Many people who drink alcohol can get a little defensive on those occasions— hopefully few and far between— when they may have ventured a drink or two too far. They will argue that straying occasionally doesn’t mean they have a “drinking problem.” They may very well be right.

What is the difference between a social drinker and an alcoholic? Is it controlled social behavior or are we talking about a dependency you need to cope? There is a wide spectrum here, but there are some striking differences.

A high-functioning alcoholic may be able to pass as a social drinker. A long-term alcoholic? Probably not. In both cases, the deception will eventually be exposed. By becoming aware of some of the drinking levels, it might help you take a serious look at yourself.


What “Social” Is Key to Social Drinking?

For a social drinker, it is about companionship, having a fun evening out or a chance to relieve some stress. It’s about relaxing and the lift derived from favored spirits. There is a certain element of the enjoyment of the drinks you choose, and it’s more often about celebrating life with people you enjoy than trying to forget your troubles.

Even though it does relieve the stress of the day or work week, social drinkers don’t rely on alcohol every time they get stressed out.

Social drinkers choose the times they drink and not drink whatever the time. They do not let it interfere with important work, family commitments or important obligations. Social drinkers are generally aware of when they’ve had enough and the value of drinking responsibly. They make allowances to avoid driving while intoxicated and know when they’ve had enough. Sometimes they underestimate their blood alcohol content (BAC).

People, by the way, may start their drinking lives equating getting drunk with having a good time, but it doesn’t take them long to discover how ill-advised and immature this attitude can be. There are lessons learned and, once they negotiate this minefield, most grow up and handle their drinking more responsibly. Those who don’t are likely headed toward alcoholism or binge drinking, an intermittent pattern of alcohol consumption.


Signs You May Have an Addiction…

Drinking to get drunk…

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.

Putting Alcohol Above Responsibilities…

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.

Hiding Addiction from Loved Ones…

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.

Coping with Growing Difficulties…

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.

Drinking and Driving Accidents…

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.

In other words, alcohol destroys willpower and constructive behavior on a regular basis.