What’s the difference between social drinking vs. alcoholism? It’s a common question that many people have about themselves, friends, and loved ones.
According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, moderate drinking is defined as having 1 drink per day for women and up to 2 drinks per day for men. This baseline establishes what is considered healthy and within moderate limits for people. However, many people may engage in more drinking and still not be considered an “alcoholic”.
If most of us have more than two drinks in one sitting, does that make us alcoholics? The answer is complicated and depends on how much and how frequently drinks are consumed.
What is Social Drinking?
According to the NIAAA, those individuals who drink in low risk patterns are defined as social drinkers. This demographic is classified by the consumption pattern of consuming no more than 7 drinks per week, and no more than 3 drinks per sitting.
So what constitutes a drink? Here’s what the NIAA says:
In other, words, one drink is equal to roughly:
- 12 ounces of beer (roughly 5% alcohol content)
- 8 ounces of malt liquor (roughly 7% alcohol content)
- 5 ounces of wine (roughly 12% alcohol content)
- 1.5 ounces of whiskey, vodka, rum, or gin (roughly 40% alcohol content)
Social drinking vs. alcoholism is difficult to define because different cultures and environments promote different levels of drinking. However, for the sake of clarity, social drinking should be defined as drinking responsibly without reaching high levels of inebriation infrequently. Here are some signs of someone who would be defined as a social drinker. They:
- Don’t feel the need to continually monitor the amount of drinks they intake.
- Don’t spend a disproportionate amount of time thinking about alcohol.
- Don’t feel the need to drink alcohol in order to have a good time.
- They never or rarely get into trouble for reasons related to alcohol consumed.
- Only drink alcohol on occasion.
- Don’t regret things that they say or do while under the influence of alcohol.
This is not to say that social drinkers are entirely safe. The transition from social drinking into binge drinking and alcoholism can occur over a long period of time, and the individual is often unaware or unwilling to acknowledge this change.
What is Alcoholism?
According to SAMHSA, the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, heavy alcohol use is defined as engaging in binge drinking on 5 or more days in the past month. Binge drinking involves a pattern of drinking that exceeds the limits outlined by healthy drinking defined by the NIAAA.
Another way to define alcoholism is anyone who exceeds binge drinking that brings Blood Alcohol Content (Or BAC) to levels above 0.08 per session, more than 5 times per week. When looking at social drinking vs. alcoholism, there is a clear difference in what is a tolerable amount of alcohol.
What’s known as HFA’s (Or High Functioning Alcoholics) are those individuals who are able to partially separate their addiction from their daily responsibilities. Typically, these people tend to minimize their drinking by labeling it simply as a hobby, occasional indulgence, or heavy bout of drinking.
The truth however, is that an alcoholic is defined by that person’s relationship to alcohol, not how their relationship to alcohol appears to the rest of the world. Here are some telltale signs of alcoholism to look out for if you suspect yourself or a loved one of being an alcoholic:
- Using alcohol as a reward for accomplishments or relief.
- Drinking daily.
- Living a double life that separates binge drinking from their daily work or home life.
- Binge drinking more than a few times per week (more than 5 drinks in one sitting).
- Having difficulty imagining their life without alcohol.
- Having chronic blackouts from drinking and not being able to remember what they did for a period of time.
- Alternating between feelings of guilt and shame towards their drunken behavior.
- Behaving in ways that are uncharacteristic of their sober when drinking.
- Surrounding themselves with other social drinkers or binge drinkers.
- Attempting to take breaks from drinking and then engaging in increased alcohol consumption.
- Continually getting drunk before arriving at parties/bars (pre-gaming).
- Having an increasing sense of denial about their binge drinking because they are able to hold down a job or keep a relationship for the time being.
- Setting drinking limits for themselves and often being unable to hold themselves accountable to them.
- Driving while intoxicated and not getting arrested or involved in an accident.
- Having the inability to control alcohol consumption after their first few drinks.
- Family members or friends have expressed concern about their drinking patterns and negative behavior.
- Engaged in risky sexual behavior while under the influence.
- Constantly thinking about the next time they can drink, how recently they’ve drunk, how much they have drunk.
- Always having to finish an alcoholic beverage whether it’s their own or another persons.
Social Drinking vs. Alcoholism
There are many clear differences between social drinking vs. alcoholism, though it may not always be clear to see. For example, social drinkers may engage in binge drinking on occasion without having a problem with alcohol. However, social drinkers may grow to have a worse and worse relationship with alcohol.
Alcoholics may be appear to function in work and life to a variable degree, but it is likely that they cannot sustain their continued alcohol usage. If their patterns of usage continue, they run the chance of their body adapting to the high levels of alcohol within their bloodstream. If this occurs, then they are more likely to continue abusing alcohol, due to the negative side effects that occur when alcohol is no longer present in their body. This is what constitutes a chemical addiction.
Individuals who binge drink run a considerable amount of risks that are similar to those faced by full blown alcoholics. Alcohol is a toxic substance that absolutely causes damage to the body, even in small doses. Binge drinking puts people at risk for developing high blood pressure, certain cancers, and increased exposure to dangerous situations.
Need Help With Alcoholism?
Alcohol rehab centers can secure an appropriate alcohol detoxification and rehabilitation treatment program for you or a loved one, quickly and discreetly, and close to home if that’s what you’d prefer. If you’re worried about a loved one or your own relationship with alcohol, reach out to someone who can help. At Landmark Recovery, we work to free addicts from the inner prison of substance dependence and abuse.