Social Drinking vs Problem Drinking | Why Is Drinking Socially Acceptable?

Social Drinking vs Problem Drinking

In American culture, drinking can feel like any regular activity, much like going to the gym or booking a massage. We use drinking to fuel our stress relief in many ways. It’s also a favorite pastime with friends, a simple method to let loose. However, the darker sides of alcohol demand our attention now more than ever. There’s an increasing concern every year for the number of overdose deaths, with just over 261 deaths per day, involving alcohol as well as the myriad of diseases caused by alcohol abuse. It can be difficult to discern the difference between social drinking vs problem drinking, so we’re providing a few guidelines here.

Experienced clinicians consider any amount of alcohol or drug misuse to be problematic as it can increase the chances of dependency. However, not all social drinking will lead to long-term problems. There are signs and symptoms to be aware of. If you have questions about your drinking habits, contact us today directly at 855-281-5588.

Social Drinking Vs Problem Drinking

Difference Between Alcohol Abuse and Alcohol Use Disorder

Alcohol is an incredibly addictive substance, negatively impacting millions of lives annually.

When referring to alcohol abuse vs. alcohol use disorder (AUD), it’s important to consider the spectrum of drinking. Not unlike the spectrum of Autism Disorder (ASD), alcoholism is measured by the severity of symptoms and length of use. Each term designation defines problem drinking as it reveals levels of alcohol consumption with respect to behavior and mental health.

Alcohol abuse and AUD are quite similar and are often used interchangeably. However, there are some key differences between the two that may help to address social drinking vs problem drinking. Note that, not everyone who has a drinking problem suffers from AUD, or what others consider ‘alcoholism.’ While drinking in a social setting is acceptable there are other issues at hand that should be addressed.

Alcohol can lessen tension, reduce inhibitions, and ease social interactions. But drinking too much can:

  • Be physically and psychologically addicting

  • Cause impaired memory, coordination, and judgment

  • Damage the heart, liver, and nervous system

  • Lead to birth defects

People who abuse alcohol also put themselves and others at risk if they drive or operate machinery after drinking too much.

Why Is Drinking Socially Acceptable?

One of the most problematic aspects of alcohol is not its potential for abuse, but its accessibility. Alcohol is responsible for thousands of deaths and countless injuries every year. Additionally, it’s extremely addictive and dangerous. Still, alcohol consumption is normalized in society in ways that other dangerous drugs are not. Many of us are exposed to the glamorous, albeit false perceptions of alcohol. We view it in movies and tv shows. It’s also heavily advertised on the internet, billboards, magazines, and more. The media portrays alcohol as a fun, upbeat way to hang out with friends. Why is drinking socially acceptable? Simply put: it is ubiquitous.

Unfortunately, during the recovery stages of alcohol addiction, it’s near impossible for a person to avoid alcohol completely. Everywhere there are ads, programs, and media that promote alcohol use. It’s critical that those suffering from alcohol addiction are able to learn the necessary skills to avoid relapse triggers. Given that alcohol is extremely socially acceptable, it often takes a great deal of coaching and counseling to understand how to interact in social situations while still maintaining sobriety.

Defining Safe Drinking

According to the “Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2020-2025,” U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and U.S. Department of Agriculture, adults of legal drinking age can choose not to drink or to drink in moderation by limiting intake to 2 drinks or less in a day for men and 1 drink or less in a day for women when alcohol is consumed. Drinking less is better for health than drinking more.

Certain people should avoid alcohol completely, including those who:

  • Plan to drive or operate machinery, or participate in activities that require skill, coordination, and alertness
  • Take certain over-the-counter or prescription medications
  • Have certain medical conditions
  • Are recovering from alcohol use disorder or are unable to control the amount that they drink
  • Are younger than age 21
  • Are pregnant or may become pregnant

When Is Drinking A Problem

Examples of Alcohol Abuse

Looking closer at social drinking vs problem drinking, it’s important to get a sense of what alcohol abuse entails.

Alcohol abuse includes dangerous drinking patterns such as binge drinking, heavy drinking, moderate to extreme intoxication, and higher tolerance. Engaging in alcohol abuse places an individual at high risk for developing alcohol use disorder; it’s important to seek help sooner.

According to the Diagnostic Statistical Manual for Mental Disorders, 5th Edition, alcohol abuse may or may not involve chronic episodes of binge drinking. Alcohol dependence involves many episodes of alcohol abuse leading to blackouts, withdrawal, cravings, and a physical, emotional, and social emphasis on alcohol use.

People who are alcohol-dependent usually exhibit some or all of the following characteristics:

  • Alcohol tolerance – As tolerance builds, drinking amounts increase in order to produce the same effects.
  • Withdrawal symptoms – Experiencing insomnia, tremors, and mood swings are not unusual with AUD
  • Awareness of the compulsion to drinking – Craving alcohol
  • Drinking larger amounts – Making unsuccessful efforts to cut down on drinking

If you would like further information on alcohol abuse and alcoholism, please visit the Center for Disease Control website or visit MedicineNet. Both websites offer great information regarding the similarities and differences of problematic drinking behaviors.

Is My Drinking a Problem?

Knowing what behaviors are problematic can be tricky, but it is a critical part of understanding the differences between casual drinking and alcohol abuse or AUD.

According to the National Institute of Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, casual drinking is commonplace in the U.S. with over 70% of American adults over the age of 18 state consuming alcohol within the last year. Approximately 40% of Americans report alcohol use or abuse within the last month.

The acceptance of alcohol use throughout the world has caused difficulties in understanding what behaviors of alcohol use are problematic or indicative of a larger problem. Some common problematic behaviors associated with alcohol consumption include:

  • Loss of control over alcohol use
  • Lots of time and energy in obtaining, using, and recovering from substance use
  • Continued use despite problems
  • Cravings
  • Risk-taking
  • Lack of pleasure in hobbies
  • Health problems
  • Loss of employment
  • Withdrawal
  • Tolerance

Although it’s best to consult with a medical professional, assessing patterned drinking behavior may help to answer, is my drinking a problem?

Signs of AUD and Problem Drinking

There are numerous signs and symptoms when comparing social drinking vs problem drinking. The issue, once confirmed, is where to seek help for problematic alcohol consumption. There are numerous resources and methods to approach the treatment of AUD, but first, it’s important to evaluate what exactly is problematic drinking.


You choose to keep drinking until inebriated and there are no longer any boundaries. It often means a gradual, though noticeable, deterioration of your body and its functions.


Alcoholics tend to betray their secret by letting down their employers and co-workers, family and friends and those who are counting on them by not showing up for important obligations or failing to deliver on promises. Missing work and calling in sick are signs of growing addiction to alcohol.


Alcoholics often rationalize or conceal their drinking, hiding alcohol abuse out of shame or fear of disappointing or alarming family members and close friends. This behavior will ultimately damage their lives and cripple relationships. The consequences of hurting others deepen dependency.


The erosion of self-esteem drives alcoholics to drink with every difficult decision or challenge in their lives. They feel they can’t function without the drinking becomes a regular activity and clearly a dependency that will not be alleviated without taking drastic, life-changing measures.


Accidents while under the influence of alcohol are rare for social drinkers but almost unavoidable for alcoholics who drive.  Alcoholics end up in alcohol-related accidents, while social drinkers do not. Social drinkers seldom rationalize drinking and driving, because they know the potential dangers of this choice.  Alcoholics may know this intellectually, but alcoholic consumption neutralizes common sense.

Following are unique traits that separate alcoholics from social drinkers:

  • Alcoholics are clearly obsessed with alcohol and its role in their lives.
  • Alcoholics lose the ability to keep their drinking under control and repeat destructive drinking patterns.
  • Alcoholics prefer to socialize with other heavy drinkers who they can count on to not judge their drinking and self-destructive behavior.
  • Alcoholics continually break promises to themselves and others on limits they set on how much they will drink.

Too Much Alcohol Drinking

Social Drinking vs. Problem Drinking

If you’re struggling with social pressure, it might also be helpful to hang around friends who don’t drink at all. It’s also important that you practice other healthy lifestyle habits

While over-indulging occasionally isn’t necessarily a sign of alcoholism, ‘social drinking’ can be more problematic than we realize. It’s not just our physical health that suffers. Regular and excessive alcohol consumption can have a profound effect on our mental health.

AspenRidge Support

We are dedicated to tailoring treatment as much as possible to each client. Services through the AspenRidge program are provided. It is important to speak with AspenRidge to discuss possible treatment options and methods. The challenges that occur due to mental health and alcohol abuse are challenging and impact several components of a family. It is the hope of AspenRidge to provide a safe environment for all members of a family to experience long-term sobriety and recovery.

Prospective clients may contact AspenRidge Recovery Centers at 855-678-3144 to schedule an assessment, to speak to staff about various programs. Gaining knowledge prior to taking the steps towards recovery is important and AspenRidge is determined to provide clear information. Further information can also be found at

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