Many people who have alcohol addictions were originally social drinkers. Maybe they started by grabbing a beer after work with colleagues. Perhaps they overindulged at a holiday party or celebrated too hard when their favorite sports team won the championship. Somehow, possibly without them even realizing it, their social drinking turned into an addiction.

If you are uncertain whether your alcohol use is becoming problematic, here are some ways to tell the differences between social drinking and addiction—plus advice on what to do if you’ve crossed the line.

Lack of Self-Regulation

Social drinkers are in full control of their alcoholic intake. They’re aware of how much they drink and know how to stop before becoming impaired. They typically do not drink every day and don’t partake of alcohol with the intention of getting drunk.

Those with an alcohol use disorder may tell concerned family members or friends that they can “quit anytime they want to,” but in reality, they lack the self-regulation to control their drinking. They may point to several days of abstinence as proof that they don’t have a problem, but their craving for alcohol always causes them to resume drinking.

Binge Drinking or Heavy Alcohol Use

One sign of an alcohol addiction is binge drinking, which the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) defines as a pattern of excessive alcohol use in which a male has five or more drinks within two hours or a female has at least four drinks within that period.

Heavy alcohol use also can lead to addiction. NIAAA defines heavy drinking for men as consuming five or more drinks on any day, or 15 or more per week. For women, the parameters are four or more drinks on any day, or eight or more per week.

Social drinkers don’t have a problem with binge drinking or heavy alcohol use. They know how to drink responsibly, which equates to having no more than one drink per hour and typically no more than two or three drinks at social occasions. They drink in moderation, which is generally defined as no more than two drinks per day for men or one drink per day for women.

Heavy alcohol use, including binge drinking, is indicative of someone with an addiction. Binge drinking is associated with loss of control, blackouts, or memory loss. Those who drink heavily are more prone to risky behavior, such as driving under the influence, which makes the drinker a risk to themselves and others.

Drinking Alone or in Secret

Social drinkers are true to the term “social” when consuming alcohol. They drink with family or friends, usually at special occasions like a family gathering or sporting event.

Those who are veering toward alcohol addiction typically take their drinking beyond social parameters. They may drink alone, and because they worry that their spouse or others will disapprove of their drinking, they may keep a stash of alcohol hidden away.

Disruption of Daily Activities

Social drinkers rarely have issues related to their drinking that disrupt their daily lives or compromise their health. Problem-drinkers may experience regular hangovers or physical or psychological ailments that cause them to miss work, be less effective at their jobs, or have trouble caring for their families.

Prolonged use of alcohol often causes changes in the addicted individual’s mood and behavior, making it harder for them to think clearly and go about normal daily tasks. When they go a while without drinking, they may experience withdrawal symptoms such as anxiety, irritability, and depression that likewise interfere with their routine.

Detrimental to Personal Relationships

Social drinkers don’t have to worry about their alcohol use harming their relationships with family or friends. Conversely, those with an addiction may experience turmoil that sparks arguments with their spouse, detachment from their children, and loss of friendships.

When taken to an extreme, those experiencing addiction may be in danger of divorce or separation from loved ones. Even when they experience these consequences, their dependence on alcohol makes it impossible for them to refrain from drinking.

How to Solve the Problem

Those with alcohol addiction cannot solve the problem on their own. The best course of action is to seek help. Look for a comprehensive alcohol treatment program that has a detox program, in-patient and out-patient options, and a holistic approach featuring a combination of evidence-based therapies, counseling programs, and peer support.

Don’t dismiss your overuse of alcohol by insisting you’re a social drinker. If there are signs that you can’t control your drinking, seek the help you need to overcome the problem and get your life back on track.

Beachside Rehab offers a safe and caring environment for those struggling with an alcohol addiction. Contact our trained admissions counselors at 866-349-1770 to discuss how we can help.


Photo by Jez Timms on Unsplash