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How Social Drinking Can Lead to Problem Drinking

Alcohol can become a problem even in moderation. Going out with friends to catch up over drinks is a typical social endeavor. People often drink to unwind after a long, stressful week or to feel more outgoing.

This doesn’t mean a drinking problem exists necessarily, but it's essential to know if one's social drinking is crossing the threshold into problem drinking. Understanding the differences between social and problem drinking and acknowledging changes in how people process alcohol consumption could save them from addiction later in life.

Social Drinking and Problem Drinking: What's the Difference?

The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) notes that 85.6% of people in the U.S. age 18 or older report they have consumed alcohol at some point in their lives. 69.5% reported they drank alcohol in the past year, and 54.9% said they drank within the last month.

Individuals often use alcohol to relax, socialize, or celebrate special occasions. It is readily accessible in stores, restaurants, bars, and venues hosting entertainment events. The social acceptance and convenient access to alcohol make it essential to characterize different types of drinking and the risks associated with addiction.

Social Drinking

Social drinkers are those individuals who drink in low-risk patterns. No set amount of alcohol establishes a social drinker. Still, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) characterizes alcohol use as moderate drinking if a female consumes one drink per day or a male consumes two drinks per day.

Social drinkers usually enjoy alcohol to relax or celebrate but on rare occasions and in low-risk drinking patterns. Social drinkers can recognize when it is time to stop drinking, and they do not drink regularly or to the point of blacking out.

Just because someone perceives themselves as a social drinker doesn't mean they are impervious to issues associated with alcohol. Extreme consumption can result in both physical and mental impediments, including addiction.

Problem Drinking and Risk Factors

No one starts drinking to become addicted to alcohol. However, social drinking can quickly transform into problem drinking for individuals with certain risk factors, including how much, how often, and how quickly they consume alcohol.

Other factors that can increase the risk of acquiring alcohol use disorder (AUD) involve:

  • Genetics: Family history plays a critical role in addiction. Hereditability is approximately 60%, and the relationship between genes and environmental factors produces an increased risk of developing AUD.
  • Drinking at a young age: A national survey discovered that individuals who begin drinking before the age of 15 are five times more likely to develop a drinking problem than those who did not drink until age 21 or older.
  • Mental health conditions: A history of trauma has been associated with AUD. Common mental health disorders linked to alcohol addiction include depression, post-traumatic stress disorder, anxiety, and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder.
  • Socioeconomic factors: Studies have shown that individuals with increased socioeconomic status may drink more significant amounts of alcohol compared to those with lower socioeconomic status. However, this association may be intervened by other individual-level variables, such as drinking status, gender, race, and ethnicity.

Signs of a Drinking Problem

Problem drinking can occur consistently or intermittently, but one way to recognize a problem is by understanding the signs and symptoms of AUD.

The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 5th Edition (DSM-5) provides criteria to assess a client and establish if they have AUD. DSM-5 criteria are as follows:

  • Alcohol is consumed in more significant amounts or over a more extended period than was intended.
  • There is a persistent desire or unsuccessful efforts to cut down or control alcohol use.
  • A great deal of time is spent in activities necessary to obtain alcohol, use alcohol, or recover from its effects.
  • Craving, or a strong desire or urge to use alcohol exists.
  • Recurrent failure to fulfill significant role obligations at work, school, or home due to alcohol use.
  • Continued alcohol use despite having persistent or recurrent social or interpersonal problems caused or exacerbated by the effects of alcohol.
  • Important social, occupational, or recreational activities are given up or reduced because of alcohol use.
  • Recurrent alcohol is used in situations in which it is physically hazardous.
  • Alcohol use is continued despite knowledge of having a persistent or recurrent physical or psychological problem that is likely to have been caused or exacerbated by alcohol.
  • Drinking more than previously is required to get the desired effect.
  • Withdrawal symptoms are experienced when unable to drink alcohol.

How to Find Help

Searching for support for alcohol use disorder can feel overwhelming. The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) offers the behavioral health treatment services locator to help find mental health services. In addition, helpful information about treatment facilities that provide specialty care can be found by using SAMHSA’s substance use treatment locator.

Some individuals can cut back on their drinking. Some people need to stop drinking entirely. Creating a change in your drinking patterns can be challenging. If you or a loved one struggles with alcohol or drug addiction, we are here to help. Present Moments Recovery in San Diego, California, provides an individualized and comprehensive approach to addiction, with many levels of care to achieve a successful recovery. We help you form a firm foundation for your sobriety, from detoxification to outpatient programs and aftercare. At our family-run treatment center, you will be able to talk with therapists one-on-one, so that all your needs are satisfied. We focus on extended treatment to promote long-term sobriety. We provide a home-like environment where you can allow yourself to heal. Present Moments Recovery believes recovery only happens in the present moment. Call us to learn more about our services at (619) 363-4767.



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Mark G
Mark Gladden brings both personal and professional experience to his role as co-founder of Present Moments Recovery. Now in long-term recovery himself after struggling with addiction for years, Mark understands firsthand the challenges men face in achieving and maintaining sobriety. It was this insight, combined with a desire to help others, that led Mark to establish Present Moments Recovery.

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