Social Drinking Vs Alcoholism: What is The Difference

Drinking is a huge part of our culture, and sometimes, you just can’t escape it. Parties, celebrating a raise, business deals – it’s everywhere. Chances are, you have been a part of events like these, and all of them included alcohol. But are you a social drinker? Do you enjoy a glass of wine during […]

Drinking is a huge part of our culture, and sometimes, you just can’t escape it. Parties, celebrating a raise, business deals – it’s everywhere. Chances are, you have been a part of events like these, and all of them included alcohol. But are you a social drinker? Do you enjoy a glass of wine during dinner or a beer with friends without it negatively impacting your life – or is there more to your drinking habits that you should be aware of? Here at We Level Up Treatment Centers, we compare social drinking vs alcoholism, explore the differences, and help you make informed decisions about your drinking.

How to Tell the Difference Between Social Drinking Vs Alcoholism

Social drinking means that people consume alcohol in a casual, controlled manner. You might have a drink or two in social settings, like at a party or during a meal with friends, in a way that doesn’t affect your health or daily life. On the other hand, alcoholism means you are addicted to and depend on alcohol. It’s more than just wanting a drink; it’s a need that can disrupt your life. It is a habit that makes your health, relationships, and work suffer.

an image of a man drinking alcohol representing Social Drinking Vs Alcoholism
Social drinking is a big part of American culture.

Social Drinking in American Society

In our society, social drinking is a common way to relax and connect with others. It’s part of many social events and traditions. Celebrations such as birthdays and weddings, business deals, and even simple get-togethers more often than not – feature alcohol. This practice is widely accepted as it supposedly helps the process of social bonding.

The Transition from Social Drinking to Alcoholism

You don’t always notice the shift between social drinking vs alcoholism straight away. It might start with consuming alcohol more often or in larger amounts. Over time, you might start needing alcohol to feel comfortable or to begin your day right. Even though an average person will tell you they are a light social drinker, the truth is that this practice can easily turn into alcoholism.

In fact, the 2022 National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH) shows that 29.5 million Americans aged 12 and older (or 10.5% of this age group) experienced Alcohol Use Disorder (AUD) the previous year. One of the reasons this happens is that many people don’t recognize excessive social drinking and become social alcoholics without knowing it.

It’s not easy to compare a social drinker vs alcoholic at first. The habit can start with drinking a bit more frequently or in larger amounts. Over time, you might find yourself needing alcohol to feel comfortable or to start your day. If you recognize this change early, it will help you prevent social alcoholism from taking hold.

How Crossing the Line Changes Your Habits

There is a thin line to cross between being an alcoholic and being a social drinker. And once you do cross it, it brings about numerous risks and consequences. Drinking too much, even occasionally, can harm your health, relationships, and responsibilities. It also tends to lead to risky behaviors, health problems, and dependence. You should be aware of how crossing this line affects your life – and your health.

You have probably heard that alcohol affects your kidneys. Excessive drinking can damage your kidneys and affect their ability to filter your blood. This leads to serious health issues over time.

a woman taking a pill, representing how alcohol affects medication
Excessive social drinking can change the effects of your medication.

Being a regular consumer of alcohol can have a negative impact on other aspects of your life as well. For example, can you drink while on Prozac? Is it dangerous to have a drink if you are taking your standard set of medications? While one drink might not cause severe effects for everybody, it is important to approach it with caution, as mixing alcohol with medications can alter the drug’s effectiveness and increase side effects.

In addition, you should be careful if you are drinking while using birth control pills. Alcohol does not directly influence the effectiveness of birth control pills if you only drink occasionally and in small amounts. However, excessive alcohol consumption can lead to situations that compromise the effect of the pill, such as vomiting shortly after taking it (which can prevent the pill from being absorbed properly into your system) or forgetting to take the pill on time. Moderation is key to avoiding these risks.

How to Avoid Crossing the Line

In order to avoid the social drinking vs alcoholism dilemma in the first place and prevent any potential risks, you should be able to simply avoid having too much alcohol in social situations. You can even use online tools such as our drinks per hour calculator to avoid crossing the line between social drinking and overindulgence. It is called a Blood Alcohol Concentration calculator. Keeping track of your Blood Alcohol Concentration (BAC) can help you stay within safe drinking limits. Tools like a BAC calculator can help guide you to drink responsibly, ensuring you don’t overindulge.

What Is Alcoholism?

Alcoholism is a serious condition. It is more than just an occasional bad habit. Alcoholism, also known as alcohol use disorder (AUD), is a medical condition that makes you unable to manage or stop alcohol use despite negative consequences. Clinical characteristics of this disorder may include:

  • Craving alcohol or feeling a strong compulsion to drink.
  • Inability to control drinking once it has started.
  • Physical dependence, experiencing withdrawal symptoms like sweating, shaking, and nausea when not drinking.
  • Tolerance, needing to drink more over time to feel the same effects.
  • Neglecting responsibilities at work, school, or home due to drinking.
  • Continuing to drink despite knowing it’s causing health, social, or legal problems.
a man drinking in a bar representing social drinking vs alcoholism
Do you drink even when you’re alone and with no “reason” to celebrate?

How to Recognize the Progression from Social Drinking to Alcoholism

You might be saying, “I only drink in parties,” and believe that there are no issues. However, the problems might already be there, with you unaware of them. Therefore, it is important to be able to recognize the transition from social drinking to alcoholism – early identification and intervention can make a world of difference. There are early warning signs of alcoholism (both behavioral and physical) you should be aware of:

Behavioral symptoms you should look out for include:

  • Drinking in secrecy or alone.
  • Drinking more to achieve the same effects (tolerance).
  • Prioritizing drinking over personal and professional responsibilities.
  • Continuing to drink despite negative consequences.
  • Withdrawal from social activities and hobbies.
  • Frequent mood swings and irritability.

At the same time, there are many physical symptoms of alcoholism:

  • Physical dependence that causes withdrawal symptoms such as shaking, sweating, and nausea when not drinking.
  • Weight changes, either gain or loss of pounds.
  • Sleep disturbances, including insomnia or oversleeping.
  • Deteriorating physical appearance and personal hygiene.
  • Development of alcohol-related health issues like liver disease or cardiovascular problems.

High-Functioning Alcoholism

If you are maintaining your professional and personal life while struggling with alcohol abuse, you might be a high-functioning alcoholic. High-functioning alcohols tend not to show the typical signs of dependency, which makes it harder to recognize the problems. Key indicators of this occurrence include:

  • Consistently drinking large amounts of alcohol without appearing intoxicated.
  • Using alcohol as a reward or to cope with stress.
  • Experiencing guilt or shame about drinking habits.
  • Family or friends expressing concern about drinking patterns.
Ryan Zofay forming a circle and hugging friends.

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The Impact of Alcoholism on Your Health and Lifestyle

Alcoholism can lead to significant health and lifestyle changes, including:

  • Health issues: Long-term alcohol abuse can cause liver disease, heart disease, digestive problems, and neurological issues.
  • Mental health: Increased risk of depression, anxiety, and other mental health disorders.
  • Relationship problems: Strained relationships with family, friends, and colleagues due to drinking behaviors.
  • Financial and legal issues: Problems such as job loss, financial instability, and legal issues related to drinking.
  • Quality of life: Overall decline in quality of life due to health problems, social isolation, and personal and professional setbacks.

Risk Factors and Triggers for Alcoholism

Genetics contribute to your risk of developing alcoholism. A family history of alcoholism increases the risk, but it is not a guarantee of developing the disorder. Also, growing up in an environment where alcohol abuse is prevalent or normalized can influence your relationship with alcohol. Peer pressure and exposure to alcohol at a young age can largely increase the risk.

There are psychological factors that might influence your relationships with alcohol, too. If you are struggling with mental health issues such as depression, anxiety, or alcohol and borderline personality disorder, you may turn to alcohol as a form of self-medication and increase the risk of developing alcoholism.

Common Triggers

High levels of stress from work, relationships, or financial issues can make you drink alcohol as a coping mechanism. Also, social environments encourage drinking: certain friend groups or professional settings can be a powerful trigger for excessive alcohol use.

The Role of Life Events in Escalating Alcohol Use

Experiences such as the death of a loved one, divorce, or job loss can trigger or escalate alcohol use as you seek ways to cope with emotional pain. Even positive changes like a new job or moving to a new city can increase stress and lead to increased alcohol consumption. Lastly, when you feel isolated, you tend to drink more as a way to deal with these feelings.

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Health Consequences of Chronic Alcoholism

Chronic alcoholism can have devastating effects on your health, mental well-being, and overall quality of life. Even the short-term health consequences of alcoholism are considered serious:

  • Impaired judgment and coordination, leading to accidents and injuries.
  • Blackouts, experiencing memory lapses.
  • Nausea, vomiting, and hangovers.

There are long-term health consequences of alcoholism as well:

  • Liver diseases, including hepatitis and cirrhosis.
  • Cardiovascular problems, such as high blood pressure and heart disease.
  • Damage to the brain, affecting mood and behavior.
  • Increased risk of various cancers, including liver, mouth, throat, and breast cancer.
  • Weakened immune system, making the body more susceptible to diseases.

Alcoholism and Mental Health

Alcoholism often goes hand in hand with mental health disorders. This condition is known as dual diagnosis. Alcohol can worsen symptoms of mental health issues like depression or anxiety and the other way around. This happens when you use alcohol as a form of self-medication for untreated mental health disorders. At We Level Up Treatment Centers, dual diagnosis treatment is offered as an option to those who suffer the consequences of substance abuse and behavioral or mental health issues at the same time.

Treatment Approaches for Severe Alcoholism

If you are struggling with severe alcoholism, you need treatment that often requires a multifaceted approach. Let’s explore how we can help overcome your addiction to alcohol:

  1. Inpatient and residential treatment
  2. Intensive therapy modalities
  3. Holistic and medical interventions

Inpatient Treatment

We Level Up Treatment Centers’ inpatient treatment program offers a structured environment where you can focus entirely on your recovery from alcohol abuse, away from daily triggers and stressors. During this program, we provide:

  • 24/7 medical supervision: To ensure safety during the alcohol detox process and address any medical issues that arise from long-term alcohol abuse.
  • Tailored treatment plans: Designed to meet your unique needs and include various therapy and counseling sessions.
  • Group and individual therapy: It offers support and personal attention to address the root causes of addiction.
  • Life skills training: Helping you rebuild your life, manage responsibilities, and maintain sobriety after leaving the program.
Social Drinking Vs Alcoholism
Therapy can help you overcome your alcohol addiction.

Intensive Therapy Modalities

For severe alcoholism, more intensive therapy modalities are often required, including:

Holistic and Medical Interventions in Alcoholism Treatment

Combining holistic and medical interventions can provide a comprehensive approach to treating severe alcoholism. This includes:

  • Medical interventions: Use of medications to manage withdrawal symptoms, reduce cravings, and treat co-occurring mental health disorders.
  • Nutritional support: Addressing deficiencies and promoting a balanced diet to support overall health and recovery.
  • Physical activity: Incorporating exercise to reduce stress, improve mood, and build a healthy routine.
  • Mindfulness and meditation: Techniques to help manage stress, increase self-awareness, and reduce the risk of relapse.

Recovery and Post-Treatment Challenges

Each recovery process is unique. It includes distinct phases and milestones. Initially, you focus on overcoming physical dependence through detox and treatment. The next phase involves learning coping strategies and building a new, sober life. Over time, maintaining sobriety will become a fundamental part of your lifestyle. Celebrate each milestone, whether it’s days, months, or years of sobriety, because each of these represents a significant achievement in your recovery.

Post-Treatment Support Systems and Continuing Care

After completing treatment, you should stay connected with a supportive community – our We Level Up Alumni community programs offer you lifelong support. They help you extend the quality and length of your recovery. Engaging with others who have shared similar experiences will motivate you. These connections give you comfort, encouragement, and practical advice to handle challenges after treatment.

Relapse Prevention and Long-term Sobriety Management

Relapse can be a part of your recovery process. However, with effective prevention strategies, you can minimize its impact. You should have a comprehensive relapse prevention that includes:

  • Identifying triggers: Recognize the situations, emotions, or people that increase your urge to drink and develop strategies to manage them.
  • Maintaining a healthy lifestyle: Focus on nutrition, exercise, and sleep to strengthen your physical and mental health.
    Seeking ongoing support: Stay engaged with support groups, counseling, or therapy to continue addressing the underlying issues of your addiction.
  • Utilizing Alumni resources: Take advantage of the tools and resources provided by alumni programs to stay focused on your recovery goals.

Stay Smart About Your Drinking Habits

Comparing social drinking vs alcoholism is not always simple. Social drinking can easily turn into something more serious without you even realizing it. If you find yourself needing to drink more to feel relaxed or if you’re drinking to deal with stress, it’s time to take a step back. It’s all about balance and knowing when to say enough. If you’re worried about your drinking, don’t hesitate to get some advice. Stay smart about your drinking habits, and you’ll be able to enjoy yourself without crossing the line into alcoholism.



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