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The Social Drinker vs. The Alcoholic

The Social Drinker vs. The Alcoholic

One of the most common questions people who try to quit drinking ask is whether they really have to stop forever. Can’t they learn how to drink in moderation? Can they become social drinkers? Is it true that they can never have another drink?

For true alcoholics, returning to moderate drinking doesn’t work. Many have tried and failed. There are some people who quit drinking for a period of time, or even joined Alcoholics Anonymous, who later found that they could return to moderate drinking, but it’s likely that these drinkers were not alcoholics in the first place, but merely heavy drinkers.

The Social Drinker vs. The Alcoholic: What is a social drinker?

The social drinker is also called a low-risk drinker. They rarely, if ever, experience negative consequences of drinking. The amount of alcohol that it takes to cause problems varies from person to person. Because of body mass and metabolism differences, women feel the effects of alcohol far more quickly than do men, and they are more at risk for developing alcohol-related problems with less alcohol consumption. However, in general, social drinking or low-risk drinking is defined as having no more than one drink per day for women and two for men.

The Social Drinker vs. The Alcoholic: CAGE

One quick way to gauge whether or not you are moving from the social drinker to the alcoholic is to use the CAGE criteria. The questions on this test are: Have you ever felt the need to cut down on your drinking? Have people ever annoyed you by criticism of your drinking? Have you ever felt Guilty about your drinking? Have you ever taken a morning Eye-opener drink to steady your nerves or get rid of a hangover?

The Social Drinker vs. The Alcoholic: Other Warning Signs

Some other warning signs that differentiate between the social drinker vs. the alcoholic include:

  • inability to control alcohol intake after starting to drink
  • obsessing about alcohol (thinking about the next time they will be able to drink, who they will drink with, what they will drink, and/or how they will get alcohol)
  • behaving in ways, while drunk, that are uncharacteristic of their sober personality or values
  • repeated unwanted drinking patterns
  • increasing sense of denial that their drinking is a problem
  • setting drinking limits and being unable to stick to them
  • driving drunk or engaging in other risk taking behaviors while intoxicated
  • not being able to imagine life without alcohol
  • using alcohol as a reward
  • using alcohol to change a negative feeling or enhance a positive one
  • drinking daily
  • binge drinking (more than four drinks in a sitting for women, and five for men)
  • having chronic blackouts (memory lapses due to heavy drinking)
  • feeling guilt and shame about drinking or about drinking behavior
  • having other people express concern about drinking behavior


The Social Drinker vs. The Alcoholic: Help is available

If you are not a social drinker that does not necessarily mean you are an alcoholic. You may be a problem drinker. Whether you are a problem drinker or an alcoholic, however, you should seek professional help.

If you or your loved one is in need of treatment for alcohol or drug addiction please give us a call at 800-821-9584.


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Calls to numbers on a specific treatment center listing will be routed to that treatment center. Additional calls will also be forwarded and returned by a quality treatment center within the USA.

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