If you find yourself asking the question, “am I an alcoholic,” it could be that you have a problem with heavy drinking. It doesn’t necessarily mean you have a medically diagnosable addiction, which we’ll go into more below. However, not being a diagnosable alcoholic doesn’t mean that you aren’t a problem drinker. There’s also another concept to be aware of—being a functioning alcoholic. Below, we’ll go into more of the symptoms of alcoholism. We’ll also answer the question of can you be an alcoholic and not drink everyday?
Alcoholism is now more commonly known as alcohol use disorder. When you have an AUD, you have a psychological and physical need to consume alcohol, despite adverse effects on your life. There are millions of deaths around the world each year because of harmful alcohol use.
The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism says an AUD is problematic drinking that becomes increasingly severe. If you have an AUD, you can’t stop drinking even if you want to. Your use of alcohol becomes out of your control. Much of your time is spent thinking about can you be an alcoholic and not drink every day.
Symptoms of an AUD include:
- Drinking secretly or when you’re alone
- The inability to limit how much alcohol you have
- Having routines that center around alcohol
- Loss of interest in things you once enjoyed
- Cravings or intense urges to drink
- Feeling irritable when your normal drinking time comes if you can’t have any alcohol
- Hiding alcohol
- Developing a tolerance and needing more alcohol the feel the effects
- Signs of physical dependence such as sweating, shaking, or nausea when you aren’t drinking
If you have an alcohol use disorder, drinking is your top priority. You may have signs of psychological addiction to alcohol without physical dependence. If you have a physical dependence, which can take years to develop, you have signs of withdrawal if you don’t drink or cut back. For a diagnosis of alcoholism, at least three of the following occur within the past 12 months:
- Tolerance: You need more significant amounts of alcohol to feel intoxicated.
- Withdrawal: As we talked about, if you have a physical dependence on alcohol and try to stop drinking, you may have withdrawal symptoms like nausea or anxiety.
- Drinking more than intended: You might find that you drink more drinks at any given time than you intend, or you drink for a more extended period.
- Unsuccessful attempts to quit: Have you tried to cut down or quit alcohol and found yourself unsuccessful in doing so? A potential symptom of alcoholism is the ongoing desire to cut down but the inability to do so.
- Avoiding things you once enjoyed: You might find that your performance at school or work is diminishing, or you’re spending less time with loved ones because of your drinking.
- Continual use despite consequences: Whether alcohol is affecting your job, your health, or your relationships, if you keep using it even when knowing it’s harmful, it could be a sign of addiction.
What is a Functional Alcoholic?
While the above tends to reflect a severe AUD, there are different types of alcoholics. For example, there is a category sometimes known as the young adult alcoholic. In this situation, you might not drink every day, but instead, you tend to binge drink. You’re not a severe alcoholic in this case, and you probably don’t have a physical dependence, but you might be on the road to developing a more significant problem.
Another type is a functional alcoholic. A functional alcoholic isn’t an official medical diagnosis. Instead, it’s a term used to describe someone with heavy or excessive drinking habits who’s still functional in their daily life. If you’re a functioning alcoholic, you might be able to keep up with your work and family obligations. You seem healthy and fine to most of the people around you. Even so, you might still have several of the symptoms of an AUD, such as uncontrollable cravings.
Risk factors for functional alcoholism or a developing alcohol problem can include:
- Binge drinking, which is more than five drinks a day
- Having a stressful life
- Feeling peer pressure to drink
- Having a close relative with a history of alcoholism.
- A co-occurring mental health disorder such as depression
- Having more than seven drinks a week as a female, or more than 14 a week for males. Any more than one drink a day for women and two for men could put you into the category of heavy drinkers and is no longer considered moderate alcohol consumption.
Signs of a functional alcoholic include:
- You pour a drink as soon as you get home, or you often go somewhere like a bar after work
- Irritation if you can’t have a drink
- There are often times when you drink more than you intended
- You make jokes about alcoholism
- You talk about drinking a lot
- Engaging in any high-risk behaviors under the influence, such as driving after you’ve been drinking
- Experiencing blackouts related to alcohol
- The use of alcohol causes problems in relationships
- Hiding your alcohol use
Can You Be An Alcoholic and Not Drink Every Day?
Yes, you can be an alcoholic or have a mild substance use disorder and not drink daily. There are different patterns of alcohol abuse. For example, if you are a functional alcoholic, while you might not drink every day, it could be to excess when you do drink.
If you drink often or you experience adverse outcomes because of drinking, this puts you at a greater risk of eventually developing alcoholism. Alcohol dependence is a progressive, chronic illness that worsens over time with more exposure to heavy alcohol.
What Happens If You Drink Alcohol Every Day?
Along with the potential to develop a serious problem with alcohol, can you be an alcoholic and not drink every day? The effects on your mental and physical health can be far-reaching and can include:
- When you drink excessively, it prevents your body from effectively completing other processes. For example, your liver has to detoxify alcohol to remove it from your blood, which becomes the priority. It’s more difficult for your body to process anything else when you have alcohol in your system.
- Drinking alcohol can cause harmful bacteria to grow in your gut. That bacteria can move through your intestinal wall and to your liver, causing damage and possibly liver disease or liver failure.
- Your heart can weaken over time if you drink too much or have an alcohol addiction, and it can put you at risk of high blood pressure. You’re more at risk for cardiovascular disease than moderate drinkers.
- Pancreatitis develops from alcohol abuse, which is inflammation of the pancreas.
- Daily drinking or having multiple drinks per day puts you at risk of different types of cancers, including the mouth, throat, liver, and breast cancer.
Finally, your immune system can weaken if you engage in chronic drinking. You may notice that you get sick more often than people who don’t drink.
If you’re questioning your use of alcohol, you might consider whether or not you have a problem or if you see warning signs in yourself that you’re becoming alcohol dependent. If so, help is available; call 866-600-7709 and let Anchored Tides Recovery help you overcome destructive patterns because they potentially develop into something more serious, which almost always happens with untreated alcohol abuse.