What is an Alcoholic?
The question, "what is an alcoholic" has been answered differently as our understanding of the disease has changed. We now know that an alcoholic is a person who is addicted to alcohol; they suffer from the medical disease of alcoholism.
Drinking, even large amounts of alcohol, doesn't necessarily mean a person is addicted to alcohol. This can indicate that the person is simply a binge drinker and may eventually become addicted to alcohol. Those who excessively drink and have problems in their lives because of it, but do not show all the symptoms of alcoholism may be showing signs of alcohol abuse rather than true alcoholism.
Some programs feel that once a person becomes addicted to alcohol, they will be an alcoholic for the rest of their lives, while others believe that recovery from alcoholism is possible without abstaining from drinking forever. The difference in these two perspectives, though, may be that one addresses those addicted to alcohol and the other addresses those who simply abuse alcohol. See alcoholism treatment
What is an Alcoholic? - What Does Being Addicted to Alcohol Mean?
The term "alcoholic" is widely used in Western culture and is often considered pejorative. In fact, the word "alcoholic" is used often without true understanding of what is an alcoholic.
Because there is no set number of drinks needed to be considered an alcoholic or any medical test that shows a person is an alcoholic, people often think of the label alcoholic as arbitrary. Those who are truly addicted to alcohol know this isn't true.
People who are addicted to alcohol drink to excess and continue to drink even though it harms their mental or physical health or the mental or physical health of those around them. People who are addicted to alcohol can't control the amount they drink and are physically and psychologically dependant on alcohol.
What is an Alcoholic? - Who is Addicted to Alcohol?
While not all alcoholics show the same signs of being addicted to alcohol, many of the signs are present in all alcoholics. Those addicted to alcohol tend to do the following:i
- Alcoholics can't limit the amount of alcohol they drink
- Alcoholics feel an overwhelming urge to drink and feel withdrawal symptoms when they don't
- Alcoholics tend to increase the amount they drink over time
- Alcoholics have problems in their lives due to drinking but will not stop drinking because of them
- Alcoholics drink alone, in secret or in unlikely places like in the car
- Alcoholics typically lose interest in hobbies and other interests and prefer to drink
Those addicted to alcohol tend to have started out drinking socially, then drinking moderately, then drinking to excess (drinking too much) and finally alcoholism. While there are approximately twice as many men addicted to alcohol as women, alcoholism is thought to impact women more severely cognitively.ii
More Information on Alcoholics
Last Updated: 20 June 2016
Reviewed by Harry Croft, MD