When you ask whether people with alcoholism can go days without drinking, you may get an unexpected answer. Some people may say, “of course, they can,” while others cite the dependency their bodies have developed for the substance to function. For those that say people with alcoholism can go long stretches without a taste, they may have them confused with someone that has a drinking problem instead.
People may use the terms “problem drinker” and “alcoholism” interchangeably, but that doesn’t mean they are the same condition. Many can have a drinking problem well before they tip the scales over into full-blown alcoholism, but it can appear to be a fine line from the outside. Both conditions share striking similarities that can make it challenging to identify which one you or someone you love is dealing with, but there are ways to identify the difference.
Defining Problem Drinking
For most people, the line between problem drinking and alcoholism is either non-existent or, at best, blurred. They believe that someone that spends most of their time drinking and sees their alcohol consumption negatively affects their health and relationships automatically means they’re a person with alcoholism. However, it’s not always the case.
Someone with a drinking problem has one key difference from someone with alcoholism — how much their body is dependent on it. People with a drinking problem can go weeks or months without having a sip of alcohol; however, as soon as they fall back into bad habits, their drinking problem is back in full force. People with alcoholism cannot experience this seeming luxury of long stretches where they don’t need it to function.
What Makes Alcoholism Different From Problem Drinking
While on the surface, it appears that someone with a drinking problem has the same issues as someone with alcoholism, that’s where the similarities end. While those who struggle with problem drinking can stop and go days at a time without feeling compelled to have an alcoholic beverage, someone with alcoholism feels that urge daily.
When someone suffers from alcoholism, their body becomes physically dependent on alcohol to survive daily. The chemical makeup of their body changes dramatically thanks to persistent alcohol consumption. Their reward centers now trigger when they drink, further solidifying the connection. They become physically addicted to the substance and see their behaviors solely focus on getting the alcohol they need to survive.
Why People With Alcoholism Cannot Go Days at a Time Without a Drink
While problem drinkers can recognize the adverse effects that their drinking has on their lives and families, people with alcoholism often cannot control their drinking. Problem drinkers can stop for days or weeks at a time, but those suffering from alcoholism often don’t have the same capacity. Even if they want to cut back and try going cold turkey, they do not have functions to make it happen. They often give up activities that they used to enjoy so they can continue to drink more.
If they go even a few hours without a drink, severe withdrawal symptoms can set in for the person. However, someone with a drinking problem will not experience symptoms such as tremors, excessive sweating, insomnia, or anxiety after they haven’t had a drink in a few hours.