Since drinking is so common in many cultures and the effects vary so widely from person to person, itís not always easy to figure out where the line is between social drinking and problem drinking. The bottom line is how alcohol affects you. If your drinking is causing problems in your life, you have a drinking problem. And if you consume alcohol to cope with problems or to avoid feeling bad, youíre in dangerous territory. Alcoholism and alcohol abuse can sneak up on you, so itís important to be aware of the warning signs.
Substance abuse experts make a distinction between alcohol abuse and alcoholism (also called alcohol dependence). Unlike alcoholics, alcohol abusers have some ability to set limits on their drinking. However, their alcohol use is still self-destructive and dangerous to themselves or others.
Alcoholism and alcohol abuse are due to many interconnected factors, including genetics, how you were raised, your social environment, and your emotional health. Some racial groups, such as American Indians and Native Alaskans, are more at risk than others of developing alcohol addiction.
People who have a family history of alcoholism or who associate closely with heavy drinkers are more likely to develop drinking problems. And those who suffer from a mental health problem such as anxiety, depression, or bipolar disorder are also at greater risk, because alcohol may be used to self-medicate.
You may have a drinking problem if you feel guilty or ashamed about your drinking. Or if you lie to others about how much you drink to hide your drinking habits. Or if you have friends or family members who are worried about your drinking. Or if you need to drink in order to cope or relax or feel better.