Auckland, New Zealand

What is an Alcoholic? Alcoholism Explained

Although this term seems self-evident, there can be some confusion about its definition. Which leads us to ask: what is an alcoholic?

An alcoholic is a person who suffers from alcoholism. With alcoholism defined as the strong need to consume alcohol to the extent that a physical, social, and psychological dependency is formed. Like any addiction, alcoholism can create significant anxiety when not satiated.

Alcoholism manifests in the compulsion towards alcohol consumption. This can be the intense desire to drink alcohol, a strong tolerance (more drinks to achieve the same effect), and withdrawal symptoms when consumption ceases or when the alcohol concentration is reduced. Additionally, there are difficulties to control alcohol intake, despite knowing its harmful consequences.

What Is an Alcoholic Behaviour Pattern? And How Can I Identify It?

Not all people with alcoholism fit the typical stereotype. For example, a functional alcoholic is a person addicted to alcohol, but capable of performing the social and professional roles expected of them. This can make it much more difficult to detect a risk pattern.

Some behaviours that indicate an alcoholic risk pattern include:

– Drinking to feel safe or to relax
– Hiding alcohol
– Denying excessive consumption when confronted
– Getting angry if excessive consumption is mentioned
– Drinking in the morning or when they are alone
– Making excuses to family who are concerned about their alcohol consumption
– Having memory lapses when they drink
– Joking about alcoholism
– Drinking when they had no plans to drink

It is important to note that a person who consumes high amounts of alcohol is not necessarily an alcoholic. Binge drinking and alcoholism can often overlap but they aren’t the same thing. 

However, there are certain behavioural risk factors that could lead both frequent and binge drinkers to alcoholism:

– Low self-esteem
– Anxiety or depression
– Past trauma or crises that are untreated
– High stress levels
– Dysfunctional or toxic environments

The easiest place to start when asking yourself if you have a problem with alcoholism is to consider a few simple questions about your drinking habits.

Do you (or a family member) relate to the following:

– You drink every night, and the one or two glasses that you previously enjoyed have become one or two bottles despite efforts to drink less.

– You don’t drink every night, but when you drink you usually end up drinking far too much, you don’t remember parts of the night, or you do/say things that you regret or feel ashamed about. You may also begin to lie to hide the extent of your drinking.

– When you aren’t drinking, you think about when you are going to drink next. Or you feel increasingly restless, irritated, and discontented with your life (even if things are going well).


If you are ready to discover what living well can be like, contact House of Hope at any time for a confidential, commitment-free discussion.

    I Might Be an Alcoholic - What Do I Do?

    I hear you ask, “How can I tell if I am a heavy drinker or an alcoholic?” And it’s not always easy to see if you’re an alcoholic, or if you may just have unhealthy drinking habits. Recognising that distinction can be the difference between nipping alcoholic tendencies in the bud or potentially spiralling out of control. 

    So, try this, for the next month just have one glass of your favourite drink every night. Don’t change anything else, just have one glass of alcohol and then reach for something non-alcoholic for the rest of the night. Don’t skip a night and be sure to only have one glass. If you cannot do it, or if you can do it but cannot enjoy it, you may be suffering from alcoholism…

    And it is completely OK if you are! There are countless other people like you who have faced their alcoholism and are now leading healthy and contented lives. Admitting that you may suffer from alcoholism and reaching out for help is the first step on your journey to well-being… I urge you to take that first step.

    Admitting The Truth

    Admitting that you may have a problem with alcohol is a difficult thing to do. This can often be because of the stigma attached to the term alcoholic. The reality is people don’t want to believe that they (or a loved one) may be suffering from alcoholism. As they might wrongly believe that alcoholics are weak-minded and just need to “get their act together and sort out their drinking”. But what you may not know is that alcoholism is a disease, and it is nothing to be ashamed of! You would never choose to ignore the symptoms of heart disease, cancer, or diabetes and instead think “I know this is a problem, but I can sort this out on my own. I don’t need to tell anyone or ask for help.” Ignoring the symptoms of alcoholism or thinking you can solve it on your own is just as silly as thinking you can fix any other disease this way. What can often make it worse is loved ones saying things like, “If you loved me, you would not drink like you are drinking”. Yet, they would never think of saying to someone battling cancer, “If you loved me, you would not have gotten cancer”. Keep in mind that just because you have a problem with alcohol, it does not mean that you are an alcoholic. As mentioned, you may just be a heavy drinker, and it might be possible to solve this on your own by reducing your alcohol intake. However, if you have alcoholism, reducing or trying to control your drinking alone is not going to work – it can even make things worse. Alcoholism is a serious disease that can affect anyone regardless of gender, age, or social class. It is crucial to receive professional help, even if it is only experiential consumption, as that can lead to addiction in many instances. If you find yourself still asking “What is an alcoholic?”. Just contact us, there is always help available and please remember, you are not alone.