Binge drinking could lead to alcohol addiction

March 21, 2013

It's become the popular lifestyle choice of many young adults: Hard liquor and excess drinking are party favorites.

Most people who binge drink are not alcohol dependent.

But, while you might not be one of the millions of alcoholics in the United States, you could fall into a category that may bring you dangerously close to crossing the line.

So what are the signs?

Brenda Wilhelmson believes she was an almost alcoholic for years before she crossed a line she didn't realize was there.

"It turned into a way that i rewarded myself at the end of the day, and it just escalated from there. I was basically drinking myself to sleep every night," she said.

Many think it's black and white.

"People were either alcoholics, or they weren't. They had a problem, or they didn't," said Dr. Robert Doyle.

But the Harvard psychiatrist and co-author of Almost Alcoholic believes there's a big grey area.

"We're seeing alcohol problems as a spectrum," he said.

The alcoholism expert is focusing on the zone between normal use and alcoholism diagnosis, the so-called almost alcoholic range.

Here, the risk of things like insomnia, diabetes and cancer can increase.

Addiction specialist Dr. Greg Teas agrees. He warns of a drinking pattern among young adults that is increasing. They like to play hard and often engage in binge drinking, or binging.

"When you are doing binge alcohol is you are loading up your alcohol level to perhaps twice the intoxicated level at times," he said.

The psychiatrist at Alexian Brothers Behavioral Health Hospital says extreme drinking even just a couple times a week could actually tip someone into addiction.

And specialists are now considering whether the millions of people who pass through the almost alcoholic phase can be stopped before they become addicted.

"We're not trying to put labels on people," Dr. Teas said. "In fact, we're trying to prevent people from getting the label of a very serious condition."

Do an honest assessment by asking yourself questions such as: Is alcohol affecting my sleep? Do I depend on alcohol to de-stress? Am I drinking to help deal with a medical problem? If you feel you might be heading toward a problem, try cutting back.

"If you're having four beers on Friday night, see how you do with two beers," Dr. Doyle said.

Small changes could make a big difference in where you end up on this spectrum.

"We're just talking about moving into more responsible and healthy drinking," Dr. Doyle said.

So what some specialists are suggesting is if people can recognize these behaviors in themselves it might be much easier to reduce or control drinking habits during the course of the "almost alcoholic" phase since there is not yet a physical dependence on alcohol.

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