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Quiz: Heavy Drinker, Problem Drinker or Alcoholic?

By: Leigh Sexton - Updated: 19 Aug 2012 | comments*Discuss
Alcoholism Alcohol Dependence Alcohol

The term alcoholism is a popular, rather than a medical or legal one. The medical definitions generally used in the UK are alcohol abuse and alcohol dependence – the legal definition of alcoholism is used in court, but does not exist in law. However, we’re constantly reading about ‘problem drinkers’ and ‘heavy drinkers’, ‘binge drinkers’ and ‘anti-social drinkers’. So what is an heavy drinker, a problem drinker and an alcoholic and which might you be?

For men, heavy drinking is largely defined as consuming an average of more than two drinks per day, for women it’s an average of more than one drink per day. This definition requires the drinker to be drinking on all or most days. Problem drinkers take one of two routes to alcohol: either they are binge drinking (regularly using alcohol equivalent to five or more drinks for men or four or more drinks for women, generally within around a two hour period) or they are medicating an underlying personality problem (where the drinker uses alcohol to allow them to become violent, abusive, suicidal, sexually aggressive etc, by claiming the alcohol led them into that behaviour). Alcohol dependency, also called and alcoholism, is a chronic disease whose symptoms include an irresistible craving for alcohol, continuing to drink despite it causing regular and repeated physical, psychological, economic or relationship problems and the inability to limit or moderate drinking.

Alcohol Dependency Tests

Possibly the most famous test is the Michigan alcohol screening test, known as the MAST questionnaire. It’s a simple yes/no quiz for which each yes scores a point. If your total is more than 6 you have drinking problems, but the MAST doesn’t explore the nature of the problem, just states that it exists.

Defining A Drink Problem

The quiz below should not be treated as an alternative to professional medical support and advice. If you think you have any kind of alcohol problem, you should seek immediate trained help.

Have you ever woken up and realised...

that you can’t remember some of the previous evening?

  • A. Often.
  • B. Sometimes.
  • C. Very rarely or never.

Do family and friends say they are worried...

about the amount you drink?
  • A. Often.
  • B. They don’t know how much you drink.
  • C. Sometimes, if you come home in an unusually bad state.

Does drinking cause you to argue with friends or strangers?

  • A. Never.
  • B. Sometimes.
  • C. Often.

Have you ever failed to get to work, or not gone home...

for two or more days because you were drinking.
  • A. Yes, but now you don’t work.
  • B. Yes, but only if you miscalculated how much you’d had to drink.
  • C. Yes, but only if you were already upset about something else before you started drinking.

Do you drink before noon fairly often?

  • A. Yes.
  • B. On holiday and at weekends yes, otherwise no, you can always drink enough in the evenings.
  • C. Almost never.

Have you ever vandalised something...

tried to wreck a drinking establishment or broken windows after drinking?
  • A. No, or not for a long time.
  • B. Never.
  • C. Quite often done it, or wanted to do it.

Have you ever been told you have liver trouble...

or have you experienced severe shaking or hallucinations or heard voices when hungover?
  • A. Yes.
  • B. Had the shakes after a really heavy night.
  • C. No.

Have you ever been taken to A&E because of drinking?

  • A. Yes – because comatose or fell over drunk and injured yourself.
  • B. No, although sometimes the next day you feel as if you should have been.
  • C. Yes, because of injuries from fighting.


Mainly A – your alcohol dependency is developed and family and friends are aware that your behaviour is that of somebody who places alcohol above everything else in life. You may be an alcoholic or well down the road to alcohol dependency.

Mainly B – you are a heavy drinker who believes you have your alcohol consumption under control. This illusion of managing the situation is maintained by the way you ensure your family and friends are unaware of how much you drink and by your avoiding taking undue risks that might expose your consumption, such as drinking in the morning. However if you continue to drink at this rate, you may find you tip over into alcohol dependency or alcoholism.

Mainly C – you are a problem drinker. You consume alcohol fast and to try and address your personal issues. You don’t have a drinking habit so much as a habit of medicating your emotions with alcohol. This can lead to habitual drinking if you do not address the underlying problems that are making your life unmanageable.

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In the UK we measure consumption based on units of alcohol not drinks. Alcohol misuse is also the more common term for 'problem drinking'. AUDIT not MAST is probably the most well-know tool for identifying alcohol misuse. I would prefer to see AUDIT linked - plenty of online examples-"alcoholism, is a chronic disease" - this is a commonly held belief but many academics and others disagree, largely on the basis that problem drinking is not caused solely by genetic make up but also influenced by our environment. And also evidence of alcohol depedence as a reverrsible condition i.e 'controlled drinking' in former 'alcoholics'. All very much hotly debated though of course.
JM - 10-May-11 @ 4:29 PM
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