Can I Be an Alcoholic Without Experiencing Withdrawals?

 In Addiction & Recovery Ins and Outs, Alcohol Abuse & Addiction

No Withdrawals Doesn’t
Mean No Addiction

Some people justify their drinking by saying they have never had Delerium Tremens or serious withdrawals, so they must not be an alcoholic. Unfortunately, that isn’t how addiction works. You can be addicted to alcohol without experiencing withdrawals.

With some drugs, withdrawal symptoms can start very early. Heroin, for example, can cause withdrawal symptoms within the first few times of using the drug. With alcohol, this isn’t the case.

You might be moderately hung over after a bender, but the more serious withdrawal symptoms usually won’t happen unless you drink consecutively for a period of time. This doesn’t mean you can’t be addicted to alcohol. Addiction can happen long before severe withdrawals.

Likelihood of Alcohol Withdrawals

The likelihood of experiencing severe, life-threatening alcohol withdrawals depends on how much you drink and how many days in a row you drink.

Women are more susceptible to the effects of alcohol than men. For a woman, there is about a 50/50 chance you could experience severe withdrawals from having 17 or so drinks a day for 3 days in a row (for men, about 25 drinks a day for 3 days in a row. The same chance exists for a woman who has 10 drinks every day for 60 consecutive days (for men, about 13 drinks a day over 60 days)—less drinks, but a longer time.

Of course, there are many variations of this. You may experience less severe withdrawal symptoms from drinking less a day or for a shorter period. A woman might have 5 drinks a day every single day for a year and experience mild to moderate withdrawal symptoms. Her overall health, though, may begin to deteriorate. After a few years of this pace of drinking, the liver or kidneys may be affected.

On the other side of the coin, someone may binge drink to the point of blacking out two or three times a week. Maybe they won’t experience severe withdrawals, but there are many other things that can happen when you binge drink this often. They might drive drunk and kill someone, they might ruin relationships, lose their job, or engage in violent or inappropriate activities.

The point is, withdrawals are not the only reason to stop drinking. There are many consequences of having an active drinking problem.

Physical Dependence
VS Addiction

Withdrawals also are not the only signifier of addiction. Withdrawals are a result of physical dependence. This is when the body works to counteract the effects of alcohol, also known as tolerance. Because of the shifts in the body, things go out of balance again if alcohol is removed from the system. In this way, the body “needs” alcohol now to function properly, because it has adjusted compensated so much to accommodate high levels of alcohol.

Addiction is different than physical dependence, though they are linked. Addiction happens in the brain. Alcoholism or addiction is the perceived need for alcohol and the strong compulsion to drink despite any negative consequences. New connections form in the pleasure centers of the brain that associate alcohol consumption with feeling good.

Eventually the brain establishes alcohol as something that is needed and important for survival—which it, of course, is not. The associative learning part of the brain establishes triggers for drinking, which intensifies the compulsion and urge to drink. This can happen without ever going through severe withdrawals, though the experience of withdrawal can perpetuate this shift in the brain.

Drinking Everyday
& Binge Drinking

One thing to remember is that drinking every day is never a good thing—even if it is a small amount of alcohol. You will not experience withdrawals if you never drink more than two days in a row.

If you can’t go one or two days without having even one drink, you might have a drinking problem.

Extreme binge drinking is also a bad habit to be in. Binge drinking is technically four or more drinks in a two hour period of time, for women. For men, it is five or more in two hours. More than six or seven drinks spread out over the course of one day is also excessive.

If you go out often and drink much more than this, you might have a problem.

How to Quit Drinking

Recognizing the problem is important, because the earlier you address it, the easier it will be to get better. Many people recognize a problem but decide to wait until it gets worse to do anything about it. What they don’t realize is that it does get worse and it is not a risk worth taking, because no one deserves to experience the horrors of severe addiction. The voice in your head that tries to justify your drinking is part of the addiction.

Getting worse might be experiencing severe withdrawals like Delerium Tremens (DTs), with life-threatening seizures. It could be developing deadly physical disease like kidney and liver failure, which many alcoholics die of. Getting worse could be losing everything you have, your job, your home, your friends, your sense of peace, and all feelings of well-being. Regardless of what “getting worse” looks like for you, these are terrible conditions that no one should have to experience.

Don’t let it come to that. How do you quit drinking? With help. Because addiction is due to changes in the brain and isn’t a conscious decision, you can’t control it very easily on your own. This is why proper treatment is so important. There are a lot of options available to you, such as support groups and meetings, sober living homes, therapy for addiction, in-patient and out-patient rehab programs, and more. Call (520) 288-8484 to talk to someone about these options and decide which is best for you.

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