Defining who is and who is not a problem drinker or alcoholic is not as easy as drawing a line in the sand and putting on one side is the social drinker and the alcoholic on the other. One additional drink does not magically transform a person from a regular drinker to a problematic one. Unfortunately, life isn’t that clear cut, and drinking alcohol, like most potentially harmful habits, exists on a spectrum and instead reflects shades of gray rather than the simple black-and-white scenario.
That said, there’s no doubt there is a stark difference between the two drinking patterns, but a person rarely flips overnight. Instead, they slip slowly, perhaps even imperceptibly, into alcoholism. So while not being a literal line with an actual number of drinks attached to it, people indeed cross a threshold in their relationship with alcohol.
What Is a Social Drinker?
The social drinker has no chemical or emotional dependence on alcohol. Drinking is a compliment to specific activities and not the reason they’re engaging with them. For example, if they’re out with friends or loved ones and the alcohol is not present, they could still have a good time. In other words, alcohol isn’t their primary focus. They may have a casual beverage to socialize, kick back and relax, but they don’t usually require or default to the use of alcohol to do these things.
Moreover, a social drinker can choose when they drink and do so most of the time in moderation. Drinking does not interfere with their work or family life, or commitments. Moreover, social drinkers have an apparent ability to stop or manage their drinking. The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) defines moderate alcohol consumption as being one drink per day for women and up to two drinks per day for their male counterparts.
What Is an Alcoholic?
So what defines excessive or problematic alcohol use? The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) state that heavy drinking is defined as consuming 15 or more alcoholic drinks per week for men. For women, heavy drinking is defined as consuming eight alcoholic beverages or more in one week. Notice that the amount of drinks that establish heavy alcohol use in the eyes of the CDC is just having essentially one more glass per day than a moderate or social drinker.
However, excessive use doesn’t necessarily mean a person is an alcoholic, however, and it’s often less about the number and more about the person’s relationship with drinking. That said, binge drinking and heavy alcohol consumption can increase an individual’s risk of developing an alcohol use disorder. This is because the alcoholic’s relationship with alcohol differs from that of a moderate or social drinker.
Instead, for the burgeoning alcoholic, drinking is why they’ll participate in activities, and when they drink, it’ll be with the intent to get intoxicated. They may drink even when alone, and their tolerance for alcohol will gradually increase. Also, they will use drinking as a coping mechanism to cope with all sorts of issues, from stress to loneliness to social anxiety.
In this scenario, drinking becomes a crutch that a person leans on for self-medication or misguided emotional support. Alcohol will significantly affect their work and personal life—maybe not from the get-go, but it’s often only a matter of time until a person slips and begins to succumb to alcoholism. What defines an alcoholic is dependence and continued, compulsive alcohol-seeking despite adverse consequences that are occurring.
In-Between: The Problem Drinker
Problem drinkers drink more than what’s defined as relatively safe or low-risk drinking patterns, but they still have the power to stop when they want to. They may drink to excess on occasion or go through bouts of binge drinking. Still, when they’re told to cut down by a health provider or agree to stop because their behavior is problematic or bothersome to others, they can stop on their own without much difficulty. In many cases, problem drinkers should consider quitting drinking altogether because there can be a fine line between this pattern of drinking and full-blown alcoholism.
Getting Professional Help for Alcoholism
While social drinking is not usually particularly problematic, alcoholism certainly is. Drinking in excess, especially over the long term, can lead to many adverse health outcomes, including liver disease, pancreatitis, increased risk of several cancers, and reduced cognitive functioning.
Fortunately, alcoholism, although not curable, is very treatable. Just Believe Recovery Center offers residential and intensive outpatient treatment programs designed to address addiction as well as all aspects of a person’s health and wellness. Therapeutic services and experiential activities include, but are not limited, to the following:
- Medical detox
- Behavioral therapy
- Individual counseling
- Family counseling
- Relapse prevention
- 12-step peer support
- Addiction education
- Health and wellness education
- Dual diagnosis
- Art and music therapy
- Aftercare planning
- Alumni events and activities