Getting together with friends on the weekend to catch up over drinks is a very normal social activity for many people. They may drink to wind down after a long week or to feel more sociable. This isn’t necessarily a problem, but it’s important to be aware of whether your social drinking is crossing the line into problem drinking. Knowing the differences and being able to recognize changes in the way you approach drinking alcohol could spare you from addiction later in life.
What Is Social Drinking?
The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism terms social drinking “low-risk drinking.” They define this type of alcohol consumption as less than seven drinks per week and no more than three per day for women. For men, it means no more than 14 drinks per week and no more than 4 per day. If you’re a social drinker, you probably have rules for yourself, such as:
- Making sure you eat and are well-hydrated before drinking
- Avoiding alcohol when you’re especially emotional (stressed, tired, etc.)
- Knowing your cues that it’s time to stop
- Not drinking simply to get drunk
- Not drinking and driving
By following the rules you’ve set, it’s possible to go your entire life without experiencing problems with alcohol.
What Is Problem Drinking, and How Is It Different?
You probably don’t intent to develop an alcohol dependency, but it can be easier to slip into than you may think. If you make a regular habit of drinking in social settings, your priorities and reasons for drinking may change. There are a few risk factors for social drinking turning into problem drinking:
- A family history of alcoholism – This may have to do with It may also be because problem drinking was modeled for you as a normal activity when you were growing up. A combination of these factors gives you a much higher risk of developing a drinking problem.
- Major life changes, such as the death of a loved one, job loss, or divorce – These events cause significant stress, which may cause you to drink as a way of coping.
- Emotional problems or mental health disorders – Common mental illnesses linked to alcoholism are major depressive disorder and anxiety disorders. Consuming alcohol use can provide temporary relief from mental health symptoms.
There are many signs that your drinking has gone from social to problematic. They include:
- Feeling like you can’t stop drinking even if you want to
- Getting together with others for the explicit purpose of drinking, rather than socializing
- Drinking before arriving at a bar or party (“pre-gaming”)
- Having blackouts or memory lapses due to heavy drinking
- Cravings for alcohol
- Difficulty managing work and home life due to drinking or being sick from drinking
- Dangerous or risky behaviors while drinking (driving under the influence, unsafe sex, etc.)
- Needing more alcohol over time to feel the same effects
- Withdrawal symptoms when you go longer than usual without drinking – These can include shakiness, sweating, nausea, and irritability
Heavy drinking can turn deadly, especially when it involves binge drinking. The CDC defines binge drinking as five or more drinks for men and four or more drinks for women within two hours. Binge drinkers aren’t always physically dependent on alcohol, but their pattern of drinking can be just as dangerous. Even problem drinking doesn’t necessarily mean full-blown alcoholism. The NIAAA defines an alcohol use disorder (AUD) as “a brain disease characterized by compulsive alcohol use, loss of control over alcohol intake, and a negative emotional state when not using.” The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Health Disorders lists the criteria for AUD. A therapist or doctor can help determine whether you meet this criteria. They can also help point you in the right direction for addiction recovery.
How to Get Help for Your Drinking
You don’t need to suffer from severe alcoholism to benefit from alcohol abuse treatment. Even if you only display a few of the symptoms of problem drinking, you’re probably still experiencing negative effects. Loved ones might have pointed out your symptoms to you. If so, listen to them and be open to their observations. Denial is another common symptom of problem drinking. Others may be more likely to notice signs of a problem than you are. You can put yourself in addiction treatment for problem drinking, or you can see a professional for recommendations. Depending on the severity of your alcohol abuse, you may need medically monitored detox. Detoxing from alcohol dependency can be dangerous and even deadly without proper medical care. Following detox, you’ll probably be referred to either:
- Inpatient treatment, which means living at a treatment center, or
- An outpatient program, where you live at home and attend individual and group therapy at a treatment facility
Washburn House offers a variety of substance abuse treatment programs for alcohol abuse and addiction. Each are designed for different levels of need. Our clinical staff will help you create a treatment plan tailored to your unique needs. We also offer an extended care program if you need extra help re-adjusting to life outside substance abuse treatment. It’s very possible to only drink socially and never let it turn into something else. But for many people, life’s stresses and challenges can easily challenge a controlled approach to alcohol. Consider carefully whether your alcohol use meets any of the criteria for problem drinking. If so, keeping an open mind toward treatment could help you avoid much worse substance abuse problems later on. Give Washburn House a call today to learn what alcohol treatment might look like for you.