British singer-songwriter Adele says she stopped drinking, describing oneself as a “borderline alcoholic” when she was in her twenties.
She joins a increasing number of people who are trying to stop or reduce their alcohol consumption.
But what does “borderline alcoholic” mean and is it real?
It’s no longer all or nothing
In the First days In alcoholism treatment, people viewed alcohol-related problems as an all-or-nothing issue. They believed that there was something different between people who had drinking problems and those who did not. This is how the idea of ”addictive personality” came apropos.
But now we think of drinking on a continuum. This ranges from no alcohol to alcohol dependence. And people can move up and down this continuum at different times in their lives. The old adage “once an alcoholic, always an alcoholic” no longer applies.
How much is okay to drink?
Australia’s national alcohol guidelines say healthy men and women should drink no more than 10 standard drinks per week and no more than four per day. So that’s about two to three glasses three to four times a week. Most Australians drink according to these directions.
If you drink beyond these guidelines, you are more likely to experience a number of long- and short-term problems. problems including alcohol addiction, cancers, diabetes and heart disease. The risk of problems increases the more you drink and the more frequently you drink.
About 25 percent of Australians drink risk levels and about 6 percent drink at levels so high that they would likely be addicted. Daily alcohol consumption is associated with addiction.
So when is someone an alcoholic or borderline alcoholic?
The term “alcoholic” is now rarely used by health professionals. This can make people believe that there is nothing they can do about any problems they may encounter. Historically, this is what early treatment providers believed in the 1930s and the myth continued. But some people find it helpful to identify as an “alcoholic” to maintain their goal of quitting drinking.
Health professionals have never used the term “borderline alcoholic”. But by describing herself this way, Adele is actually saying that alcohol is having too negative an impact on her life and, like many others, she decided to do something positive by taking a break.
What terms do we use now?
Today, we tend to talk about “addiction” on a continuum ranging from mild to moderate to severe. We also talk about the range of issues other than addiction that people may experience, which are also on a continuum.
The threshold for determining whether someone is a problem or dependent drinker is not just the amount of alcohol they drink (although that is important), but also the severity of the alcohol-related problems.
Alcohol problems are not always related to drinking. Some people can drink a moderate amount and have a lot of problems, while others can drink a lot and don’t seem to have many negative consequences.
I worry about my drinking. After that ?
If you’re wondering if you’re drinking too much, you can check online with a free and anonymous evaluation.
Signs You May Have A alcohol problem include:
having trouble stopping once you start drinking
wanting or trying to reduce but making mistakes frequently
spending a lot of time drinking or recovering from drinking
want to drink alcohol, for example if you come home from work and are looking for a drink straight away
dropping the ball at work, study or home because you have been drinking, for example not being able to do your job because you are hungover
continuing to drink alcohol even if you know it is causing problems with your health, friends, job, or relationships
give up or reduce social and work activities to drink instead
drink when it is unsafe, such as before driving or swimming.
If you find that you no longer feel the same effects from alcohol as you used to or if you need more and more alcohol to get the same effect, you have probably developed an addiction.
Sometimes people who are very addicted may experience withdrawal symptoms when they stop: strong cravings, nausea, sweating, restlessness, and anxiety.
The more of these signs you have, the more likely you are to be addicted to alcohol.
If you have any of these signs, taking a break from drinking for a few months or more may help. If you find this too difficult, you can try to meet Australian alcohol guidelines by reducing the number of drinks per occasion and increasing your drink-free days.
There is help
Sometimes when people experience some of these issues, they need a little help to stay on track. You can talk to your GP who can refer you to a psychologist or treatment service.
Or you can try self-help options such as Hello Sunday Morning’s Dawn app (a community of people who support each other to change their relationship with alcohol). If your problems are more serious, you can try something like SMART Recovery (an evidence-based support group for alcohol and other drug problems).
If you are concerned about your own or someone else’s use of alcohol or other drugs, you can contact the National Alcohol and Other Drug Helpline on 1800 250 015 to get help free and confidential advice.
Nicole Lee is a Professor at the National Drug Research Institute (Melbourne) at Curtin University. This piece first appeared on The conversation.