There has been some confusion about what alcoholism is. Many people mistakenly assume that being an alcoholic is based on how many drinks they consume, but like any other disease, there are varying stages and levels.
According to James E. Royce, S.J., Ph.D., and David Scratchley, Ph.D., alcoholism can be defined as “a chronic primary illness or disorder characterized by some loss of control over drinking, with habituation or addiction to the drug alcohol, or causing interference in any major life function, for example: health, job, family, friends, legal or spiritual.”
Loss of Control
Most alcoholics can take a few drinks without getting drunk, but that does not mean they don’t have a drinking problem. Total loss of control is typically seen in late-stage alcoholics, but a consistent loss of control can be sufficient for diagnosis. The loss of control can be in regard to how much they drink or when they drink, or both. Also, drinking more than intended or drinking at inappropriate times can be sufficient for diagnosis.
Chemical dependence can be either psychological or physiological. Psychological dependence typically refers to those who feel discomfort without alcohol even though there is no physical need. Physiological dependence is characterized by increased tolerance, brain changes and withdrawal symptoms. At this stage, people physically need to drink in order to function.
Another factor in defining alcoholism is whether alcohol interferes with an individual’s normal life. Interference is much more subjective and difficult to quantify, but the interference must be habitual and notable. For instance, if alcohol use results in one argument, that may not be considered interference, but all-out bar brawls are a common and recurring situation, then that would be construed as interference. Just as one DUI may be considered an anomaly, three consecutive DUIs are grounds for arrest and therefore constitute interference.
If any of these descriptions apply to you, it’s time to get help. There are a number of effective treatments for alcoholism, including outpatient programs, residential alcohol addiction treatment and therapy.