Alcoholism vs Heavy Drinking

The variety of definitions of alcoholism in the medical community can make knowing and understanding your own drinking hard. Even more so where individual private views are concerned.

What is a lot of drinking for one person might be typical for another. This makes it hard if you are worried about being an alcoholic but unsure about the extent of the problem.

Measuring Your Alcohol Consumption

Studies show that how we measure drinking depends a lot on our social group, family, culture and even our gender. This can make it hard to tell if you are drinking too much from a health point of view.

An overview of drinking using national standards gives you an idea of where you are on the scale of moderate and low risk to harmful drinking.

Audit Score PHE

What is alcoholism?

Alcoholism is defined by the medical community as a medical condition that causes sufferers to drink in a way they cannot control. Additionally, it is characterized by causing harm to the person who is drinking. This varies a lot, though, because alcohol affects everyone differently.

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Symptoms of Alcoholism

Because the medical community considers alcoholism a mental and physical disorder, we consider it to have symptoms.

However, when trying to work out if you or a loved one have veered from heavy drinking into alcoholism, it is worth looking for non-physical, less obvious signs.

Craving alcohol. This means struggling or being unable to control the urge to drink.

Drinking to ease withdrawal symptoms: headaches, insomnia, anxiety, shaking, heart palpitations.

High alcohol tolerance is caused by constant consumption.

Health problems as a result of drinking too much.

Signs of Alcoholism

Continuing drinking despite it causes problems with work, home or social obligations.

Drinking to self-medicate problems like social anxiety and depression.

Prioritising alcohol over other commitments.

Trying multiple times to stop or cut down on alcohol and failing to do it.

Drinking alone or in inappropriate situations or at unusual times.

Financial problems are caused by drinking and an alcoholic lifestyle.

Hiding and lying about your alcohol intake to friends, family and colleagues.

alcohol units chart beer wine spirits

I Drink too Much am I an Alcoholic?

Choosing a label for your drinking can be challenging. There are so many factors that define the difference between alcoholism and drinking too much.

One of the clearest ways to decide if you are dependent on alcohol or drink too much is to stop drinking for a while.

If you find you cut down or stop relatively successfully, then it is likely you are drinking too much due to habit, environment or peer pressure.

If you return to drinking because you can’t stop yourself, to ease withdrawal symptoms, or for emotional reasons such as anxiety, depression or panic, you are at risk of developing alcoholism. Drinking despite the negative consequences and wanting to stop suggests you have the compulsion to drink.

There are several words that are used to define alcoholism:

Medical Condition



Behavioural Problem

Physical Dependence

Mental Health Condition

Depending on the individual experience, any of the above could be accurate and represent the symptoms and treatment needed.

Signs you are Drinking too Much

You wish you drank less – how you feel about alcohol speaks volumes.

Alcohol is causing problems in your relationships, work or elsewhere in your life.

Losing interest and enjoyment in other activities because of alcohol.

Low mood, persistent anxiety and worsening depression.

Drinking every day, rarely taking a break.

Feeling ill or sick more frequently than normal.

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I Drink too Much. Am I an Alcoholic?

Drinking too much doesn’t make you an alcoholic by default.

The truth is that alcoholics usually drink a lot unless they are in recovery. But not everyone who drinks too much is an alcoholic.

Some people drink because they live or work in an environment where alcohol is socially encouraged. Others may just be in the habit or view alcohol as a treat, food or drink.

The best way to tell is to stop drinking for a while. Habits and the need to treat yourself can be replaced with something healthier.

If your motivation is social or family pressure to drink, then that will quickly become obvious when you stop. If you feel compelled to drink by other people encouraging or harassing you, then this could be at the heart of your problem.

Binge Drinking Problem

Many people who feel the need to stop drinking are binge drinkers. It is tempting to think you can’t be an alcoholic since you are able to stop or cut down regularly.

However, binge drinking is worse for your body than moderate regular drinking. Although the worst option is everyday drinking which is shown to cause the most oxidative stress.

How many units a day is normal?

There is a range of opinions on this subject. These range from the WHO and Lancet project, after performing a 26-year study globally, concluded that there is no safe amount of alcohol to consume.

Other health groups are focused on the moderation of alcohol and offer some limits and suggestions. In the UK, most people use the NHS guidelines on weekly and daily alcohol consumption.

One thing that all groups agree on is not drinking every single day. This can be harmful in the short and long term and lead to a downward cycle due to the chemical reactions alcohol causes in your body.

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Alcoholism Tests

The AUDIT Chart

If you are looking for something solid to work out how serious your drinking problem is, the AUDIT (Alcohol use disorders identification test) chart from the World Health Organization is a great way to tally up signs and symptoms.

The AA

A quicker version than the AUDI test and is interactive. This test is made by the AA (alcoholics anonymous), which has decades of knowledge on which to base its results.

Sources Daily Drinking Rather Than Binge Drinking Is Biggest Risk Factor In Serious Liver Disease, New Study Finds Binge Drinking’s Effects on the Body The AA Self-Assessment for Alcoholism