People often have a hard time determining if their drinking habits, or the drinking habits of their loved one or spouse, are “normal”.  What exactly is a social drinker versus an alcoholic? How do you know when it’s time to get help? This article will help you understand the difference between a social drinker and actually being addicted to alcohol.

What is considered a social drinker?

A social drinker, also known as a moderate drinker, typically drinks alcohol occasionally and in social settings. They usually do not consume alcohol to the point of intoxication and can easily abstain from drinking without experiencing any withdrawal symptoms. They have control over their drinking, know their limits, and their consumption does not typically interfere with their daily life, work, or relationships.

People who are social drinkers do not overindulge, they don’t get drink to get drunk and they stop when they feel a bit of a buzz; not to the point of getting drunk. They drink because they enjoy the taste, not because they need the effect that alcohol has on their system. They don’t drink to cover emotions or numb pain. They don’t drink to escape or to lower inhibitions.  They don’t NEED to drink; they drink, occasionally, because they enjoy it and stop well before inebriation.

What’s considered an alcoholic

NSDUH Statistics

NSDUH Statistics

An alcoholic is a person who suffers from the disease of alcoholism. His or her brain has become dependent on alcohol to function, and without a drink, withdrawal symptoms occur. However, there is much more to the story. Alcoholics may also develop a tolerance to alcohol, meaning they need to drink larger amounts to feel its effects, and they may experience withdrawal symptoms when they try to stop or reduce their drinking.

Alcoholism is a chronic, progressive disease that can lead to severe health issues, including liver disease, heart disease, cancer, and mental health disorders, as well as social and legal problems. There are levels of severity. It is the more severe end of the alcohol use disorder spectrum. It is a destructive pattern of alcohol use that includes tolerance to or withdrawal from the substance, using more alcohol or using it for longer than planned, and trouble reducing its use or inability to use it in moderation. Other potential symptoms include spending an inordinate amount of time getting, using, or recovering from the use of alcohol, compromised functioning, and/or continuing to use alcohol despite an awareness of the detrimental effects it is having on one’s life. The more alcohol we drink (and abuse) the more our body comes to depend on it -thus, the nature of addiction. According to the National Institute of Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism,  in 2015, 26.9 percent of people ages 18 or older reported that they engaged in binge drinking in the past month; 7.0 percent reported that they engaged in heavy alcohol use in the past month.

Alcohol Use Spectrum: Alcoholism Does Not Fit Into 2 Buckets

It’s important to note that there is a broad spectrum of alcohol use and abuse. Between social drinking and alcoholism, there’s a stage commonly referred to as problem drinking or heavy drinking. This is where a person may not be physically dependent on alcohol, but their drinking still causes problems in their life, like missing work, neglecting responsibilities, or having repeated legal or relationship issues due to drinking.

What to do if you are addicted or are becoming addicted to alcohol

Overcoming alcohol addiction can be a long road as the addiction needs intensified treatment. The first step is to admit there is a problem and that alcohol has taken over your life. Getting sober is the next step to recovering from the disease. Certain recovery programs such as 12 step procedures are a good start as well. Counseling is an important element to seeking out the help that is needed. Medications may be provided as well if the need is there to help overcome the symptoms of withdrawal. Having the support of loved ones around will help with the process and get the progression going for a faster recovery. Having the will to quit drinking before it leads to a more serious path if it hasn’t already, needs to be on a level where one wants and needs the help without someone telling them.

Alcohol addiction recovery should be a highly individualized program, which should include both individual therapy and group therapy sessions. Individual sessions will help you understand the triggers of what causes you to drink, and guides you to avoid the situations and maintain sobriety. It’s critical to understand the underlying issues of why one continuously relapses and uses alcohol, and a professional alcohol addiction center can be crucial to this.



Talk to Someone Who’s Been There. Talk to Someone Who Can Help. Scottsdale Recovery Center holds the highest accreditation (Joint Commission) and is Arizona’s premier rehab facility since 2009. Call 602-346-9142.