Alcohol is, by far, the most abused substance on the planet, and in the United States, as well. As of 2012, over 7% of American adults (18 and older) had some form of alcohol dependence. In terms of underage drinking, there are estimated to be nearly 1 million youth between the ages of 12 and 17 who also suffer from an alcohol abuse disorder. However, not all types of alcohol abuse are quite the same level, in terms of severity. Also, nobody experiences alcohol addiction in quite the same way.
Different Levels of Alcohol Abuse, as Defined by American Addiction Centers
Early alcohol abuse
During the early alcohol abuse level, users are still somewhat in a social drinking category. However, this isn’t classified as merely having a beer with dinner. Early alcohol abuse is usually distinct for the experimenting that is going on with the user, who is trying different types of alcohol, and may be testing how their tolerance holds up to mixing different drinks. It’s during this level of alcohol abuse that we start to see binge drinking, which makes it quite common among younger cultures, such as college campuses.
Whether a user is binge drinking, or regularly drinking alcohol, if they are classified in the early level of alcohol abuse, then they are at risk for developing an alcohol dependence.
Problematic alcohol abuse
At the stage of problematic alcohol abuse, a person begins to develop an attachment, in some form, to the act of drinking. It’s important to note that a person at this stage hasn’t necessarily developed any sort of physical dependence on alcohol. However, a person at the problematic alcohol abuse level is most likely needing more and more alcohol to get the effects that they were able to enjoy, before. At this stage, alcohol begins to cause problems and interfere with other aspects of the user’s life, as well.
Severe alcohol abuse
At the severe alcohol abuse stage of alcoholism, a person has almost definitely begun to develop a physical dependence to alcohol, and will begin to experience withdrawal symptoms if they go any extended period of time with drinking. At this point, it is incredibly difficult to stop drinking, and may even be dangerous to do so without the help of a medical professional.
However, it’s important to note that it may not be easy to spot a person who is suffering from severe alcohol abuse, as the negative aspects might not have affected their career or personal obligations yet. This is what is called a functional alcoholic, who is able to carry on with their lives, despite having alcohol dependence. However, the health issues are still just as prevalent, and the next stage of alcoholism could be right around the corner.
At this point, it is certain that physical dependence has been developed. End-stage alcoholics require alcohol to do pretty much anything and will begin to experience severe and painful withdrawals if they are not under the influence. A person at this stage almost certainly needs medical help to stop drinking and may need a medically-supervised detox just to get sober.
*This information comes from the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, the CDC, and American Addiction Centers.