As a society, we tend to place a person that drinks into one of the two following categories: an alcoholic or a non-alcoholic. However, our world is rarely so black and white, and drinking is no exception.
Like most things, the drinking world falls more on a spectrum that allows for infinite degrees of severity among those who drink. For example, someone that falls in the middle of this scale isn’t necessarily dependent on alcohol but can still be negatively impacted by their drinking habits nonetheless. They’re not quite a normal, social drinker, but they also don’t fit all the criteria to be considered an alcoholic.
This in-between area of drinking has been brought into the spotlight more in recent years, so much so that people who exhibit all the signs of it have even been given a title- an almost alcoholic.
What Is An Almost Alcoholic?
Described best by doctors Robert Doyle and Joseph Nowinski, an almost alcoholic is a person that falls somewhere in between being a normal drinker and an alcoholic. While an almost alcoholic may not feel dependent on alcohol, they most certainly will begin to experience the adverse effects of drinking too much, too frequently.
However, unlike men and women whose drinking has progressed to the point of complete physical dependency, those that fall into the category of almost alcoholism may not directly attribute these negative consequences to their alcohol consumption.
The longer someone hovers in this mid-range of drinking, the higher their chances are of developing a drinking problem.
While many people experience problem drinking, only a small fraction of these individuals will qualify for a formal diagnosis, and an almost alcoholic is no different. Rather than a diagnosis, the concept of almost alcoholism was created as an aid that people could use to take stock of their drinking habits and to see if they were exhibiting any signs of a potential drinking problem.
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Sings Of An Almost Alcoholic
The almost alcoholic category is highly expansive. It can range from those who barely meet the criteria to those who border on alcohol abuse. Below are a few signs that an individual has moved beyond the territory of what is considered normal drinking and into the category of an almost alcoholic:
- Drinking to relieve stress
- Frequently drinking alone
- Looking forward to drinking
- Drinking to relieve boredom or loneliness
- Occasionally driving after drinking too much
- Sleeping issues
- Declining performance at work
- Drinking for comfort in social situations
- Developing health problems due to drinking
The more someone’s drinking habits correlate with the signs listed above, the further they fall into the zone of an almost alcoholic.
While these symptoms may not dramatically appear in every person who can be considered an almost alcoholic, it doesn’t mean that they won’t increase in severity over time. With this in mind, it’s essential to recognize when there is a possible drinking problem as early as possible in order to prevent it from spiraling out of control.
Almost Alcoholic Or Alcohol Dependent?
Although the category of almost alcoholism is quite far-reaching, many people will eventually toe the line between being an almost alcoholic and someone who is dependent on alcohol. Unfortunately, this line can be so vague that most will not recognize it- even when it’s crossed.
This unawareness is a key characteristic of most almost alcoholics. They often don’t connect the dots between their drinking and declining quality of life before it’s too late. Due to this, almost alcoholics often turn to sleep pills, antidepressants or other substances to cope which can lead to further complications.
In severe cases, alcohol dependency is given the diagnosis of Alcohol Use Disorder (AUD). The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) describes this condition as “a chronic relapsing brain disease characterized by compulsive alcohol use, loss of control over alcohol intake, and a negative emotional state when not using.”
The key difference between being almost alcoholic and having AUD is that almost alcoholics are not physically dependent on the substance. While they may be mentally or emotionally hooked, their body doesn’t need alcohol to function comfortably.
When someone starts to experience any of the below signs, they may have crossed the line between almost alcoholism and alcohol-dependent:
- Experiencing strong physical craving for alcohol
- Experiencing withdrawal symptoms after not drinking
- Giving up activities in order to drink more
- Blacking out frequently
- Unsuccessfully quitting drinking
While most almost alcoholics are able to regain control of their drinking habits with minimal assistance, those that have crossed the threshold of alcohol dependency or AUD will need to seek help from treatment professionals for treatment for AUD.
Treatment For The Almost Alcoholic
One of the defining characteristics of an almost alcoholic is that they are unable to see the correlation between their drinking and the consequences of their drinking. In order to treat someone that falls into this grey area of drinking, those suffering must first be able to connect the dots between their alcohol consumption and the decline in their overall health and happiness.
After they’re able to clearly see this relationship, there are two options- quit drinking altogether or make significant lifestyle changes in order to bring their drinking habits back to what is considered the “normal” range of drinking.
While normal drinking will look different for everyone, the NIAAA has set clear drinking guidelines. In order to remain in a healthy range of alcohol consumption, they suggest that men should have no more than four drinks on any day or 14 drinks per week. For women, the limit is no more than three drinks per day or seven drinks per week.
Additionally, those seeking to take back control of their drinking habits will need to implement positive lifestyle changes such as the following:
- Find a healthy activity that helps relieve stress
- Stop drinking alone
- See a doctor to address any health problems that have been masked by drinking
- Seek healthier ways to cope with shyness and boredom
- Eliminate alcohol altogether
While the definition of an almost alcoholic is vast and nuanced, the implications behind its creation are clear. Not everyone that has a drinking problem is an alcoholic, but without awareness or knowledge, a drinking problem could easily turn into deep-seated alcohol addiction.