Alcoholic Vs. Heavy Drinker: Understanding The Difference

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Many people make the mistake of identifying alcoholics and heavy drinkers as one and the same. But the truth is, there is a huge difference between them in a sense that being considered as a person who drinks hard is very different from someone who suffers from a condition called “alcoholism.”

Dr. Maher Soudah, the director of Kaiser Wellness Center, explains that the key difference between the two is this: a heavy drinker is someone who excessively consumes alcohol on his own volition while an alcoholic has dependency issues with the substance.

However, even with this explanation, people still find it challenging to distinguish the difference between the two, especially when a non-specialist in the field takes on the task of identifying which one their loved one has become. Taking that into consideration, addiction rehabilitation specialists from the Kaiser Wellness Center led by Dr. Soudah compiled the following guidelines in differentiating a heavy drinker from an alcoholic.

Defining Alcoholism

Based on what was stated earlier, alcoholism is the difference between alcoholics and heavy drinkers. Keeping that in mind, Dr. Maher Soudah and his team believes that it is important for people to understand the definition of alcoholism.

Alcoholism, also known as alcohol use disorder, is a chronic disease characterized by dependency on the liquors. This condition, which is also considered as a mental illness, is long-term and may result in dangerous consequences. It is also known as a behavioral problem on compulsive consumption of alcoholic beverages.

While most people in the adult age can be considered “excessive” or heavy drinkers, only a portion of them can be considered an alcoholic. In fact, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Alcohol Program Lead Dr. Robert Brewer clarified that only 9 out of 10 excessive drinkers are non-alcoholics.

Symptoms Of Alcoholic Vs. Heavy Drinkers

Among the most common symptoms that are similar between alcoholics and heavy drinkers are the massive amounts of alcohol they consume. However, there are also a lot of differences between the two. A heavy drinker would often consume alcohol with other people while an alcoholic would often deny that he or she has a drinking problem and would do so alone and in secret.

Also, alcoholics cannot resist their urge to drink, so much so that they subconsciously do everything in their power to have it. Here are the most common signs that a person is an alcoholic.

  • Inability to limit alcohol consumption
  • Experiencing blackout episodes where the person forgets chunks of their everyday life
  • Losing interest in things that the person was previously passionate about
  • Stashing alcohol in unusual places
  • Feeling good after chugging down liquor to get drunk quickly
  • Issues with law enforcement
  • The occurrence of workplace problems
  • Withdrawal symptoms such as nausea, vomiting, trembling, and excessive sweating when not being able to drink
  • Irritability, particularly during instances when alcohol is not readily available
  • Higher alcohol tolerance

Causes Of Alcohol Dependence

Alcohol dependence doesn’t happen overnight. Often, it happens after the person experiences problems that seem unsolvable and causes a stressful situation. However, it is not the only cause of alcoholism. Dr. Soudah explained that other factors contribute to alcoholism, including their genes, the age when the person started drinking, and ease of access to the substance.

Mental problems like depression, anxiety, and low self-esteem is also a factor that may cause a person to become an alcoholic as some of them— those who receive little or no emotional support from their peers and family— use the substance to self-medicate.

Other factors like media, advertising, and peer pressure are also seen as culprits for the increasing number of heavy drinkers, who are considered “almost alcoholics.”

Get Help

If you have a loved one who is a heavy drinker but is leaning towards becoming an alcoholic, seek help from addiction rehabilitation specialists like Dr. Maher Soudah and his team at Kaiser Wellness Center.



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