Defining Alcohol Addiction


While people make toasts to celebrate holidays, special occasions or other events, sometimes glasses are raised without apparent reason. 

The Centers for Disease Control’s (CDC) guidelines on alcohol consumption are as follows: up to one drink per day for women and two drinks per day for men. Drinking more than the recommended alcohol consumption per day can signal a drinking problem.

The CDC outlines the different levels of alcohol abuse or addiction. Whether a person is a light drinker, moderate drinker or a heavy drinker, knowing the signs and symptoms of alcohol abuse is essential. A gradual increase in drinking can indicate mental health issues or a growing dependence on alcohol to relieve their worries, stress, anxiety or depression. Some people justify their drinking with excuses like:

  • I need to relax after work
  • I only drink with my friends
  • I only drink or get drunk on the weekends
  • I am off tomorrow
  • It’s Friday (substitute Friday for any other day of the week)

What is the difference between the levels of drinking? Here’s a simple guide to identifying whether or not you are a moderate, heavy or chronic drinker.

Moderate Drinkers

Moderate drinkers are usually women and men who stay within the CDC’s guidelines for that term. The guidelines published in the 2015-2020 U.S. Dietary Guidelines for Americans by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and the U.S. Department of Agriculture are the foundation for the CDC’s drinking protocol. The CDC’s guidelines and the 2015-2020 U.S. Dietary Guidelines for Americans notes:  

Although past studies have indicated that moderate alcohol consumption has protective health benefits (e.g., reducing the risk of heart disease), recent studies show this may not be true. While some studies have found improved health outcomes among moderate drinkers, it’s impossible to conclude whether these improved outcomes are due to moderate alcohol consumption or other differences in behaviors or genetics between people who drink moderately and people who don’t.

Moderate drinkers don’t necessarily drink every day. The focus on how much a person drinks on the days they consume alcohol is essential to distinguish a moderate drinker from a binge drinker.

Binge Drinkers

Binge drinkers consume excessive amounts of alcohol. Social functions, friends or family gatherings, or other occasions often set the stage for binge drinking. The CDC states that binge drinking for women is four or more drinks, and for men, five or more drinks, in two hours. If a person drinks more than the guidelines for moderate drinkers at least once a month, they are classified as binge drinkers.

Heavy Drinkers

Heavy drinkers exceed the CDC’s guidelines for moderate drinking. Women who consume eight or more and men who have 15 or more drinks a week are considered heavy drinkers. Binge drinking more than five days a month is also regarded as heavy drinking.

Binge drinkers or heavy drinkers are not necessarily addicted to alcohol. However, those who binge drink or are heavy drinkers have an increased risk of becoming addicted to alcohol.

Before a person becomes addicted to alcohol, they slowly increase their intake of alcohol. The stages of increased drinking include those who are light, moderate, heavy or binge drinking. Other levels leading to chronic alcohol addiction are:

Problem Drinking

When a person crosses from being a heavy or binge drinker, they are beginning to feel the impact of their drinking, including mental health disorders like depression or anxiety, or increased insomnia. Problem drinkers also partake in risky behaviors such as driving while intoxicated or other actions that lead to legal issues. They can have other symptoms such as:

  • A strain in relationships
  • Loss of old friends and a sudden influx of new friends who also drink a lot
  • Erratic behavior that causes missed plans, work deadlines or other engagements

Alcohol Dependence

Alcohol dependence overtakes a person’s daily routine, causing conflicts in life. Another sign of alcohol dependence is drinking more to achieve the same feeling once had with less alcohol. Those who are dependent on alcohol can also experience withdrawal symptoms.

Alcohol Addiction or Chronic Alcohol Use Disorder

For those struggling with an alcohol addiction, consuming alcohol is no longer about feeling good, loosening up at social events or habits. Its symptoms include a physical and psychological need for alcohol. Social norms regarding when and where it is appropriate to drink no longer matter.

People who have an alcohol addiction problem can seek treatment. They can engage in group, individual, and holistic therapy modes and successfully transition from active treatment to recovery. 

Chronic alcohol addiction is a condition where a person can’t maintain their sobriety and relapses.  

Chronic alcohol use is marked by a continuous, repetitive series of attempts at treatment, quitting and relapse. The standard of care for those who enter treatment — intensive or outpatient — includes individual and group therapy. While in treatment, the person can work with their therapist to build an aftercare program. Aftercare and treatment modes of care also include 12-Step principles. Unfortunately, many people don’t complete treatment or discontinue their aftercare plan. 

Some treatment programs are offering a more continuous treatment and aftercare model to their patients. The passage from treatment to aftercare blend together; continuity is essential for many to maintain their sobriety. 

A treatment program that recognizes a person’s need for individualized treatment and forms a treatment plan to identify the triggers that prevent a person from maintaining their sobriety is vital. Chronic alcoholism isn’t an end or a sign of failure. Each time a person admits they need help and begins a new program, they have succeeded in meaningful recovery.


There are several different stages of drinking. Identifying or spotting the progression of alcohol use is essential for addressing alcohol use disorder or chronic addiction. Treatment centers that offer a continuum of care soften the lines between treatment and aftercare, helping in a person’s ability to maintain their sobriety. Casa Palmera provides comprehensive assessments and modes of therapy to help treat alcohol use disorder. We want everyone to find success in their journey to sobriety. Call us at (877) 384-0342 for more information. 


This blog is for informational purposes only and should not be a substitute for medical advice. We understand that everyone’s situation is unique, and this content is to provide an overall understanding of substance use disorders. These disorders are very complex, and this post does not take into account the unique circumstances for every individual. For specific questions about your health needs or that of a loved one, seek the help of a healthcare professional.