The ‘heavy drinker vs alcoholic’ conversation is a controversial one. It is a baffling subject that continues to baffle people today. Is there a difference? And, if there is, what is the difference between a heavy drinker and an alcoholic How do you distinguish the difference between the two?
Let’s look at a few things that may help clarify the labeling of heavy drinker vs alcoholic and then you can decide for yourself.
The Heavy Drinker
Looking at a heavy drinker, we may form a certain opinion. We may notice that the heavy drinker drinks out of opportunity opposed to necessity. Don’t misconstrue what I am saying. I am not saying that the heavy drinker doesn’t necessarily need a drink now and then, but for the heavy drinker it has become more routine and long-lived habit that is now part of the overall daily routine.
The heavy drinker may wake up in the morning to go to work and instead of coffee has a shot to kick the morning off. Better yet, maybe a shot in the coffee itself. The heavy drinker is now showered and off to work with his cup of spiked Joe.
Of course the heavy drinker has a stash in his briefcase or better yet, one in his brief case and a bottle stored at the job site as well, because the days at work are long, productive ones and a drink takes the edge off throughout the day, didn’t you know?
Although the heavy drinker makes it through the work day, day after day, earning a decent living, paying his rent or mortgage, car note, utility bills etc; yet and still he makes it through his day.
Even though that day may consist of multiple drinks throughout the day or if, by chance, the fortitude to refrain until work is over, make it home (or to a bar) and end the day with a few on the rocks to seal the deal for the day.
This typical routine, for the drinker, is repeated, and with the repetition day in day out, day after day, it becomes noticeable that one is consuming more alcohol than all other liquids combined, in the daily diet of consumption. This, to say the least, is not a favorable position to be in, health wise or otherwise.
As crazy as it may sound, one thing stands out in this scenario and that is options. The heavy drinker still has a job, a house, a car and whatever other things that have not fallen out of his or her possession due to the heavy drinking. Keep in mind that these are only ‘yets’. Hasn’t lost the home yet; hasn’t lost the wife yet, hasn’t lost the job…yet.
But yet and still, that’s all they are and aren’t at the same time. Because the possibility of the ‘yet’ happening is always present. Rather, that invisible line gets crossed remains to be seen…just hasn’t happened as yet.
The thing with the classified or perceived heavy drinker is that he never becomes more than that or worse case scenario he or she evolves progressively and never even identifies as being a heavy drinker, much less an alcoholic.
Ability To Stop Drinking – Or Not
The actual ability to stop drinking is what separates the heavy drinker, or the excessive drinker from the actual alcoholic drinker.
While many heavy drinkers have quit drinking for various reasons of self-preservation and the like, the choice to stop has been stripped from the alcoholic. The alcoholic no longer has the choice. The choice to drink or not has been taken away from the equation.
Heavy drinkers have been defined as (but not confined to): men who have more than 15 drinks in a week or women who have more than eight drinks in a week.
Alcoholics are defined as: someone who suffers from alcoholism. So we need to understand the meaning of alcoholism:
Alcoholism is when one can no longer control their use of alcohol, compulsively abuse alcohol, despite its negative ramifications, and/or experience emotional distress when they are not drinking.
Alcoholism has recently been defined as a chronic, relapsing disease that is diagnosed based on an individual meeting certain criteria outlined by the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders which is referred to clinically as the DSM-5.
Clinically, alcoholism has been diagnosed as a use disorder, or alcohol use disorder in this case of replacing (or substituting) the term, alcoholism.
In a study from Harvard Health Publishing of Harvard Medical School, nearly one-third of American adults are “heavy” drinkers, but only 10% of them suffer from alcoholism or, todays term, alcohol use disorder as we know it.
“This study shows that, contrary to popular opinion, most people who drink too much are not alcohol dependent or alcoholics”, said Dr. Robert Brewer, Alcohol Program Lead at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
This is key in understanding the difference in being dependent on alcohol or not. Or, for all intended purposes, the difference in heavy drinker vs alcoholic attributes that separate and define the two different categories of alcohol drinkers.
The question is, “Is there such a thing? Is there a difference between the heavy drinker and the alcoholic or are they one and the same?”
Vital Ingredients To Identify
There’s been much said on this topic and not enough at the same time. Many great people over the past century have contributed to this very subject.
Among them, the late Dr. William D. Silkworth who began the incredible contribution to Alcoholics Anonymous, by treating it’s founder, Bill W (Bill Wilson) during the early 1930’s from his position as medical director of New York’s Charles B. Towns Hospital (founded in 1901) located at 293 Central Park West in Manhattan.
Dr. Silkworth was able to convey, to Bill W, the vital ingredients to this baffling affliction, that he himself, as a great physician, of his time, would refer to the now known disease of alcoholism as an illness of a two-fold nature, which men like Bill suffered from.
It was, he said, an illness with both mental and physical components. Silkworth is quoted widely by many (including me) as calling the illness a combination of “an obsession of the mind that condemns one to drink and an allergy of the body that condemns one to die or go mad if one continues to ingest alcohol”.
So the alcoholic has both the obsession of the mind (the thought of the drink constantly) and the allergy of the body (the reaction from the alcohol once the mind has succumbed to the thought).
Different Paths To Freedom Explored
We could talk about this controversial subject all day. I promise you, we will be covering as much ground with many perspectives and many angles as time permits us to be together. There is no ‘one only approach’ that works for everybody involved. Every person is different and recovery processes vary depending on the individual.
Some people frequent AA Meetings with a sponsor; some people frequent NA Meetings and find a sponsor. Some people find a sponsor and work the 12-Steps (doesn’t matter what Fellowship, 12-Steps is 12-Steps…period).
Some people find a sponsor and don’t do anything with the 12-Steps but procrastinate.
Many people have found their call in the Church, as well as their deliverance from the disease of addiction and many, believe it or not, have quit on sheer will to do so. Life got so bad, and being as low as you can go leaves no room but for one place. That’s ‘UP’. When you are down at your lowest there is not place to go but up!
Are they still sober? I don’t know. Maybe some are still sober, maybe some have relapsed, some possibly have unexpectedly passed, many ended up incarcerated for a very long time after doing something insane shortly after relapsing. The list goes on.
Conclusion – Admitting The Vital Ingredients
The differences with the heavy drinker vs the alcoholic is that the heavy drinker is just an opinion that doesn’t necessarily initiate or warrant any action.
In other words, there does not have to be a motivation for change or admittance in needing help.
Remember, a heavy drinker, or people who drink too much, as explained by Dr. Robert Brewer from the CDC, “are not alcohol dependent or alcoholics”.
Well, it doesn’t matter how many studies or statistics we have or share, the alcoholic is an alcoholic for one reason, and one reason only.
The alcoholic identifies as being ‘an alcoholic’. That’s what makes him or her an alcoholic. The self-identification as ‘an alcoholic’ has to take place.
No doctors, alcohol & drug counselors, lawyers, clergymen, judges, psychologists, psychiatrists, social workers ministers or anybody else can make a declaration or attest to the fact.
The only person that can label someone an alcoholic is that person them self. The identity in admitting alcoholism as an alcoholic is a self-diagnosis done by the individual who suffers.
The only way that has proven to be successful in the recovery of an alcoholic has started with the self diagnosis and the admittance. Without that, there is very little hope for recovery. The heavy drinker may never admit and by doing so, will never seek help for it.
The alcoholic, regardless of the outcome, takes the first step in admitting that life has become unmanageable and the choice to drink or not to drink has been taken away. He or she understands that they have what’s called a ‘two-fold nature’.
Obsession to drink and finally give in; an allergy that is set off that cannot be contained once activated by the alcohol.
The bodily reaction is different from other people and the alcoholic not only comes to realize it, but the successful ones embrace it.
Please share your experience and what you did to overcome that may help encourage someone or leave a comment or question that we may assist with. Thank you!