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How can I know if I am an alcoholic?

Deborah Davis, DNP
OBGYN (Obstetrician & Gynecologist)

Alcohol dependence is a gradual process which can take from a few years to several decades to become a problem—with some very vulnerable people addiction can come in a question of months. Eventually, over time, regular alcohol consumption can disrupt the balance of the brain chemical GABA which controls impulsiveness, as well as glutamate, which stimulates the nervous system. Brain levels of dopamine are raised when we consume alcohol—dopamine levels may make the drinking experience more gratifying. Over the long- or medium term, excessive drinking can significantly alter the levels of these brain chemicals, making the person's body crave alcohol in order to feel good and avoid feeling bad. A person must meet the criteria established in the DSM (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders) published by the American Psychiatric Association. This included a pattern of alcohol abuse which leads to considerable impairment or distress. The patient should experience at least three of the following criteria during the past 12 months: alcohol tolerance, withdrawal symptoms, beyond intentions, unsuccessfully attemptng to cut down, time consuming, withdrawal and persistence.

Dr. Paul  Hokemeyer, PhD
Marriage & Family Therapy Specialist

Most people think that problem drinking is a function of the number of drinks a person consumes. This is not entirely correct. More important than the number of drinks is the impact alcohol has on a person and how it impacts the important relationships in their life. With this in mind answer the following questions:

  1. Has your drinking or drug use caused relationship problems with those close to you?
  2. Has your drinking or drug use caused any legal difficulties?
  3. Has your drinking or drug use caused a change in friends?
  4. Has your drinking or drug use caused problems with your primary responsibilities (work, school, caring for your children)?
  5. Do you have feelings of loneliness or isolation?

If you’ve answered YES to any one of these questions, then it’s important to discuss your drinking with a qualified professional.

Dr. Timothy W. Fong, MD
Neurologist

If a male drinks more than five drinks in a single occasion, that's an episode of heavy drinking. It does not make the person an alcoholic, but it raises a concern about alcohol and how the person relates to it.   

If you are a man who has ever had more than five drinks in a single occasion, or a woman who’s had more than four, it’s considered risky drinking. Doctors encourage you to ask yourself these questions: 

  • What's the reason I'm drinking that much? 
  • What do I get out of it? 
  • What's my relationship with alcohol?"

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.