Addiction is not a word to be taken lightly. It’s important to make sure that we understand the difference between liking something, doing something often, and being genuinely addicted to it. Addiction is not good, nor is it an indication that you’re fond of something. And when you’re at the point where you’ve realized you’re addicted, you often want to stop and would if you could but can’t.
For most people who have gone through being addicted, or are still addicted, the exact moment of when “casual use” ended, and addiction began, is unknown. It doesn’t just happen overnight, but it also isn’t something you really notice. It creeps up on you, like a gradual change. Much like a lobster in boiling water, you could very well be in too deep before you realize something is wrong.
Recognizing that you’ve gone past casual drinking and onto the ranks of addiction, however, is something else. You might not be able to pinpoint when it happened, but you can tell if it happened. But first, it’s time to define what it means to be a “casual drinker”.
Casual Drinking, “Problem Drinking”, and Alcohol Use Disorder
Contrary to popular belief, Americans don’t drink as much as you might think. This is increasingly becoming true in younger generations who drink much less than their parents and grandparents used to (part of a greater trend of avoiding a series of other vices). While the reasoning behind this change likely isn’t prudeness or a changing attitude towards alcohol and sobriety, it’s important to observe that the average casual drinker drinks much less than someone who might have a drinking problem.
About a third of the nation’s adults don’t drink alcohol at all. Another 30 percent drink less than one drink per week, either meaning they only drink on special occasions, or have a drink every other week. But the top 10 percent of drinkers in America consume over 10 drinks per day. That’s over 73 drinks in a week.
What this tells us is that over half of America either doesn’t drink, or drinks so rarely that they have less than a drink per week. In the meantime, the average drinks per day, per capita, if taking into consideration how much the whole nation drinks and splitting it evenly, we sit at about 9 drinks per week.
That doesn’t mean that 9 drinks per week are healthy, neither does it mean that 73 drinks per week immediately mean you’re an addict. A drink, by the way, is considered the rough equivalent of a single shot (1.5 oz), a single glass of wine (5 oz), or a single bottle of beer (12 oz). Note that alcohol content matters the most here, with a single drink corresponding to roughly 14g of pure alcohol.
According to the national Dietary Guidelines for Americans, men should be limited to two drinks per day, and women should be limited to one drink per day. However, countless news articles and studies contradict this, stating that drinking more often than thrice a week is a health hazard, and that drinking any alcohol at all is in fact detrimental to your health. It should be noted that the Dietary Guidelines clarify this by mentioning that if you don’t drink, you shouldn’t start.
So, what’s this all got to do with casual drinking? Not much, really. Rather, it’s to illustrate an important point:
It’s Not About the Amount
Casual alcohol use indicates any level of alcohol use that does not indicate alcohol misuse. This means casual drinking shouldn’t involve blacking out, vomiting, diarrhea, an upset stomach, excessive dizziness, shakiness, or delirium. Binge drinking, while technically referring to any alcohol use above the recommended amount, herein will be used to describe drinking more than a person is used to, moving past drunk and onto ill.
Everyone has a different alcohol tolerance level. This is determined by size, bodyfat, diet, health, age, drinking frequency, and genetics, among other factors. What might be too much for one person is barely enough to get tipsy for another, and so on. Understanding what your limit is can help you distinguish between casual or moderate alcohol use, and alcohol misuse. If you use alcohol to lighten the mood at a dinner, then it should be used more as an accompaniment to the food and conversation at the dinner table, than a means to tolerate an uncomfortable social occasion.
Alcohol use begins to veer off the side of moderation and towards “problem drinking” when drunkenness becomes a normal state of mind, when alcohol overuse symptoms become more frequent (including constant slurred speech, lack of restraint, dizziness, and memory problems), and when you continue to use alcohol despite clear legal and health issues. Once you realize that you can’t stop, you’ve reached the point of addiction.
Addiction Can Start at Any Time
A person can drink for years and not be an addict. Others get drunk the first few times in their early teens, and quickly find themselves dependent on booze. It’s difficult to predict whether addiction will happen or not, but a good indicator is when and how a person drinks. People who often drink to soothe themselves or go out drinking whenever they feel down are more likely to start relying on alcohol to the point that they become addicted to it.
Addiction is mostly a brain disorder, and it occurs physically rather than emotionally, but some people can be emotionally dependent on alcohol before they get physically hooked to the drug.
Identifying an Addiction in a Friend or Loved One
Identifying an addiction isn’t easy, especially if the addict knows how to cover their tracks. In the meantime, we might be quick to judge a friend for their alcohol use despite the fact that they aren’t addicted. You can drink on a daily basis and not be dependent on alcohol. However, that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t advise your friend to reconsider their hobby for the sake of their health. Alcohol overuse, even if not part of a problem with alcoholism, can wreak serious havoc on a person’s liver, stomach, brain, and body.
If you think you or your loved ones are struggling with alcohol and genuinely can’t stop, you need to seek help. A professional can help you figure out how to stop, and how to stay sober.