Many of us like to unwind with a beer or a glass of wine, but when it becomes more than an occasional indulgence, you may be developing a drinking problem. Frequent alcohol use can cause you to neglect responsibilities, destroy relationships and develop health issues, much of which can be averted by simply avoiding the bottle. At a time when 15.7 million adults ages 12 and older have an alcohol use disorder, it’s more important than ever to recognize if you’re a problem drinker.

What is Problem Drinking?

You may be a problem drinker if your alcohol use negatively impacts your life and well-being. Do you find yourself missing school or work? Frequently arguing with loved ones? Suffering from headaches? While your body may not be physically dependent on it, alcohol may be interfering with your daily life in ways that may be difficult to come back from.

One simple way to determine if you’re a problem drinker is to use the CAGE questionnaire developed by Dr. John Ewing.[1]

A 3-d image of the number 1.

Have you ever felt you should cut down on your drinking?

A 3-D image of the number 2

Have people annoyed you by criticizing your drinking?

A 3-D image of the number 3

Have you ever felt bad or guilty about your drinking?

A 3-D image of the number 4.

Have you ever had a drink first thing in the morning to steady your nerves or to get rid of a hangover (“eye-opener”)?

Answering yes to two or more of these questions is not only a sign you have a problem with drinking, it’s also indicative of a probable diagnosis for alcoholism.

You Don’t Have to be an Alcoholic to be a Problem Drinker

It’s quite possible to have a drinking problem that’s not classified as alcohol abuse or dependence. Alcohol use disorder isn’t just a matter of how much or how often you drink – it’s a disease that causes:[2]

Craving – The need to drink
Loss of Control – Inability to stop drinking once you’ve started
Physical Dependence – Symptoms of withdrawal
Tolerance – Needing to drink more alcohol to feel the same effects

Those who are physically dependent on alcohol can’t simply will themselves to stop drinking. Many problem drinkers, on the other hand, could give it up without withdrawal symptoms but choose not to. One 2013 study revealed the most common reasons why people who recognize they need treatment don’t get it:[3]

  • Not ready to stop drinking
  • Unsure of treatment option
  • No transportation/too much of a hassle
  • Limited or no health coverage/too expensive

While some of the warning signs of problem drinking are based more on actions and inactions like missing important functions, avoiding family or spending more money than you have, the signs of alcoholism are much more defined. In the United States, the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5) is used to determine if someone suffers from alcohol abuse or dependence.

The presence of at least two of these symptoms in a 12-month period indicates an alcohol use disorder:[4]

  • Drank more or longer than intended
  • More than once, wanted to or tried to stop drinking but couldn’t
  • Spent a lot of time drinking or getting over aftereffects
  • Wanted alcohol so much you couldn’t think of anything else
  • Drinking or getting over aftereffects interfered with responsibilities or caused problems
  • Continued drinking despite trouble it caused
  • Gave up activities or interests in order to drink
  • More than once, got into situations that increased chances of getting hurt
  • Continued drinking despite health problems or blackouts
  • Had to drink more than usual to get the same effect
  • Experienced withdrawal symptoms

Image of a problem drinker having a beer after waking up in the morning. When a Problem Leads to Abuse

Perhaps your drinking has caused you to lose your job or your health has been adversely affected because of it. When the consequences of excessive drinking become severe enough, the problem drinker usually has a wakeup call. They can see the benefit of limiting how much or how often they drink, and take steps to do so.

For people who are dependent on alcohol, this simply isn’t an option. They continue to drink heavily regardless of the harm it’s already caused themselves or their loved ones. They’re so physically dependent on it that they drink to fall asleep and take the “hair of the dog” first thing in the morning. It’s this uncontrollable need that makes alcohol abuse the third-leading lifestyle-related cause of death in the nation.[5]

“The first step is accepting you have a problem.”

There are therapies and techniques available to help lessen your problem drinking and regain control of your life. The first step is accepting you have a problem. Nobody can make you cut down or stop drinking. You have to be committed and determined to doing it yourself.

If you or a loved one has a drinking problem, the professionals at Unity Behavioral Health are here to help. We can help you to recognize the warning signs and what steps to take to get your loved the help they need to get better. For more information about any of our programs, contact us today at 561-708-5295.


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