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How to define the difference between Heavy Drinking and Alcohol Use Disorder

a man with alcohol use disorder drinking a strong alcohol drink

It's another week and life got stressful

We want to go grab an alcoholic drink to unwind. Because we stayed sober during the weekdays, we may wait for binge drinking on weekends. We may have a couple of drinks throughout the weekday to unwind from our stressful days at work but drink alcohol heavily on the weekends. We can find ourselves drinking lightly every day. There could be no harm since there are days spent sobering right? Wrong any of these behaviors could resemble Alcoholism or also known as Alcohol Use Disorder. Both Alcoholism and Alcohol Use Disorder can be dangerous if under control. 

What is Alcohol Use Disorder?

Alcohol Use Disorder is a medical condition in which an individual has powerful cravings for alcohol, has no control over their drinking, experiences withdrawals when they do not drink, and drinks knowing it is bad for their health. A physician from Vanity Wellness Center states, “There are many people in the almost alcoholic zone who are having alcohol-related problems with their health, their relationships and social lives, and even their work, but who doesn’t connect the dots between these problems and their drinking.” If you feel you may be one of these people experiencing Alcohol Use Disorder the DSM-V has a list of eleven criteria that classify Alcohol Use Disorder. If an individual meets either of the eleven criteria in a 12-month period, Alcohol Use Disorder is apparent. The criteria are as follows. 

The DSM-V Criteria

  1. Drinking more or for a longer period than intended
  2. Feeling incapable of cutting back on the amount of alcohol consumed
  3. Becoming sick for an extended period because of drinking too much
  4. Inability to concentrate due to alcohol cravings
  5. Inability to care for a family, hold down a job, or perform in school
  6. Continuing to drink despite problems caused with friends or family
  7. Decreased participation in activities that were once important
  8. Finding oneself in dangerous or harmful situations as a direct result of drinking
  9. Continuing to drink despite adding to another health problem, feeling depressed, anxious, or blacking out
  10. Drinking more because of tolerance to alcohol
  11. Experiencing withdrawal symptoms

Determining if the condition is mild, moderate, or severe will depend on how many of the criteria apply. Mild is when you meet two to three of the criteria. Moderate is when you meet four to five of the criteria. It is severe when you meet six or more of the criteria. Evidence of Alcoholic Use Disorder can be associated with impaired control, social impairment, occupational impairment, risky use, and pharmacological criteria. The physician gave a list of ten warning signs that can help answer the question, “Am I an alcoholic?” The following list is as follows:

10 Warning Signs for Alcohol Use Disorder

  1. Drinking alone and or in secrecy.
  2. Losing interest in other activities you once found enjoyable.
  3. Alcohol cravings.
  4. Making drinking a priority over responsibilities.
  5. Alcohol withdrawal symptoms.
  6. Extreme mood swings and irritability.
  7. Feelings of guilt and or shame associated with drinking.
  8. Having a drink first thing in the morning.
  9. Continuing to drink despite health, financial, and family problems.
  10. An inability to stop or control the amount of alcohol consumed.

What is Considered Heavy Drinking?

Now to get into defining heavy drinking and how it differs from Alcohol Use Disorder. As previously stated, Alcohol Use Disorder is a medical condition, it is not a habit. Heavy drinking is associated with a person not being dependent on alcohol and can stop drinking without withdrawal. A heavy drinker can go a long time without having a drink. The physician continues to say, “However, when they do have a drink, they tend to keep drinking until they reach their desired result, which may cause them to put themselves and others at risk. For example, heavy drinking could cause individuals to become angry or physically violent, overspend money they do not have, take risks with their lives or other people’s lives, have unsafe sex with strangers, miss class or work, and more.” Heavy drinking may not seem as dangerous as Alcohol Use Disorder, but it does still come with risks. 


Whether you are looking to define yourself as a heavy drinker or Alcohol Use Disorder, it is important to keep in mind the dangers of both. The physician concludes, “Sometimes the only difference in the identification and use of one label or the other, is a matter of one’s ability to be “rigorously honesty,” with oneself and others. Finding a proper label is not precise and not quantitative. I try to avoid using terms like ‘heavy,’ ‘light’ and ‘moderate.’ If any person spends time trying to identify if they do or do not have a drinking problem or if they are in fact an alcoholic, there is a problem to look at. Everyone wants to know if they fit into one of the two categories; 1 Heavy Drinker or 2. Alcoholic. Drinking may be a fun thing to do with friends on the weekend or a way to unwind, just keep in mind the consequences it has when taken too far. If abuse is apparent call Vanity Wellness at 866 587 1737 or visit the website to get the help that is right for you.

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