A lot of people wonder if daily drinking is a sign of alcoholism. As a recovering alcoholic and former mental health and addictions nurse, I can shed some light on this.
When alcohol hits the bloodstream, it can instantly change the neurotransmitters in the nervous system. This change often brings about the pleasant feelings associated with alcohol use. For some people, this pleasant feeling can bring on a continuous craving for alcohol. The reasons for this are complicated and may not apply to every person.
For some people, alcohol trains the nervous system to crave more. But it depends on their unique nervous system, their past mental health issues, and their genetics. I’ll talk more about this below.
The CDC has noted that the safe drinking limits are one drink for a woman and two drinks for a man per day. These guidelines were created to ensure that people stayed within a safe level of consumption which would hopefully mitigate any issues with dependence and abuse.
Unfortunately, many people have trouble sticking to the CDC’s safe drinking guidelines. People who can drink only one or two drinks per day may not necessarily have a problem with alcoholism unless they begin to crave those drinks. When that happens, it’s an immediate red flag for potential alcoholism.
We crave alcohol because it begins to make changes in our nervous system that make it difficult to stop drinking. The nervous system makes it such that a person needs more alcohol to get the “high” they enjoy. Of course, not everyone gets this, but it can become a problem for those who continue to drink more frequently.
Also, once a person begins drinking daily, they will have some degree of withdrawal the moment they stop drinking. This withdrawal is a sign that alcohol is changing the nervous system. If a withdrawal is mild, a person can get through it fairly quickly. However, the more withdrawals a person has, the more their nervous system craves alcohol. This is where daily drinking can start to be a problem.
Although one or two drinks a day doesn’t sound too bad, it depends on each person’s physical aspects of alcohol use. Craving those drinks may be a sign of a budding problem. If a person can’t go without those drinks, then this is a sign of alcoholism.
The reason why a person craves a few drinks is often rooted in genetics and a nervous system that is wired for addiction. People who have mental health issues or PTSD may be especially prone to developing an addiction. This is because alcohol may seem like a good escape from these issues in the beginning. Initially, alcohol may seem to alleviate the symptoms of mental illness and PTSD. However, the longer a person drinks and the more alcohol they take in will likely worsen mental health issues. But by then, the person has developed a habit and needs more and more alcohol to curb withdrawals and mental health symptoms. It then becomes a vicious cycle.
This is why it’s best to get help for mental health issues early on so that a secondary problem like an addiction issue doesn’t take hold. Because once addiction sets in, the mental health issue can worsen, and the cycle feeds on itself.
Mental health issues already affect certain neurotransmitters in the nervous system. However, alcohol can create even worse problems with those neurotransmitters. So even though a person may initially feel better with drinking, the results, in the end, can be disastrous. It’s highly recommended that someone with mental health issues refrain from using alcohol as they are a high risk for dependence.
One or two drinks a day may not matter too much for those who don’t have mental health issues. But you should know that no amount of alcohol is safe for the body. Recent research is showing that even low-dose alcohol can be dangerous for the brain and heart. It also depends on the overall health of the individual. The more health problems a person has, the more that drinking alcohol will affect them negatively.
If you come from a family where alcohol abuse is high, you may have a genetic predisposition to using alcohol. This means, once you begin using alcohol, the changes to your nervous system are more pronounced. Often people with genetic issues have more pleasure from using alcohol than others, which can automatically cause alcoholism.
To summarize, daily drinking may not be a problem for some people (if they don’t have mental, physical health, or genetic issues). But once everyday drinking becomes an established routine that a person can’t get away from, there may be some alcoholism developing.