If you are a heavy social drinker on the weekends, and maybe some weeknights, you are probably accustomed to waking to the feelings of a hangover – the dry mouth, the aching head, the spinning room. Does this mean that you have a problem? How do you know if you have crossed the line from party drinking to functioning alcoholic? It can be hard to know when you have crossed a line, but chances are if you are asking yourself this question, you may need to make some changes. To better understand your situation and whether you should be concerned, it helps to know what some of these terms mean. Then you can begin to piece together a picture of your own drinking from an objective as possible viewpoint.
Guidelines for how much alcohol is safe to drink, how much gets you drunk, and how much men can drink versus women can be confusing. The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) defines moderate drinking as one drink per day for women and up to two for men; one drink is 1.5 ounces of liquor, one 12-ounce beer, or one 5-ounce glass of wine. Anything more than that is considered heavy drinking. Binge drinking a term that is used to define any drinking activity that gives you a blood alcohol concentration of 0.08 percent or higher. The amount that leads to that exact percentage will vary by person, but is approximately five or more drinks within two hours for a man and four or more drinks for a woman. It is important to understand that although binge drinking does not necessarily make you an alcoholic, it is not harmless. The CDC cites many illnesses and injuries associated with binge drinking including both accidental and intentional injuries, alcohol poisoning, liver disease, sexually transmitted diseases, unintentional pregnancy, high blood pressure, heart disease and neurological damage.
Alcohol abuse is a pattern of drinking that causes physical harm, damages relationships, and affects your ability to work or conduct your other daily activities. This means that binging in itself is not alcohol abuse. However, if you binge regularly and to the extent that it causes the above problems, you can consider yourself to be in this category. If you drink heavily often enough that your relationships start to suffer, your work suffers, your health suffers, or you find that you cannot do the things you meant to do because of your hangover, you are abusing and you need to cut back.
Alcoholism: Functional and Non-Functional
You need to cut back because abusing alcohol puts you on the track to becoming an alcoholic. It is not guaranteed, but if you do not turn things around, you put yourself at risk. Alcoholism is a type of addiction as well as a chronic illness. The same statements about abuse apply to alcoholism, but to them you can add intense cravings for alcohol, tolerance (meaning you need to drink more to get drunk), and withdrawal symptoms. The latter are physical and psychological symptoms that occur when you have not had a drink for a period of time. These include tremors, sweating, intense cravings, irritability and difficulty sleeping. A functional alcoholic suffers from all the effects as a regular alcoholic, including the tolerance, cravings, and withdrawal, yet manages to hold down a job and keep relationships intact. A key aspect of being a functional alcoholic is denial. Most alcoholics are in denial, but functional alcoholics take it to a new level. They are able to deny their problem so deeply, that to all outward appearances, they seem to be fine. If you are assessing your drinking habits and wondering if you are a functional alcoholic or just someone who binges too much, you can probably assume two things: you need to change your drinking habits, but you are probably not an alcoholic. Binging regularly, to the point that it negatively affects your life, means that you are drinking too much. Slow it down and try to limit yourself. If this means going out less often with certain friends, then this may be a change you need to make. The fact that you are contemplating the question means that you are not likely an alcoholic, functional or otherwise. To avoid getting to that point, make positive changes now.