What classifies a person as an alcoholic?

What classifies a person as an alcoholic
Juanita Agboola

Juanita Agboola is the editor in chief of HFNE and an expert in mental health online. She has been writing about online behaviour, mental health and psychology issues since 2012. All Guides are reviewed by our editorial team which constitutes various clinical psychologists, PhD and PsyD colleagues.

In this brief guide, we are going to answer the question “What classifies a person as an alcoholic?”.

What classifies a person as an alcoholic?

In many cultures, alcoholic beverages are used for all sorts of occasions. We all have shared a glass or two in honour of our friend’s wedding, at our graduation party, or for no other special reason except it’s a Friday night. 

One cannot help but wonder, though: 

How do you know you have crossed that fine line between recreational and heavy drinking? 


What exactly is alcoholism, and how does one become an alcoholic?

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Alcoholism

Simply put, alcoholism is a severe form of alcohol abuse. A condition that is also known as Alcohol Use Disorder.  A heavy drinker, known as an alcoholic person, feels than he or she cannot function well without a certain amount of alcohol in their system. The urge to consume alcohol usually is both physical and psychological. 

The Signs of alcoholism

So, how do you know somebody is at risk of developing an Alcohol Use Disorder? If you are concerned for yourself or for somebody you love, one of the first signs of alcoholism is when a person appears intoxicated more regularly.

Despite the warnings and the consequences, this person can’t seem to stop drinking alcohol. 

The inability to resist alcohol is a key symptom of alcoholism. 

According to Drink Aware, other noticeable and just as important symptoms of alcohol dependence are:

Drinking alone or in secret – For fear of being misjudged or criticized, many heavy drinkers hide their drinking patterns. 

Needing a larger amount of alcohol in order to feel its effects – This is because of tolerance build. 

It can be extremely dangerous because as the quantity of alcohol increases, so does its negative consequences.

Having an intense urge to drink right after waking up – It’s a typical sign of alcoholism since the consumer feels he or she can no longer function properly without alcohol in their bloodstream. 

Experiencing withdrawal symptoms like sweating or nausea, when not drinking – Withdrawal symptoms are hard to bear and can have fatal consequences. This is why quitting “cold turkey” can be dangerous.

 By deciding to stop all alcohol intake at once and in an unsupervised manner, you are putting yourself at risk. 

The drinking behaviour has caused negative consequences like job loss, accidents or mental health problems – Unfortunately, these are just some of the negative consequences alcohol has. 

The addictive behaviour has a high impact on the addict’s family, friends and colleagues. 

Deadlines are missed, criteria not met, fights and accidents happen more often, feelings of guilt and fear surround the family.

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The Causes of alcoholism

Each person is unique in their way, but among the most common causes for alcoholism are experimenting, escaping daily reality and trying to fit in. 

Research has shown a close link between alcohol misuse and biological, sociological and psychological factors. 

Alcohol intake usually starts when you are a teenager. 

For most, is a difficult age when you have to deal with all sorts of positive and negative changes and feelings that come all right at you. 

Many teenagers start to drink alcoholic beverages because they are curious or bored, and all they want is to try new things. 

Moreover, what teenagers want most is to be accepted by their friends, they want to belong. 

In many social groups people come together because of their common habits, and drinking at a party doesn’t seem like such a big deal, anyway. 

The original purpose of why people succumb to alcohol is to avoid painful feelings and have fun. 

Once it gets in your bloodstream, alcohol makes you feel more relaxed. It reduces your stress levels and it boosts your confidence. 

However, the road from “having just a few drinks” to binge drinking is fast and unpredictable. 

With binge drinking more health issues and risks appear, including serious consequences such as long-term memory problems, unemployment, high blood pressure, heart disease and eventually alcoholism. 

Alcohol Addiction

Addiction is also known as harmful dependence. The word alcoholic is used to describe a person who is addicted to alcohol.

Alcohol is considered a harmful substance because it does not contain any nutrients. 

What it does is, it travels almost instantly to the brain and assumes the role of an anaesthetic. 

The first part affected is the brain’s frontal lobe, which leads to an instant increase of happiness, enjoyment and euphoria.

This release of positive emotions encourages the person to consume again, and again. 

Repetitive behaviour like this increases the risk of developing an addiction issue. 

If curious, you can find more useful information about alcohol’s effects here.

One of the main reasons people who suffer from alcohol addiction do not get help is denial. 

Alcoholics tend to rationalize their drinking behaviour, often blaming it on others. 

They also have a habit of hiding the amount of alcohol they have had in a day, fearing they might be misjudged or might unnecessarily worry the ones they love. 

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Still, addiction comes with numerous complications. A person who consumes large amounts of alcohol for long periods of time is more likely to develop severe liver diseases like hepatitis and cirrhosis, conditions that are irreversible and progressive.

Other consequences we often hear about and are severe include memory loss, temporarily blackouts, mental health issues like severe mood swings, extreme fatigue, hypertension and heart problems, nervous system issues, increased risk of accidents. 

Prolonged and excessive alcohol use can interfere with how the brain functions. 

Heavy drinking weakens the heart, and it impacts how oxygen and nutrients are delivered to other vital organs in your body. 

All of these consequences come at great cost and the changes are oftentimes irreversible.

The good news is that there is a treatment for alcohol dependence, and we will discuss this just a bit later. 

What is worth mentioning is that the first step into treatment is for the addict to acknowledge that there is an addiction problem.   

How do you know you are an alcoholic? 

The most common signs of alcohol abuse are:

  • Making excuses for drinking: I need to relax more, I am stressed out, I want to belong. 
  • Dealing with memory loss or temporary blackouts.
  • Having intense mood swings and many signs of irritability. 

What is considered heavy drinking?

We consider that a woman is a heavy drinker when she is consuming eight or more alcoholic drinks per week.

A man, however, has to exceed 15 or more drinks per week to fall into the same category. 

Either quantity of alcoholic beverages consumed by a pregnant woman is considered excessive use. 

Is it true once an alcoholic always an alcoholic?

A person who once was an addict will always be at greater risk to become dependent on alcohol again. 

Unfortunately, alcoholism cannot be fully treated, as it remains a daily struggle for most people. 

Is alcoholism a genetic trait?

Our genes contain a huge amount of information that is passed to us from our parents. 

Research shows that the predisposition to develop alcoholism is passed as a trait for future generations. Therefore, people are genetically predisposed to develop alcohol addiction. 

Is alcoholism a disease or a choice?

Alcoholism is a choice and not a disease, as many like to label it. By all means, not all individuals who go out socializing or who are going through stressful situations end up misusing alcohol. Hence, a person chooses to abuse this harmful substance. 

Treatment for alcoholism

There is no need for anybody to suffer in silence from any form of addiction. 

Making the decision to ask for help might be the hardest thing that somebody suffering from alcohol addiction has to do. 

Nowadays there are many treatment programs that one can choose from, but the most popular and by far effective, are the alcohol rehabilitation centres with either an inpatient or outpatient policy.

At the specialized centres, there is professional help, very well trained staff that knows exactly how to deal with the side effects of alcohol misuse. 

Usually, there is a holistic method of approaching the addiction. This means that both one’s physical and mental health is a priority in recovery. 

More about the type of therapy and methods used in recovery at medical news today.

Addiction treatment remains an ongoing process after the programme at the rehabilitation facility has ended. 

Long term sobriety resides on the techniques and tools learned at the rehab centre.

Of course, local supporting groups like AA or NA are highly recommend especially post-rehab.  

Tools and recommendations

There are a few books that I would recommend to anyone struggling with alcohol addiction, and for their families. You should take these books into consideration if you want to expand your knowledge on the subject. 

For people struggling with alcoholism:

Don’t let alcoholism get the best of you. If you are on the road to recovery, these books contain many tools and tips for healthier coping mechanisms. 

As well, confessions from people who are going through a similar battle with addiction. Both books are very comprehensible and inspirational. 

  • The Courage to Change—One Day at a Time in Al‑Anon II by Al-Anon Family Groups, which can be found here
  • Another book called This Naked Mind: Control Alcohol by Annie Grace, that you can find here.

For those with an addicted loved one:

When someone you love has addiction issues, you often find yourself coping with numerous negative emotions. 

Anger, shame, anxiety and oftentimes self-blame.

For a while, you try, but eventually, it is impossible to ignore the problems and pretend like everything is alright. 

The addictive behaviour affects your life, too. Here are my recommendations: 

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Who is an alcoholic person?

What we’ve learned so far is that an alcoholic person is somebody who is dependent on alcohol. 

A person who cannot willingly stop drinking alcoholic beverages, even if aware of the negative consequences alcohol abuse has over someone’s professional and personal life. 

Some of these consequences include severe mental and physical health problems. 

Treatment is available to all, the first step is the acknowledgement of the addiction issues.

While researching for this blog post, what most surprised me was the fact that scientists believe that, becoming an alcoholic involves some degree of conscient choice.

As written above, the causes of addiction can vary from person to person and not all of us become addicted to alcohol even if we might experience some of the withdrawal symptoms from time to time. 

Also, when someone’s mind and body become dependent on this harmful substance in order to feel good, is that choice still available? 

I am curious, what’s your opinion? Do we, or do we not have a choice in the matter? Is alcoholism a choice or a disease? 

In this brief guide, we are answered the question “What classifies a person as an alcoholic?”

Please let me know what you think in the comments section below.

What classifies a person as an alcoholic?