What is Alcoholism and Alcohol Addiction?

Are you wondering whether you may be an alcoholic? Are you concerned that a family member or friend has alcoholism? If you hope to find out more about alcoholism and alcohol addiction, you arrived at the right place. Alcoholism touches the lives of everyone involved, including the drinker and those around him or her. Read on to find out more about what alcoholism is, what causes it, the medical diagnosis for alcoholism, and the importance of alcohol addiction treatment.



Alcohol Consumption in United States Society


What is Alcoholism?


What is Alcohol Addiction?


What causes Alcoholism?


How Do You Know if You’ll Become an Alcoholic?


How do You Know if You Are an Alcoholic?


What Resources are Available for Alcoholics?

AspenRidge Recovery Fort Collins 60x60

Alcohol Consumption in Society

Have you ever thought about alcohol as the most widely-distributed, legal drug available? Offered for sale in nearly every restaurant, gas station, grocery store, and corner shop, alcohol provides millions of Americans a way to relax after a long day. When used in moderation, alcohol livens up a social event and provides a way to pass time with others.

Draft beer commercials are commonplace during televised sporting events. Hard liquor companies take out full-page magazine space to advertise. Alcohol is deeply ingrained in our society whether we like it or not, but it’s not always a bad thing.

AspenRidge Recovery Fort Collins 60x60

What Is a Dual Diagnosis Program?

Another common option for clients is a dual diagnosis program. Many people have a mental illness or a physical disorder at the same time as their addiction. Because of this, many of the best rehabs include a mental health treatment center.

Dual diagnosis programs involve treating the substance abuse disorder and the co-occurring disorder at the same time. Otherwise, the individual may be more likely to relapse later on. For example, an individual may relapse because they drink alcohol to self-medicate for their depression. To prevent this from happening, the individual would have to treat their depression as well as their addiction.

woman smiling outside after AspenRidge addiction treatment center
AspenRidge Recovery Fort Collins 60x60
man having fun outdoors at AspenRidge recovery alcohol rehab center

Addiction Rehab Program: Starting with Detox

Alcohol and drug detox is often the best way to begin your addiction treatment program at our drug rehab center for many reasons. It rids the body of harmful toxins and helps to prepare it for a life that’s free from substances of any kind. This is the perfect way to set yourself up for success and avoid relapsing in the future. Our addiction rehab center in Lakewood, CO can provide the highest quality detox in the state today.

Tens of millions of Americans safely use alcohol each year. Data collected by the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) in 2015 revealed that:

  • 86.4 percent of those 18 and older drank alcohol at some point during their life
  • 70.1 percent of these people drank alcohol in the past year
  • 56.0 percent of these individuals drank alcohol in the past month

The NIAAA defines binge drinking as drinking that brings blood alcohol content (BAC) to 0.08. This equates to roughly 5 drinks for men and 4 drinks for women within about two hours.

man smiling into camera after AspenRidge recovery drug rehab
AspenRidge Recovery Fort Collins 60x60

Binge drinking is still common among many Americans. The 2015 NIAAA report showed:

  • 26.9 percent of those 18 and older participated in one binge drinking episode in the past month
  • 7.0 percent of these individuals participated in 5 or more binge drinking episodes in the past month

Alcohol quickly turns on those who live with alcohol addiction, though. People who can never use alcohol safely exist everywhere and they aren’t just a homeless individual living under a bridge. Alcoholism and alcohol addiction affects people from all walks of life, from doctors and lawyers to soccer moms and blue-collar dads, even down to high school and middle school students.

When someone crosses the line from hard drinker to an alcoholic, there exists little chance of them ever drinking normally again. “Once an alcoholic, always an alcoholic,” the old saying goes. Children of alcoholic parents or parents of alcoholic children are all too familiar with the destruction alcohol in excess often causes.

All About Alcoholism and the Need for Alcohol Addiction Treatment

The term “alcoholism” was first used by Magnus Huss in 1849, used to describe the consequences of drinking heavily for long periods of time. Huss described alcoholism as a chronic disease characterized by relapses, long before Alcoholics Anonymous was ever around to confirm this understanding.

Since then, AA helped to popularize the term alcoholism among regular people. In AA, any individual can decide whether they are an alcoholic based on two qualifications: “If, when you honestly want to you find you cannot quit entirely, or if when drinking, you have little control over the amount you take.”

Alcoholism is more of a general term used to describe someone who has a drinking problem. The term alcoholism is no longer used by medical professionals; it is used mostly by everyday people to refer to someone who drinks too much.

Alcohol addiction is a more specific term. Addiction is an incurable disease in which a person compulsively uses a substance such as drugs or alcohol, regardless of the consequences that result. Addiction is used more commonly to refer to drug addicts, but alcohol addiction is also a correct use of the term.

Someone with alcohol addiction often exhibits withdrawal symptoms such as tremors, sweats, and agitation when they haven’t had a drink for some period of time. They usually rely on alcohol to get through their day.

AspenRidge Recovery Fort Collins 60x60

Is Alcoholism the Same Thing as Alcohol Use Disorder?

About 17 million American adults, or 7.2 percent of the population, live with an Alcohol Use Disorder (AUD). What is the difference between an AUD and alcoholism, though?

Alcohol Use Disorder is the official medical diagnosis of alcohol addiction outlined in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM). The DSM specifies 11 criteria that describe the symptoms of an AUD. In order to be diagnosed with one, an individual must exhibit at least two of the criteria within a 12-month period.

AspenRidge Recovery Fort Collins 60x60

As the DSM receives reviews and revisions, the name and categorization of AUD shifts. The current edition, the DSM-5, outlines the following criteria for an Alcohol Use Disorder:

  • Drinking more or for a longer period of time than intended.
  • Trying to cut down or stop entirely but lacking the ability to do so.
  • Spending excessive time drinking or sick as a result of drinking.
  • Experiencing craving, or desiring a drink so badly it results in an inability to focus on the presenttask.
  • Drinking or feeling sick as a result of drinking takes away time from home and family, work, or school.
  • Drinking despite the trouble caused with friends or family.
  • Limiting or quitting once-enjoyable activities to drink instead.
  • Participating in harmful or dangerous situations as a direct result of drinking.
  • Continuing to drink in spite of or to hide feelings of anxiety, depression, or other health problems.
  • Developing a tolerance to alcohol.
  • Experiencing withdrawal symptoms when separated from alcohol for any period of time.
AspenRidge Recovery Fort Collins 60x60

The DSM categorizes Alcohol Use Disorders in three levels: mild, moderate, and severe. The classification of a person’s AUD depends on the number of criteria they meet.



2 or 3 symptoms



4 or 5 symptoms



6 or more symptoms

If you wonder whether you or someone you know has an AUD, quickly run over the list of criteria and ask yourself whether the signs show. It is best to receive a diagnosis from a medical professional but you can gather an idea from the DSM-5 guidelines.

AspenRidge Recovery Fort Collins 60x60

What is a Functioning Alcoholic?

Functioning alcoholic is a term used to describe someone who may not seem like an alcoholic when you view their exterior. They may hold a high-ranking position at a corporate office or teach a class of high schoolers. Perhaps they’re president of the PTA or in law enforcement. You can even refer to a full-time student as a functioning alcoholic.

While no hard definition of a functioning alcoholic exists, it usually describes someone capable of carrying out their day-to-day responsibilities while abusing alcohol. Other terms used are “functional alcoholic” or “high-functioning alcoholic.” They often cover their alcoholism and leave little trace or evidence of their consumption.

Functioning alcoholics often deceive themselves. They believe since their exterior makes it look like everything is put together that it is so. This is a dangerous mode of thinking. Functioning alcoholics often find themselves in harmful, dangerous, or disastrous situations, such as driving while intoxicated.

Biological Factors

You may have heard the saying, “Alcoholism runs in families.” It’s true in that when you find out someone is an alcoholic, oftentimes you immediately look to their parents. Were their parents’ alcoholics or addicts? Is it “in their genes?”

Though researchers have yet to determine a specific “alcoholism gene,” they understand that genetics affect the likelihood of someone developing alcohol addiction. There are a variety of genetic factors at play when considering the biological cause of alcoholism.

The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism initiated the Collaborative Studies on Genetics of Alcoholism (COGA) study in 1989. The study follows families heavily impacted by alcoholism in search of a genetic cause or predisposition. Through continued research, NIAAA hopes to further understand the biological impact on alcohol addiction.

woman taking selfie after drug rehab and smiling
AspenRidge Recovery Fort Collins 60x60

How Do You Know if You Need an Alcohol Addiction Treatment Program?

Do you wonder whether your alcohol use has crossed over into problem drinking, alcohol addiction, or Alcohol Use Disorder territory? Has a loved one’s drinking progressed past regular use into something more serious?

The criteria from the DSM-5 above provide a framework for determining the presence of an alcohol problem. Ask whether any of the 11 criteria apply to your or your loved one’s drinking. If entirely honest it is easy to decide whether alcohol takes a casual or active role in your or your loved one’s life.

You can also take something like an alcohol addiction quiz to assess the impact alcohol has in your life. Taking a quiz can help you answer objectively. The desire to justify your actions or the actions of your loved one may take over, but seeing pre-written answers laid out makes it easy. From here, you can determine if you need to seek out an alcohol addiction rehab center.

AspenRidge Recovery Fort Collins 60x60

Another option is to speak with your doctor about your concerns. They can conduct an assessment or refer you to an appropriate party. Your doctor knows you and your physical health and can help you address your situation and answer your questions.

Some alcohol addiction treatment facilities provide free assessments or screenings through an alcohol addiction treatment program. Through the use of a session with an alcohol addiction counselor or doctor, they can help you decide the best course of action.

Oftentimes if you’re wondering whether you or your loved one is an alcoholic, there is some level of a problem. Most “normal” drinkers do not question their alcohol intake or congratulate themselves for a job well done when they only drank one beer at dinner. Questioning the presence of alcoholism usually stems from the existence of consequences or repercussions of drinking.

AspenRidge Recovery Fort Collins 60x60

What Resources are Available for Alcoholics?

If you or someone you love struggles with alcoholism or alcohol addiction, many resources exist to help them find a solution. The two most common options are alcohol addiction treatment and 12-step programs.
Alcohol addiction treatment takes place in a supervised environment consisting usually of individual and group therapy as well as educational sessions. 12-step programs are free and provide a sense of community among you and those with whom you attend meetings.

There is no right or wrong way to get sober. Though some people prefer one method over another, whatever keeps you or your loved one sober is a great option. Don’t allow prejudices against certain methods keep you from trying them out. You may find something that changes your life.

AspenRidge Recovery Fort Collins 60x60

AspenRidge Recovery Fort Collins is your Alcohol Addiction Rehab Center

If you’re ready to move past your struggle with alcoholism, it’s time to begin an alcohol addiction treatment program. Through our alcohol addiction rehab center, you can receive the full continuum of care you need. Contact AspenRidge Recovery Fort Collins today at (866) 957-6941. Our team can help you determine the help you need and how to begin the insurance verification process. 

More Information

Alcohol Consumption Overview Alcohol Facts and Statistics – NIAAA

We Agnostics – The Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous

Understanding Drug Use and Addiction – National Institute on Drug Abuse

Alcohol Use Disorder – NIAAA

Alcohol Use Disorder: A Comparison Between DSM-IV and DSM-5 – NIAAA

Alcoholism Healthline

Genetics of Alcohol Use Disorder – NIAAA

Drug Talk – National Council on Drug Abuse