Problem Drinker vs. Alcoholic

alcoholism May 07, 2021

Problem Drinker vs Alcoholic

What's the difference between a problem drinker and an alcoholic? Just this week, I saw 4 new clients struggling with this exact question. Most people don't understand the difference between someone who drinks a lot and someone who has a diagnosable alcohol use disorder.

Can I be honest with you? The difference between a problem drinker and an alcoholic is that they're only one stage away from becoming a full-blown alcoholic. 

People who are problematic drinkers usually move over into alcohol use disorder eventually, but they do so in stages. 

Here are the 4 stages of alcoholism:

  1. Experimentation- This doesn't indicate a problem. Usually just socially drinking
  2. They start to drink more frequently, harder alcohol, or heavier drinking.
  3. Consequences start to happen. This is when someone starts drinking and can't stop. Problems begin to trickle in because of alcohol use. 
  4. The problematic drinking continues and bridges begin to burn. Meaning the job they have, the relationship, and legal issues, etc. Once someone gets to this stage, the binge doesn't stop because they're trying to numb the pain of their bad consequences.  

Do you recognize the stage that you or your loved one may be in? 

I see stages 3-4 in my office frequently and the hardest part to watch is when someone with a serious drinking problem thinks that they can manage their problem on their own. The problem is, they've likely gained more dependence and tolerance on the alcohol which makes it even harder to quit. 

If you or a loved one are in stage 4 and you want to stop, the first thing you're going to want to do is to ask yourself if "this is something that you truly want to get over?" Once you're in this stage 4 and ready to quit, you'll need your doctor's supervision to help you withdraw.

Amber Hollingsworth

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