Saturday, May 4, 2013

Definitions of Alcoholism

I learned in class that binge drinking is drinking with the primary intention of being intoxicated by heavy consumption of alcohol. I did some research and discovered that ‘heavy consumption’ is four drinks for a woman, drink being defined as 1.5 ounces of liquor, which means two standard liquor+soda drinks or one average mixed drink. (I am particularly fond of the potent and popular beverage known as an ‘Adios Motherfucker’, for obvious reasons.)

I remember being amused because almost everyone does that at some point in their life, and I would say that once a year is average. Which I guess means we are all alcoholics? Aside from ‘on the wagon’ alcoholics and a few teetolers, everyone I know drinks with the intention of being intoxicated by heavy consumption of alcohol. You are planning a girls’ night, and the three of you go through two bottles of wine. You get squiffed, watch a chick flick, and giggle a lot. It’s New Years’ Eve and your friends are having a party. It’s the office Christmas party and everyone gets tiddly. The word we use does not matter, except to make it socially acceptable; it all qualifies as binge drinking by the above definition. I think you would have to add ‘on a regular basis’ for me to take that definition seriously.

Or we can ignore the definition from the textbook and stick with the DSM-IV, which states that alcohol abuse is “repeated use despite recurrent adverse consequences”. This makes quite a bit more sense to me, despite the textbook definition.

The Wikipedia page for alcoholism says that alcoholism is a “broad term for problems with alcohol, and is generally used to mean compulsive and uncontrolled consumption of alcoholic beverages, usually to the detriment of the drinker's health, personal relationships, and social standing". When alcoholics have one drink, they crave more alcohol and cannot predict their intake. They obsess about their next binge. They behave uncharacteristically while drinking, but persist in their drinking patterns. They get drunk before social engagements. They set drinking limits for themselves, but then cannot stick to them. They drive drunk. They have memory lapses, and cannot imagine their life without alcohol in it. This is generally what I picture when I think of an alcoholic, and I nodded along as I scanned the article.

After some thought, I realized that this definition excluded functional alcoholics, so I did some reading on that, as well. Functional alcoholics are well respected for their job or academic employment, and frequently excel within their sphere of responsibility. Functional alcoholics maintain satisfactory social lives and intimate relationships. Functional alcoholics appear to the outside word to be managing life well, do not experience tangible losses or consequences from their drinking. Functional alcoholics have difficulty viewing themselves as alcoholics because they do not fit the stereotypical image and because they feel their lives are manageable. Functional alcoholics may not recognize them they have hit bottom, and avoid recovery help. Well, based on this description, we should all be functional alcoholics. Good work ethic, relationships, lives, etc.? What’s the problem? Am I missing something?

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