What Is The Difference Between Alcoholic and Being A Drunk?

The label “alcoholic” isn’t exactly pleasing. That is why many people mask their drinking habits or call themselves “drunk” at the moment. However, just calling someone drunk may pose as a blanket term for an actual problem. What is the difference between the two?

Nowadays, it seems like everyone can have a good time recalling experiences where they were “drunk”, but hearing the label “alcoholic” will put most on the defensive. It is true, being drunk and being alcoholic have their similarities, but there’s also a fine line that separates the two.

Problem Drinking Vs. Alcoholism: What’s The Difference?

In comparison, problem drinkers and alcoholics both have an unhealthy relationship with alcohol. There are several categories of problem drinkers, and there are also varying degrees of alcoholism. By defining each, you will notice the differences between these two terms.

Problem drinking

Problem drinking is described as having unhealthy drinking habits. People who are problem drinkers often have a hard time controlling the amount of alcohol they consume when they do so, but they are not physically dependent. Some examples of problem drinkers would be:

Binge drinkers: Binge drinkers are those who typically consume large amounts of alcohol or more than they intend to per drinking episode. A typical binge drinker would have 3-4 binge drinking episodes per month and would have more than 3-5 servings of alcoholic beverages within 2 hours.
Frequent drunk episodes: Even if people don’t fit in the category of binge drinking, some individuals have a hard time controlling their intake that it influences their behavior towards others. Some experience frequent drunk episodes that they become aggressive or violent towards family and friends. Being frequently drunk can also disrupt a person’s ability to perform daily responsibilities such as work or school.


Alcoholism is characterized by a physical dependence on alcohol. This is considered the crossing point of addiction because they experience withdrawal symptoms when they try to decrease or stop their use.

Alcoholics can recover from their addiction, but they are always at a risk for relapse even when they attempt to have a single drink. Since their risk of being addicted again is relatively high, abstinence is key to help them achieve total sobriety.

Put simply, the difference between problem drinking and alcoholism is evident in their physical dependency. The physical dependence for alcoholic vs. drunk has a stark comparison. We see that people with alcoholism find it hard to function without drinking, while people who get drunk only lose control when they are within their drinking episodes.

Another thing to take note of is the consistency and amount consumed. Alcoholics are more consistent with their intake, which is seen by their daily drinking habits. They are regularly seen drinking throughout the day, while problem drinkers can abstain for days or weeks, but drink excessively on single episodes.

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What Are The Signs For Each Disorder?

Understanding the signs can also help people take action about their problems. Although binge drinking, frequently being drunk, and alcoholism all benefit from high-quality rehabilitation services, knowing that you have specific signs and symptoms gives you a sense of confirmation and urgency to get better.

Signs of problem drinking

  • You always drink more than you intended to. In your mind, you have probably set boundaries. However, you often end up drinking more than what you planned for.
  • You spend a lot of time with alcohol. Although you know you can function without alcohol, you still spend a lot of time drinking or doing activities where you can get a hold of alcohol.
  • You notice a higher level of tolerance. What used to make you drunk before now only gets you a little over tipsy. You may notice that you take in larger amounts of alcohol before being intoxicated.
  • You sense a change in your daily habits and personal relationships. Problem drinking is also defined as being disruptive although not entirely a source of addiction. When you feel like you have given up your usual activities or experience strained relationships with others due to your alcohol habits, this is another sign of problem drinking.

These drinking problem symptoms shouldn’t be ignored, as prolonging this condition can transform into full-blown alcoholism. There are many factors that influence people who are susceptible to problem drinking, such as motivational, personality and environmental reasons.

Signs of being an alcoholic

  • You experience intense cravings. Problem drinkers may have occasional cravings, but alcoholics face the severe need to drink. If it’s an all-consuming desire to have your usual drinks just to feel better, this is a potential sign of being an alcoholic.
  • You have a drink at the start of your day to calm your nerves. Another sign that you have crossed the line between problem drinking and having an addiction is when you depend on alcohol to experience calm sensations. Many alcoholics have the habit of drinking first thing in the morning, reportedly to start their day being calm and prepared.
  • You have a need to hide your drinking habits. Either intentional or not, you may feel the need to hide the number of beverages you’re actually drinking from your loved ones. It’s either you don’t have the patience to explain yourself or feel a sense of shame that your drinking habits have gone overboard than the typical.
  • You experience health problems related to drinking. Excessive amounts of alcohol can bring damage to your heart, liver, and pancreas. Other people also suffer from various cancers that are triggered by long-term alcohol abuse. If you’ve experienced any health issues that medical experts link to your drinking habits, this is another potential sign.

These are just some of the characteristics of an alcoholic that may be present in yourself or a loved one. However, hope is not lost whether you’re a problem drinker or fit the label of an alcoholic. Many others have experienced this struggle and recovered, as they sought professional help for alcohol addiction.

Getting Help With Drinking: How To Get Started

Whether you or a loved one is a problem drinker or an alcoholic, there is always help available. Most top-notch rehab centers offer alcohol detox, treatment, and aftercare programs that suit the needs of each individual. If you’d like to know how you can get help with a drinking problem, below are some general steps to take.

Do not detox from alcohol at home.

If you know that you are physically dependent on alcohol, it is best not to attempt a do-it-yourself detox process. This is because the effects of alcohol withdrawal can be deadly for some–and you would want to avoid that risk. It is ideal to seek professional help through Medication-Assisted Treatment (MAT) or tapering off with constant monitoring.

Find alcohol rehab centers with various treatment options.

There are varied underlying reasons why people become problem drinkers or alcoholics. Looking for a rehab center that offers varied treatment options can help you undergo a program that is best suited to your needs.

The best treatment program is one that focuses on all aspects of your being–your physical, mental, emotional, personal-social and even spiritual health. High-quality facilities can mix and match various treatment approaches to help individuals heal from their triggers and target the root cause of alcohol addiction.

Prepare yourself for treatment.

After finding a rehab center that suits your needs, you need to prepare yourself for the upcoming treatment. Having the right financial resources, knowing what to bring for inpatient care, and informing employers and family members of your rehab stay will allow your experience to be distraction-free. You may want to also look at commonly asked questions about undergoing rehabilitation.

Alcoholic? Problem Drinker? Don’t Let These Labels Define You

You are so much more than your drinking problem. These are mere labels–you have the capacity to redefine yourself and discover a better you. By finding quality facilities and treatment options that work, it is possible to break free from the chains of alcoholism and problem drinking.


Medical disclaimer:

Sunshine Behavioral Health strives to help people who are facing substance abuse, addiction, mental health disorders, or a combination of these conditions. It does this by providing compassionate care and evidence-based content that addresses health, treatment, and recovery.

Licensed medical professionals review material we publish on our site. The material is not a substitute for qualified medical diagnoses, treatment, or advice. It should not be used to replace the suggestions of your personal physician or other health care professionals.

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