When I first found my way into the rooms of Alcoholics Anonymous, I was 21 years old, in college, and still very much convinced that I was nothing more than a heavy social drinker. I found people that drank the way I did and surrounded myself with them; I moved in with one and started dating another. As long as my friends could keep up, I was safe from unjust labels or forced acknowledgement. I later discovered that this strong-willed conviction was nothing more than steadfast denial – denial that would take months of therapy and self-destructive research to finally break through.
It has been explained to me that there are three main types of drinker, and that one who is truly afflicted with the disease of alcoholism will often rapidly progress to the next stage if he or she remains remains untreated. So then while it may have been true that I was, in fact, a social drinker for the first portion of my prolonged career, I inevitably progressed to a problem drinker and finally an undeniable alcoholic seeing as I had stubbornly refused help for so long.
Let us take a more in-depth look at the three distinctive types of drinker.
Most American citizens comfortably fall into this category. They can enjoy alcohol with impunity – they may go out to the bar with their friends over the weekend and remember the entire experience (if you can wrap your mind around that). They may slowly drink a glass of wine over the course of an entire meal. They essentially drink in what are called ‘low-risk patterns’, experiencing very few (if any) personal consequences as a result of their drinking. According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, social drinkers may, if female, drink no more than 7 drinks per week ad no more than three alcoholic beverages per sitting. Male social drinkers will drink no more than 14 drinks per week and no more than 4 per day.
While problem drinkers may experience some consequences as a result of their drinking, their behavioral patterns tend to differ drastically from those of alcoholics. According to the NIAAA, 72% of all American citizens will undergo a period of heavy drinking that lasts between 3 and 4 years, during which they may experience mild to moderate consequences. This period will typically take place between the ages of 18 and 24 – most commonly during college. Once consequences get severe enough, however, or once an individual is presented with a viable reason to quit drinking heavily, he or she will be able to cut back significantly with no issue. A problem drinker may have a run in with the law, experience an especially debilitating hangover, or begin a lucrative career – and be able to put down the alcohol, just like that.
The alcoholic, on the other hand, may be constantly presented with innumerable reasons to cut back or quit, and repeatedly find putting down the drink for a prolonged period of time an impossibility. Most alcoholics experienced a period of ‘low-risk’ drinking early on in their drinking careers, but their consumption has likely progressed dramatically over time. Many alcoholics who are able to maintain personal appearances and function at an expected level at work, at home, or in interpersonal relationships are classified as high-functioning alcoholics. It is important to remember that what defines an ‘alcoholic’ is not necessarily how well they maintain their personal appearance, but how detrimental their relationship with alcohol has become, and their mental, emotional, and spiritual state. Most high-functioning alcoholics are inwardly miserable.
If you find that you cannot quit drinking or cut back use despite the severity of the consequences you face (or a mere inward desire to do so), it may be time to seek professional help. For more information on alcohol rehab, please feel free to call us at Next Chapter Treatment today.