Alcohol Addiction Or Drinking to Excess, Which One Do You Struggle With? (Updated)

Many people have complicated relationships with alcohol. We’ve all had times where we’ve overdone it and maybe had a couple extra drinks that impacted our lives in a negative way, whether it was suffering from a hangover or something more serious like losing a job. The average person does not have problems with alcohol and can healthily consume a few drinks throughout the week and not notice a huge effect on their life. However, if a person becomes dependent on drinking alcohol in order to relax, get to sleep, function at work, function at home, be social in a group, or something else, then there may be a more serious problem with alcohol that they want to address. 

Addiction Or Excess

Quick To Label 

One of the biggest challenges people have with “getting help” is that they associate their problems with alcohol with having an addiction. This is a real disease, and it impacts millions of Americans. However, it’s also a label oftentimes extended too easily. We are inclined to turn to the addiction label because it reduces ambiguity and because not enough light is shed on the spectrum of excessive drinking. The addiction label does not fully address the range of experiences different individuals may be struggling with regarding alcohol. While knowing what the problem is allows for a clear path of direction, mislabeling can delay the process of truly resolving the issue and making the choice to live a healthier life. 

Mislabeling a problem can create its own batch of problems. Imagine if you were dealing with an allergy to gluten, but you thought you were just consuming too many carbs. Instituting a low carb diet will make you feel a little better, but the real problem will not be addressed because gluten is found in other foods as well. Being too quick to label the issue can lead to mistreating the issue.

Your Real Problems With Alcohol 

While you may not have a dependence on alcohol, you may still have trouble with moderation or drinking to excess. Your consumption of alcohol might be taking too much from you. It may be taking your time, your money, your energy, and could be hurting the progress you are trying to make in life. Yes, it’s understandable that you like to enjoy the occasional drink, but if your drinking habits come to take over your decision making and impact your life in different ways, then there is a problem with alcohol that requires examination. 

So, the question becomes could you be struggling with an addiction, or do you have an excess problem? If facing an addiction, recognition is important, and professional help can be very effective in helping you regain control of your life. If it’s a matter of excess, the situation is different. While the effects may seem similar, understanding the difference can help you take a step in the right direction towards taking back control of your life. 

We all have areas of our lives in which we struggle with managing excess. How many slices of pizza did you have the other day? How many hours of television did you watch last weekend? How many articles of clothing did you buy during the big sale? Excess isn’t something new, it’s a problem every person has to confront throughout their life. The way to work with these types of struggles is to focus on moderation over excess. Tracking your usage is a great way to start. 

The most successful programs for losing weight, improving productivity, exercising, saving money and so forth all have to do with tracking usage. People who eat too much do not realize it until they track how much they are eating. People who spend too much money do not realize it until they can actually see how much they are spending each month and on what. When we see the big picture, we tend to have an easier understanding that change is needed.

Consider Your Emotions

The emotional impact of substance use can also help determine if it qualifies as full addiction or temporary excess.

With addiction, emotions tend to become highly dependent on the substance. Intense cravings kick in when the drug wears off. Irritability, anxiety, or even panic can set in if access is denied. Use is driven by a desire to self-medicate these feelings.

In contrast, excess use may be more recreational or social in nature. There may be overindulgence in the moment without an emotional crash after. Any mood issues arise more from short-term overuse effects like hangovers or coming down.

Addiction causes substances to become a primary coping method for dealing with stress, boredom, anxiety, depression, and other issues. The substance dominates emotional life. With excess, mood is less tied to use patterns.

Reflecting on the emotional footprint left by regular heavy use can reveal if it’s crossing into addictive territory. This helps determine the appropriate level of intervention.

If you think you might have a problem with alcohol, there are ways to help yourself. CheckUp & Choices is an online, self-guided program designed to help people change their relationship with alcohol. You can access a free screener that can assess whether your level of drinking may be a concern and whether you may want to change. If you want more feedback, it begins with a short assessment (CheckUp) to determine whether your drinking habits are something you might want to change. You can also go further and subscribe to a months-long program (Choices) to help you reach your goals of abstinence or moderation.