Alcohol and socializing often go hand-in-hand in American culture. Alcohol is legal, which makes it a socially acceptable substance, even though it comes with great risk for abuse. You may have heard the term “social drinker” to describe a pattern of drinking. When someone says they’re a social drinker, they usually mean that they only drink alcohol during social occasions. This may include parties, events, sports games, and other social settings where alcohol is served, and other people drink as well.
Social drinkers don’t drink alone, and they drink in moderation when they do drink. They may drink one time a month, three times a month, or none depending on if the opportunity presents itself. While there’s no official definition of a social drinker, there are set guidelines by health and addiction experts as to what qualifies as moderate and safe alcohol consumption and what are problematic drinking patterns:
- Moderate Drinking: Up to one drink a day for women and two drinks a day for men.
- Binge Drinking – Four or more drinks for women and five or more drinks for men over a two-hour period.
- Heavy Drinking: More than three drinks a day or more than seven drinks a week for women. Four or more drinks a day or over 14 drinks per week for men.
If your “social drinking” fits the binge-drinking or heavy-drinking definitions, it’s time to take a closer look at your alcohol intake.
10 Signs Your Social Drinking Is a Problem
So maybe you overdo it from time to time — but you only drink on the weekends with friends or at parties and events, so it’s no problem, right? Just because you don’t drink everyday doesn’t mean you’re drinking habits aren’t problematic. In fact, in one year alone, nearly 14.5 million Americans’ drinking behaviors fit the diagnosis of an alcohol use disorder. Are you one of them? Here are some warning signs.
1. You Have Trouble Remembering Details
Do you sometimes find yourself nodding absentmindedly when people reference conversations or events that happened while you were drinking? That’s a blackout, and about half of drinkers experience them according to the National Institute of Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA). Research shows that the severity of blackouts vary by your individual make-up and that these alcohol-induced memory lapses can jumpstart long-term neurobiological abnormalities and psychiatric symptoms.
2. You Can’t Quit After a Couple Cocktails
You rarely, if ever have just one drink when you’re drinking alcohol. What’s the point if you’re not going to catch a good, steady buzz? And when you do set out to drink just one or two drinks, four or five drinks later your best intentions seem to always go awry.
Part of drinking responsibly is not having more than the recommended amount for moderate alcohol consumption. Research shows that alcohol abuse may impact neurons in the brain’s reward center that give the “go signal” to consume more after just one drink. This can make it feel near impossible to stick to moderate drinking once the gauntlet — or rather, goblet — has been thrown down if you’re a heavy drinker.
3. You’re Drowning Your Blues in Booze
Depression and addiction are inextricably linked. This is called co-occurring disorders or a dual diagnosis. Depressed people may drink to self-medicate their symptoms and people struggling with alcohol abuse can experience depression due to brain changes brought about by drinking. If you find yourself daydreaming about drinking to lift your mood, or the part you really like about social drinking is how it makes you feel better, it is time to take a closer look at why you’re using alcohol.
4. You Hide How Much You Drink
Being dishonest about how much you drink is a sure sign that social drinking has turned into problem drinking. If you tell friends or family you’ve only had one or two drinks when you’ve really had more, there is cause for concern. This is especially true if you’re engaging in risky behaviors like driving yourself or others after drinking more than you’re owning up to.
Another red light is if your social drinking extends beyond the event or gathering. For instance, if you come home and have a couple more cocktails by yourself or head to a bar for a few nightcaps after leaving the party. If any of these things are happening, take a step back and ask yourself why you feel the need to hide your alcohol use.
5. You “Pre-Game” or “Pre-Party”
If drinking socially means pre-gaming, pre-partying, pre-loading — whatever you prefer to call your social lubricant, your alcohol use could be a problem. One study found when college students pre-gamed before they went out, they drank twice as much. They were also more likely to experience alcohol poisoning, hangovers, blackouts, and work and school absences. If you need to consume alcohol to get through a no-alcohol event or you kick back a few before going to an event where you’ll be drinking even more, alcohol is a central character in your life, not just a social one.
6. You Can’t Quit Drinking
A key warning sign of alcoholism is not being able to cut back on drinking, quit drinking, or even imagine a life without alcohol. Alcohol addiction is a chronic disease. People who abuse alcohol can develop a psychological and physical dependence on it. Alcoholism changes the brain over time, even causing alcohol withdrawal symptoms when you go too long without it. Add a genetic predisposition to alcoholism into the mix and your chances of developing an alcohol use disorder go up by 50%.
7. You Take “Drinking Breaks”
These days, a popular trend is to take a month off drinking alcohol to reassure yourself you’re still in control or attempt to “reset” a mounting alcohol tolerance. While a booze break may seem commendable, if you’re drinking so much you feel the need to take a timeout to “check yourself,” consider re-examining your drinking habits altogether. And while some preliminary research suggests taking a month off from drinking can decrease liver fat by up to 20%, lower blood glucose levels by 16% and blood cholesterol by 5%, these benefits don’t come close to reversing the negative effects of alcohol if you’re heavy drinking the other 11 months of the year.
8. You Use Alcohol as a Reward
If you find yourself fantasizing during a difficult work week about the social drinking you’ll be doing over the weekend with friends or at an upcoming event, it’s become a concerning preoccupation. Same goes for using alcohol to reward yourself after a stressful day or completing a difficult task. If nothing quite lives up to the prize of a glass of wine, frosty beer, good bottle of scotch — or all the above, it’s time to take a look at your relationship with alcohol and get help learning healthier ways to reward yourself.
9. You Keep Upping the Alcohol Ante
It used to take a couple beers for a nice buzz. Then, you moved to three or four beers. Next, you started throwing in a shot of whiskey for good measure. If this sounds familiar, you’ve developed a tolerance to alcohol or alcohol dependence. It’s a sign of a substance use disorder.
And a word to the wise, if you think an upside of your tolerance is the ability to still handle everyday tasks like driving while under the influence, think again. Research shows that regular, heavy drinkers show no difference than light drinkers when it comes to fine motor skills, short-term memory, and cognitive processing while imbibing, but they had confidence that they did — a lethal combination.
10. You Think You Have a Problem
If you’re questioning your alcohol use, chances are you’re overdoing it. Any type of behavior you continue to engage in despite negative consequences indicates a problem. If alcohol is affecting your work, school, family, and social commitments, it’s time to take a closer look at your drinking patterns. Shame and regret about how much you drink or things you do or say when you drink socially are also red lights.
Stop Alcohol Abuse Before It Gets Worse
If you find yourself relating to this blog all too well, it could be time to consider specialized addiction treatment programs. Not everyone who struggles with alcohol abuse will require intensive alcohol detox and inpatient alcohol rehab. There are several levels of alcoholism treatment depending on the severity of your problem. These include:
- Alcohol and drug detox
- Residential treatment
- Partial hospitalization programs (PHP)
- Intensive outpatient programs (IOP)
- Outpatient treatment
- Sober-living residences
Some people require the space away from triggers and intensive treatment experience that inpatient rehab provides. Others are able to begin their addiction recovery with outpatient day treatment.
We’re Here to Help
If you’re concerned that you or a loved one’s social drinking is a problem, give us a call. Alcohol use disorders rarely get better on their own. Professional treatment at a recovery center can help you take back your life and stop alcohol abuse from getting worse. Footprints to Recovery can help you recover from addiction. Our therapists and addiction medicine professionals use proven substance abuse treatment approaches and teach you healthy relapse prevention skills so you can stand strong in the face of triggers. Life is better in recovery. Contact us today.