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What is the Difference Between an Alcoholic and a Heavy Drinker?

What is the Difference Between an Alcoholic and a Heavy Drinker

Alcohol can impact individuals in many ways. Sometimes it is limited to relationships or legal trouble. Other times it has a pervasive and devastating impact on the life of the drinker. Knowing the difference between an alcoholic and a heavy drinker can indicate the type of help an individual needs based on their drinking habits.

At Indah Recovery, we support clients with alcohol and drug addiction through comprehensive detox and inpatient residential treatment in our Dana Point, CA location.  Contact us today to see how alternative and evidence-based therapies can support you in making a healthy change for the better. 

What are the differences between an alcoholic and a heavy drinker?

The differences between an alcoholic and a heavy drinker can be boiled down to three main factors: frequency, dependency, and withdrawal symptoms. By distinguishing between alcohol addiction and problematic or heavy drinking, individuals may be able to identify red flags in their habits before developing an addiction.

Frequency is one of the main differences between a heavy or problematic drinker and an alcoholic. An alcoholic is going to need to consume alcohol daily. However, a problematic or heavy drinker may go days or weeks between a drink. The difference in frequency between these has to do with dependency on alcohol as a coping mechanism.

When it comes to dependency, a heavy or problematic drinker may be able to stop drinking where an alcoholic can not. Should a problem arise in which a heavy drinker could not consume alcohol, they would function normally without it. However, if an alcoholic were prevented from drinking, there would be physical and mental consequences to not drinking. 

This is all to say, the main difference between an alcoholic and a heavy drinker is whether or not they experience withdrawal symptoms. Individuals addicted to alcohol will begin to feel withdrawal symptoms within 6-12 hours of the last drink. Heavy drinkers may experience a hangover but do not experience extreme withdrawal symptoms following a night of heavy drinking. 

Individuals who are questioning the difference between whether they or their loved one is a heavy drinker or an alcoholic should know that problematic and heavy drinking can be just as devastating and have similar long-term consequences. Individuals who suspect an unhealthy relationship with alcohol should know when it’s time to seek treatment.

How to Know When it’s Time to Seek Treatment

Heavy drinkers and alcoholics can both seek treatment for their alcohol consumption. Heavy drinkers may wish to see a therapist or counselor to discuss healthy coping mechanisms and ways to cut drinking out of their routine. Alcoholics, however, should attend a structured program designed to treat individuals with addiction to alcohol. 

Alcohol addiction treatment programs are specially designed to incorporate the best and most helpful therapies, teaching styles, and environments for individuals looking to make a change to their alcohol consumption. 

Individuals who are unsure if their relationship with alcohol indicates alcoholism may benefit from a CAGE questionnaire. These questions help determine if a person may have substance abuse problems. 

  1. “Have you ever felt you should cut down on your drinking?
  2. Have people annoyed you by criticizing your drinking?
  3. Have you ever felt bad or guilty about your drinking?
  4. Have you ever had a drink first thing in the morning to steady your nerves or to get rid of a hangover (eye-opener)?”

These four questions provide an introduction to how an individual uses alcohol and how they feel about that use. 

If you are ready to get help today, contact Indah Recovery. Our professional staff and supportive expert counseling team are prepared to help you today.

Indah Recovery

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