taking care of your home or family? Or caused job troubles? Or school problems?
  • Continued to drink even though it was causing trouble with your family or friends?
  • Given up or cut back on activities that were important or interesting to you, or gave you pleasure, in order to drink?
  • More than once gotten into situations while or after drinking that increased your chances of getting hurt (such as driving, swimming, using machinery, walking in a dangerous area, or having unsafe sex)?
  • Continued to drink even though it was making you feel depressed or anxious or adding to another health problem? Or after having had a memory blackout?
  • Had to drink much more than you once did to get the effect you want? Or found that your usual number of drinks had much less effect than before?
  • Found that when the effects of alcohol were wearing off, you had withdrawal symptoms, such as trouble sleeping, shakiness, irritability, anxiety, depression, restlessness, nausea, or sweating? Or sensed things that were not there?

Please keep in mind that you may have experienced some of these situations (I know I have) and not be an alcoholic. Still, your drinking may be a cause for concern. I first addressed my drinking problem by speaking with my therapist. You may speak to a therapist, social worker or medical doctor for a thorough assessment on your drinking patterns. Once you access your drinking pattern, then you can figure out your next course of actions. Do you want to attend a rehab or commit to drinking three times out the week instead of five? I decided to stop drinking cold turkey. In my fantasy world, I am a social drinker who only drinks in moments of celebration. Unfortunately, that has not been the case for me so I had to give it up.

Whatever you decide to do, please understand that you are NOT alone and that there are thousands of Black happy woman who are living fulfilling lives without drinking. That can be you too!

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