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What is an Alcoholic and Why You Might Not Recognize One

Not everyone who is an alcoholic fits the idea you have in your mind. They may be the neighbor down the street who waves to you each morning or the co-worker who comes to work faithfully but likes to go to happy hour after work. It may be your spouse, your child, your parent or even a grandparent, sibling or other relative or friend. It's important to understand what an alcoholic does and doesn't look like.

Once you understand the profile of an alcoholic, it becomes much easier to recognize when someone has a problem. However, that does not mean that it's always easy to tell when someone has a drinking problem. The truth is that it can be quite difficult, even when it's someone you know very well.

Alcoholism is surrounded by stereotypes. These stereotypes can cause people to miss identifying the problem in the people they love. For example, people often think of alcoholics as being:

  • Homeless people
  • People who don't have jobs
  • People who have poor work attendance
  • People who drink every day
  • Old men

These stereotypes are dangerous. It is because of them that so many people fail to recognize alcoholism for what it is. They are the reason why so many people are in denial. They are also the reason why family members of alcoholics often don't realize when there is a problem.By the end of this article, you will be able to answer the question, "What is an alcoholic?"

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Statistics on Alcoholism

Approximately 86 percent of people who are over the age of 17 have drank alcohol at some time in their lives. A total of 56 percent have had a drink within the past 30 days. This information comes from the 2015 National Survey on Drug Use and Health. For people who are at least 18 years old, 6.2 percent have been diagnosed with alcohol use disorder or AUD.

Statistics show that almost twice as many men have been diagnosed with AUD as women. However, over five million women have AUD, which is 4.2 percent of adults. Over 10 percent of children under the age of 18 live in a home with a parent who has a drinking problem. This increases the chances of those children growing up to be alcoholics as well. In fact, 33 percent of people 15 years old admitted they have had at least one drink. At six years before legal drinking age, this shows the impact of alcohol in people's lives and in families.

Defining Alcohol Abuse

According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, about 88,000 people die from alcohol each year. That number may be surprising. However, it proves that it is a serious drug that should not be underestimated.

Even so, it's important to know the difference between addiction and abuse.

Alcohol abuse refers to the overuse of alcohol by an individual. This could be any number of scenarios, and these include:

  • A teenager who regularly participates in underage drinking
  • An adult who binge drinks once every few months
  • An adult who only gets drunk on the weekends
  • An adult who only turns to to the bottle in stressful situations
  • A teenager who gets drunk, even if it's just one time

All of these situations fall under the heading of alcohol abuse. An abuser doesn't feel compelled to drink. It is only consumed on a semi-regular basis. There are no withdrawal symptoms present at all.

If someone is abusing alcohol frequently enough, that abuse can turn into an addiction. There is no real time table for this to happen. It can occur at any time.

Even though abuse is not the same as addiction, the two are closely related to each other. The line between them is often blurred. For someone who is abusing alcohol, every effort should be made to stop. Otherwise, it can quickly become an addiction.

Alcohol Addict Profile

What is Alcoholism?

Perhaps you or someone you know has a drinking problem. If so, it's important to understand the alcoholism definition.

According to Medical News Today, alcoholism is defined as a physical desire to consume alcohol in excess. The amount is beyond the person's capacity to control it. Any attempts to stop drinking fail.

Other experts believe that the compulsion to drink is also a psychological one. While there are physical cravings present, there is also a mental yearning to consume. Alcoholics often feel powerless to overcome their obsessions with drinking. They get to the point where they feel they absolutely need alcohol in order to feel normal.

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What is an Alcoholic?

An alcoholic is an individual who is suffering from alcoholism. They will give in to their cravings at any time. This is in complete disregard to anything else that's happening in their lives. They may tell themselves that they're not going to drink, but then they give in. They may also promise themselves not to drink too much, but they always exceed their limits.

Alcoholism is a disease. Someone who is an alcoholic is completely obsessed with drinking. This person is unable to control how much they drink, or how often they drink. They will drink at home, at work, or wherever possible.

Alcohol is a part of many people's lives. They toast at a wedding with champagne, share a few drinks at happy hour with coworkers and drink a few beers at sporting events. For all those who make it a part of their daily lives, it usually poses no problem. Yet, there are millions of people who become addicted.

A casual drinker enjoys a few drinks with friends and family while an alcoholic does most of their drinking alone. The person who is casually drinking may go for days or weeks without a drink until an appropriate time. Someone with AUD will need a drink every day.

Profile of an alcoholic:

  • An alcoholic loses interest in other activities to focus on drinking while the casual drinker enjoys alcohol as part of the fun
  • An alcoholic makes drinking a top priority, even neglecting other responsibilities
  • Alcoholics damage relationships while casual drinkers enjoy time with family and friends over a few drinks
  • Alcohol alters the person's mood and they often become irritable when they can't get a drink while someone drinking casually maintains the same personality

As you see, both types of people may drink. However, the difference is in whether they control consumption or it controls them. Since this substance is legal and often seen at all kinds of events and activities, it can be difficult to tell if someone drinks because they enjoy it or because they need it. However, it's important that you take the time to learn the motivation behind the person's use of alcohol and to watch for signs of addiction so you can encourage them to get the help they need.

Many people are alcoholics and they don't realize it. Perhaps you're in that situation too. Or, maybe you have questions about a family member.Taking an alcohol addiction quiz can be very helpful. This quiz will ask you a variety of questions and then provide you with results afterwards. Be as honest as you can about your drinking when you take the quiz.

Perhaps you are worried about a friend or family member who may have a problem. If that's the case, there is an addiction quiz for family members too.

It can also be very helpful to take a look at some of the physical and behavioral symptoms of alcoholism.

There are a number of physical signs that indicate someone is addicted. Many people don't realize that. If you are concerned that you or a family member might be an alcoholic, symptoms you should look for include:

  • Experiencing blackouts
  • Loss of appetite
  • Unexplained weight loss
  • Swelling or redness in the palms of the hands
  • Red areas on the face
  • Skin sores and infections
  • Loss of libido
  • Frequent upset stomach
  • Tingling or numbness in the hands or feet
  • Losing one's balance frequently
  • Illnesses that cannot be otherwise explained

The illnesses and diseases that can occur are the most concerning.

Alcoholic Hepatitis

This occurs when the liver becomes inflamed. It is caused by the repeated consumption of alcohol. People who develop this condition must stop drinking immediately. Continuing to drink can lead to even further health problems and complications.

It develops because of the toxins in alcohol. The liver processes everything that goes through the body. These toxins can injure the cells in the liver. Women have a much greater risk of developing this condition than men do. Symptoms include:

  • Weight loss
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Swelling or pain in the abdomen area
  • Yellowing skin or eyes (jaundice)
  • Fever
  • Cirrhosis

If an individual develops alcoholic hepatitis and does not stop drinking, cirrhosis can result. This takes place when scar tissue in the liver replaces healthy tissue. It usually takes many years to develop cirrhosis.

As scar tissue continues to develop in the liver, it becomes very hard. Eventually, it will start to fail due to the lack of blood flow. Blood can get backed up and forced into the spleen. This can cause serious problems in the spleen as well.

The only remedy for cirrhosis is a liver transplant. However, stopping the use of alcohol can help. Doctors can also give medications to slow down its progression.


When a person has gastritis, he or she experiences inflammation in the stomach lining. The lining is extremely irritated and begins eroding. This can occur progressively, or it can cause pain suddenly. Excessive alcohol use is a common cause of gastritis.

Gastritis needs to be treated immediately. If it isn't, it can cause blood loss, and even lead to stomach cancer.


Various forms of cancer can be caused by excessive drinking as well. The body converts alcohol into acetaldehyde. This chemical is known to cause cancer:

  • Mouth cancer
  • Throat cancer
  • Larynx cancer
  • Liver cancer
  • Breast cancer
  • Esophageal cancer
  • Heart Disease

Heavy drinking can eventually cause blood clots in the body. These blood clots can easily lead to a heart attack. It can also lead to a weakening of the heart muscle. Eventually, heart failure can result.

Additional heart complications can occur as well. Many of them can lead to sudden death, without prior symptoms.


Finally, seizures can result from continuing to drink in excess. Someone who suffers from alcoholism is more prone to epilepsy. This is even true if there has never been any history of seizures within the family at all.

Behavioral Indicators of an Addiction

The physical symptoms of alcoholism aren't always easy to recognize right away. Behavioral signs include:

Building up a tolerance: Alcoholics eventually will find that the same amount of drinking doesn't produce the desired results. In order to get drunk, more needs to be consumed. This is often one of the first signs of addiction. Over time, the amount keeps increasing as tolerance levels go up.

Experiencing withdrawal symptoms: For someone with alcoholism, withdrawal symptoms are quite typical. Withdrawal can begin as soon as a few hours after the last drink has been consumed. Some common withdrawal symptoms might include headaches, an upset stomach and symptoms of anxiety.

Isolation: Alcoholics tend to lose interest in activities they once enjoyed. They may give up favorite hobbies, refuse to spend time with friends, and isolate themselves.

Excessive time spent drinking: When an alcohol addiction is present, the individual spends a lot of time either drinking or recovering from drinking. Eventually, these two activities can start to take control of his or her life.

Drinking at odd times: Most people wait to drink until the evening hours. However, for someone with an alcohol use disorder, time is not a factor at all. They will consume at any time of the day or night; even upon waking up.

Lack of control: Alcoholics generally have no control over how much they drink. They may set limits for themselves, but they exceed them repeatedly.

What is a Functioning Alcoholic?

Not all alcoholics are homeless, jobless and living on the street. Many people with AUD live in nice homes, hold good jobs and take care of their family responsibilities. They are considered functioning alcoholics. What it's important for you to realize is the fact that they have a problem and need help.

It can be harder to recognize a functioning alcoholic. They have become adept at hiding their drinking and they may even be unaware that they have a problem because they don't fit the stereotype.

Characteristics of a High-Functioning Alcoholic

High-functioning alcoholics are prevalent in the United States. In fact, families often don't know how to help them because there doesn't appear to be a problem.

Profile of a high-functioning alcoholic:

  • Doesn't fit the stereotype of an alcoholic. Therefore, they don't recognize that they have a problem.
  • Believes drinking isn't an issue because of success at work.
  • May use alcohol as a reward for a job well done.
  • May justify drinking as a way to relieve their stress.
  • Able to continue to work without anyone suspecting that alcohol is a problem.
  • Well-respected at work.
  • Have many close friends.
  • Have good relationships with family members.

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On the outside, everything looks good for these individuals. It's easy to see why no one would suspect that there is problem. However, as time goes on, various changes start to take place. These include:

  • Not being able to stop craving alcohol after just one drink.
  • Becoming obsessed about when they'll be able to drink again.
  • Personality changes during intoxication.
  • Developing unwanted drinking patterns.
  • Beginning to experience losses because of the excessive drinking.

Alcoholism doesn't have a stereotype. It can happen to the high-powered executive just as easily as it can happen to the blue-collared, hard-working American.

Stages of Alcoholism

Alcoholism is a progressive disease the moves through various stages. It's important to know these stages so you can identify the problem and know how to help your loved one.

In the early stages, a new alcohol abuser will display a few of the addiction symptoms, but it may not be obvious. They may experiment with different types of drinks. It's common to see high school and college students in this phase. They look at drinking as a social activity, but they may binge drink as part of their party behavior. Binge drinking increases the risk of developing alcohol use disorder. Not everyone who drinks like this will become an alcoholic. It may depend on genetic factors as well as other influences. However, some will continue to drink heavily even after they graduate and move on to the next phase of their lives.

During this time, the person will maintain their alcohol consumption and may drink heavily. However, they usually don't increase the amount they are drinking or suffer any withdrawal symptoms at this stage. They do rely on it to help them have fun or to relax. At this stage, they develop an emotional attachment to alcohol that isn't manifested in physical symptoms. The person can probably stop drinking without any adverse effects and may be able to stop on their own if they want to. The issue for family and friends is they must be able to convince the person they need to take this step. The alcoholic may not see the reason since it doesn't seem to be a problem.

When someone reaches this stage, they will have most of the signs of alcohol addiction. They will often develop health problems related to their drinking. The alcoholism will show up in various ways, including financially, with relationships and in job performance. They may be able to mask the problems for some time, but it won't last forever.

Even with major health problems such as Cirrhosis, Gout and other diseases, the person may not stop drinking. At this point, they are unable to stop on their own. If they are willing to seek treatment, they will need to go to an alcohol rehab facility and go through detox and professional treatment. They may even want to take this step, but they are afraid of making such a drastic change from the life they know. The person is often scared of living without alcohol since that's all they have come to know.

At this point, the person no longer controls their alcohol use. Rather, it controls them. It may be said that they drink to live instead of living to drink. To explain that someone continually drinks may not be an exaggeration. They drink almost constantly to avoid dealing with any withdrawal symptoms. Those symptoms are so painful they cannot deal with them even for a short time. Most likely, the person's appearance and health have deteriorated so much from drinking, they may be unrecognizable.

It's important to realize that at any point in the stages of alcoholism, a person can seek help and get the treatment they need. However, it becomes increasingly harder to get them to agree to help. That's why it's essential that family and friends pay attention to their loved one's drinking before it gets to the later stages so that recovery is more likely.

Stages of a Functioning Alcoholic

People who start out as functioning alcoholics still go through stages as well. However, they may be even more disguised so that no one recognizes the problem until it has become severe. Remember, the earlier you can get the person to treatment, the more likely they will be to agree and to make the necessary changes.

The first stage is the same as for everyone. The person will enjoy drinking alcohol on occasion and isn't afraid to experiment with different drinks. They may go out with friends and get drunk for fun. Not everyone will become an alcoholic who goes through this stage. Some people grow up and cut back on their alcohol consumption as they gain new responsibilities. Others fall further down the path of alcoholism.

In this stage, the person may not drink every day, and they are able to go about their normal routines. They do need more alcohol to get as intoxicated as they would like. One of the indications that a person may be struggling in this area is the inability to stop drinking before intoxication. Even though they can manage their drinking so that it doesn't interfere in their lives, they can't control it once they start.

The second stage is using alcohol as a coping mechanism. It's become such an intricate part of their lives that they rely on it to help them deal with stress, loneliness, anger and other emotions. Just imagine the person sitting at home at night with a bottle of wine because they have nowhere to go. Then, there's the person who grabs a 12-pack of beer after a long, hard day at work.

The person still goes to work every day and manages all their other responsibilities, but inside they are living for the time when they can have a drink to help them deal with life. Many times, they say they want to relax or unwind or even have some fun and party. When confronted with their alcoholic tendencies, they may become defensive and say "What's wrong with having a little fun? Don't I deserve it?" It's easy for them to justify their drinking, and loved ones may relent since it doesn't appear to be hurting them. However, now is the time to encourage them to get help while they are still somewhat in control.

When the functioning alcoholic gets to this phase, it becomes harder to hide their problem. They may still go to work, but they make mistakes, show up late or aren't as productive as they should be. They often realize that alcohol has become a problem even if they don't admit it to others. The alcoholic will make promises to only have one glass of wine or two beers. However, they are unable to control their consumption when they start.

The focus moves to managing the effects of drinking. They may come up with stories about their lack of productivity at work or make excuses for why they miss their kid's baseball game. The person often realizes they are about to get fired so they move on to another job before it happens.

During this stage, the person starts to drink alone so no one will notice what is going on. They become more depressed as the need for alcohol consumes their life and anxious that some negative consequences are going to catch up to them. They may get a DUI or lose friends because of their drinking habits.

While the alcoholism has gotten more serious in this stage, you can still reach the person. They know they need help, but they may be afraid to ask for it. If you can show your concern and help them feel safe in admitting they have a problem, you may be able to get them into treatment. However, it doesn't always work if the person isn't willing to take that step.

At this stage, it's no longer possible to hide alcoholism even in the functioning alcoholic. In fact, you can pretty much drop the "functioning" label because they are failing to function they way they should.

Physically, the face is flushed and they often look disheveled. They aren't as alert as they once was and may have memory fog or forget things they used to remember with no problem. Alcohol is affecting their health as well as other aspects of their life.

If the person keeps going down this path, they will follow the road of other alcoholics until they lose everything that once mattered to them. Even a functioning alcoholic will become homeless, penniless and alone if they are addicted long enough. Up to that point, they will compare themselves to the stereotypical alcoholic and feel they aren't the same. Compared to that person they hold in their mind, they are doing okay. What they fail to realize is it's only a matter of time until alcoholism progresses for everyone unless they seek help.

Alcohol and Drug Addiction

Alcoholism is a serious disease all on its own. However, it is often compounded by drug addiction or abuse as well. Combining alcohol and drugs is a common problem for addicts. They may take drugs to counteract the negative effects of the alcoholism such as depression or anxiety. This person may take antidepressants to help them feel better or sedatives to sleep. They may look for drugs that give them energy and help them feel upbeat and happy.

Sometimes, the person goes this route to hide their alcoholism from others. If they've been told they seem to lack energy, they will look for drugs that give them energy so others will think they're normal. They think they're dealing with the problem, but instead the person is compounding it by adding addictive drugs to their alcohol use disorder.

If you suspect your loved one is abusing multiple substances, be aware that they can exhibit a range of signs based on what they are using. The person needs to seek help, but you may be unable to convince them on your own.

Help for Families of Alcoholics is Available

For families who have loved ones who are alcoholics, there is help available. It's difficult to have a conversation with a family member who suffers from alcoholism. It's even harder when that individual doesn't realize there's a problem. Most of the time, conversations about alcohol rehab tend to fall on deaf ears. People are very unwilling to change, even when they're destroying themselves with addictions.

In cases like this one, families need to know they're not alone. Scheduling an intervention is one option that's available to them. Interventions are overseen by professionals, who offer guidance to families prior to the meeting. Family members and friends learn what to say during the actual intervention.

Quite often, this method is quite effective. In fact, many people have found that their loved ones eager accept help after an intervention.

Getting an Alcoholic Test and Assessment

If you or a loved one has an alcohol addiction, it's important to get a proper alcoholic test and assessment. This can easily be done through an alcohol rehab program. Phone call assessments are available, and they are very accurate.

By talking with someone at a treatment facility, you can explain your addiction in detail. The person you talk to will listen to your alcohol use history and recommend the right kind of treatment. He or she will also verify your health insurance information and help you schedule an appointment to start your treatment.

Continuing in your alcoholism could have dramatic consequences for your life. It's important to get the kind of help you need right away.

The first step for any alcoholic is to get it out of their system. This means they must detox so they can begin functioning normally again. It can take several days or even weeks for the body to work like it did before the addiction began.

The person will go through withdrawal symptoms as they detox. This can be frightening for the alcoholic because they have experienced a similar form whenever they had to wait for a drink. They can't imagine functioning without it.

Some people will suffer severe withdrawal symptoms, which will make them relapse and go back to drinking. To avoid this problem, you need to find a detox center where you can get help with this process. Many rehab centers offer medical detox which will help alleviate some of the most painful symptoms of withdrawal. The medication may assist with mental symptoms like depression, anxiety or hallucinations while others may focus on physical symptoms like diarrhea, nausea and headaches.

Holistic detox is another approach. With this method of detoxing, the focus is on helping the person get healthy. Alcohol depletes essential vitamins and minerals from the body, and getting the right nutrition can help put them back in so the system is able to fight withdrawal naturally. Exercise is also important as it helps the person deal with stress. It releases endorphins that help them feel better about themselves and life in general.

The most severe symptoms happen in the early days of detox. It can even be dangerous to try to do it on your own. Delirium tremens or DTs are a serious problem that can occur from alcoholism. It is a rapid onset of severe confusion, which generally begins within two or three days of stopping drinking. It is most often seen in people who are long-term alcoholics or those who have been heavy drinkers. It can lead to seizures and death. It's important to not try to detox on your own because of the complications of withdrawal. With a drug detox center, you can safely detox and begin your recovery.

The next step in achieving sobriety is alcohol rehab. You will need therapy to help you understand your addiction and to help you avoid relapsing in the future. Some alcoholics will find a 12-step program like Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) which will help them begin their road to recovery.

For serious and long-term alcoholism, you may need a more in-depth program. Many will go to an inpatient rehab center where they can work on dealing with their addiction in a safe place. They will learn about what triggers them to drink and develop positive methods of handling or avoiding these situations.

They will likely go through both individual counseling and group therapy to help them with their addiction. In many cases, they have been alcoholics for so long that it takes several months before they are ready to be on their own. This person may need a residential treatment center for more support.

Others may find an outpatient treatment center is all they need, especially if they have a strong support system and have only been abusing alcohol or addicted for a short time. They will still need to go through therapy to help them avoid falling into the same trap down the road.

Alcoholism isn't curable, but the person can learn how to manage their condition so they can go on to live a happy and productive life. No matter how long you've been addicted to alcohol, what stage you're in or how hopeless the situation seems, you can get help as long as you are willing to do the work and admit you have a problem.

If You're an Alcoholic, Help is Available for You for Recovery

So many people meet the definition of an alcoholic for years before anyone recognizes there is a problem. Even so, they fail to get the help they need. This might be because they're in denial, or it could be that they simply don't see a need to change. They manage their daily lives fairly well, and so, they assume that there isn't a problem. Unfortunately, there is a problem. They just fail to recognize it.

After reading the above information, perhaps you have noticed many of these symptoms in your own life. These could even be symptoms you never connected with alcoholism before. Now that you know they're connected, you need to know how to get help.

If you're an alcoholic, help is available for you. It is possible to recover from alcoholism. Here at Northpoint Recovery, we can provide you with the support you need.

Admitting that you're a drinking problem can be difficult. It's so challenging, that many people can't do it. It takes a strong individual to admit that he or she has an alcohol addiction. If you're in that place, and you're ready to begin rehabilitation, we want to offer you our services. We've been able to provide assistance to so many people with alcoholism. Many of these individuals thought that alcohol had ruined their lives for good. However, many of them didn't initially think they had a problem that needed treatment. No matter where you find yourself, addiction treatment can help you recover.

If you have a family member who is an alcoholic or someone you suspect of alcoholism, you can use this information to help you reach out to them. No matter how much they ignore you or how hopeless you feel, know there's help for the person you love.

Northpoint Recovery is a modern facility with a low patient number to provide the best care for every person we treat. We offer alcohol detox and rehab services to help you begin your journey to sobriety. We create individualized treatment plans for every person to fit their needs.

While we offer the traditional types of treatment which includes individual counseling and group therapy, we also take a holistic approach towards addiction. We have a nutrition program to help you get healthy again. We also provide regular exercise opportunities including a lovely location so you can walk and enjoy nature.

We invite you to visit Northpoint Recovery and decide for yourself if this is the place you want to go to help you reach your goals of sobriety. We understand the difficulty of starting over or picking up the pieces of a life that has been controlled by alcohol and we want to come along with you for your journey. Our years of experience enable us to provide the right assistance no matter your background.

Is today the day you make the decision to get help for your alcohol addiction? If it is, we're here for you. Please contact us today.

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