If you or your loved one likes to drink, it’s not hard to cross the line by indulging in more than three or four drinks on one occasion. There may also be weeks where you blow past the recommended weekly maximum.
Alcoholism is a progressive condition: it does not develop in a day or overnight. Casual drinking has the potential to grow into dependence and addiction with enough time.
How Long Does It Take to Become an Alcoholic?
There is no standard time frame for how long it will take to develop an addiction to alcohol.
The road to becoming an alcoholic differs from person to person. Some people are able to consume just a few drinks and not think about drinking again for weeks or months.
You can minimize your risk by following the safe drinking guidelines set by the NIAAA above and by being on the lookout for signs of potential alcoholism.
For any given day or week, the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) recommends:
- No more than three drinks on any single day and no more than seven drinks per week for women.
- No more than four drinks on any single day and no more than 14 drinks per week for men.
Asking how long it takes to become an alcoholic is sort of like asking how long it takes to drive from Boston to Denver. It depends on how fast you are driving, how many stops you take and what kind of car you have.
If you want to avoid getting into trouble for going too fast, you’ve got to follow the speed limit.
There are kids who take their first sip at age 11 and ramp up their drinking to the point where they’re full-blown alcoholics by age 20. (Minors are especially susceptible to the risks of alcohol.)
Then there are those who hum along for decades as social drinkers until a major life event–such as divorce or job loss–launches them into heavier drinking that spirals into alcoholism.
Alcohol use disorder evolves gradually, but there is no telling when a full-blown addiction will emerge.
Drinking more than the recommended amount doesn’t mean you have become an alcoholic, but it does increase your risk of that happening. It also increases your risk of certain health issues, especially liver damage.
Other risk factors unique to certain individuals can play a role in developing an addiction.
The Threat Posed by Binge Drinking
Binge drinking is important to keep in mind when considering just how long it takes to become addicted to alcohol. Binge drinking is consuming enough alcohol to raise your blood-alcohol level to 0.08, which comes out to about 5 drinks in 2 hours for men and 4 drinks for women.
Frequent binge drinking, typically more than 5 times a month is known to increase a person’s risk of developing alcohol dependence.
How Alcohol Dependence Happens
The alcohol you drink can enter your brain in as little as ten seconds. After this, alcohol starts to impact how we think, feel and act by altering the brain’s neurotransmitters.
Alcohol causes the pleasure chemicals in your brain to rise, resulting in positive feelings once the drinking starts. This buzz can have a euphoric feeling. However, this feeling diminishes as soon as you stop drinking.
Your brain’s desire for these feel-good chemicals is what leads to more drinking and, after enough time, to alcohol dependence.
Factors that can Contribute to Alcohol Addiction
Certain behaviors such as consuming beyond the normal number of alcoholic beverages per night and more often during the week can push you toward alcohol addiction.
It may also be that the younger you begin drinking, the higher the chances you will get addicted, as some research indicates.
Family history can play a role as well. While certain addiction-related genes exist that can be passed down to you, simply having the genes is no guarantee you will be addicted to alcohol, although your chances may be higher than the average person who lacks the gene.
Experiencing trauma can also make some people more predisposed to addiction. Those with trauma in their past may use alcohol or other substances to numb the pain they experience. In time, this coping mechanism becomes a problem of its own.
Warning Signs of Alcoholism
Here are a few warning signs of alcohol dependence to look out for:
- Continuing to drink even though it’s causing problems with family, friends, or work
- Having to continuously drink more to achieve the same effect
- Experiencing frequent blackouts
- Alcohol withdrawal symptoms such as restlessness, anxiety or trouble sleeping
- Putting yourself in risky situations by drinking, such as driving while buzzed or drunk, or having unsafe sex
- Using alcohol to deal with stress
- Trying to hide your drinking from others
- Not being able to set limits on your drinking and stick with them. That could mean drinking more often than planned or having more drinks than planned on a particular day.
- Having a life that revolves either around drinking or recovering from drinking. You may find that old hobbies that don’t involve drinking are losing their appeal.
Heal from Alcohol Addiction at The Raleigh House
No matter how long it took to become addicted to alcohol, you or your loved one can still recover. By using an integrated, personlized approach to managing addiction, we don’t just address the substance abuse or the addiction by itself – we delve into the deeper issues, needs or conditions that led you or your loved one down the path to addiction.