The best method for resolving an alcohol abuse problem varies from person to person, depending on the severity of the problem and other factors. A major factor to consider when dealing with alcohol abuse is whether the problem drinker is physically dependent on the substance. Alcoholics have a strong craving for alcohol, and they are not able to stop drinking after just one drink. Their bodies physically depend on the substance, and when they are not drinking, they experience withdrawal symptoms such as nausea, tremors, or anxiety. They need alcohol to feel good, to relax, or to relieve tension.
Cutting Back Not An Option for Alcoholics
Alcoholics’ bodies and brains physically crave alcohol, and having a sip can send them into a cycle of abuse and health problems.
Because alcoholics have trouble consuming just one drink, cutting back is not really an option for them. They can't limit themselves to just one drink on the weekends or a glass of wine with dinner. Alcoholics' bodies and brains physically crave alcohol, and having a sip can send them into a cycle of abuse and health problems. Even after being sober for a long period of time, an alcoholic can trigger the chemicals in the body that lead to addiction just by having one drink.
In fact, alcoholics often need medication (in addition to psychotherapy) to end the cycle of problem drinking. Medications can help relieve withdrawal symptoms, and they can also help alcoholics abstain from drinking altogether. Drug treatment for alcoholism can also prevent a relapse. The fact that many alcoholics need medication to counteract the cycle of addiction demonstrates that simply drinking less will not resolve their problem.
Problem Drinker Not Necessarily Alcoholic
In contrast, a problem drinker who is not an alcoholic may be able to cut down without resorting to complete abstinence. People who abuse alcohol can drink too much without being physically dependent on the substance. They may binge drink in social situations or look forward to several drinks to take the edge off at the end of a stressful day. They may drink too often or drink too much, but their brain chemistry does not cause the same kinds of cravings and physical dependence as the brain chemistry of an alcoholic.
Alcohol Abuse Can Cause Interpersonal Problems and Depression
Even if someone who abuses alcohol has not been diagnosed with alcoholism, his or her drinking may still negatively affect his or her life. Alcohol abuse can lead to problems at work or school. It can lead to interpersonal problems or depression, and it can be dangerous if someone drives under the influence or drinks during pregnancy.
Moderate Drinking Defined
Moderate drinking may actually be beneficial for the heart. Although there is no specific indicator for safe consumption of alcohol, most people can drink moderately without it becoming a problem. The National Institute of Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism defines moderate drinking as two drinks a day for men and one drink a day for women and senior citizens. Moderate drinking may actually be beneficial for the heart. However, women and the elderly become impaired more quickly than men do, and chronic alcohol abuse can put a person's health at risk. People who can't limit themselves to a moderate alcohol intake or who tend to binge drink have a drinking problem that may or may not be resolved simply by cutting back.
Some signs of a drinking problem are:
- feeling like you should limit your drinking;
- being annoyed when people comment on the amount you drink;
- feeling guilty or ashamed because of your drinking; and
- drinking early in the morning to relieve anxiety or a hangover.
Consult Doctor Before Treatment
If someone exhibits one or more of the signs above, he or she may have a problem with alcohol abuse. Alcoholism should be diagnosed by a medical professional. If someone has a drinking problem, it may be necessary to consult with a doctor before beginning any kind of treatment, even if he or she is just trying to cut back. This is because a physical dependence on alcohol will not be resolved by simply drinking less; an alcoholic may be putting his or her life and the lives of others in danger if he or she continues to drink.